It’s official. There is a winner in the bloodbath that is the newspaper industry. The Australian company Pagemasters, is successfully doing deals with ailing media companies to provide what used to be seen as core functions for newspapers.

Fairfax Media is Pagemasters’ latest catch, with deals to perform the sub-editing of several of the in-house supplements of its flagship newspapers, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Over the last few months, the sub-editing and layout of supplements at The Age, such as Money, Traveler, Drive and My Career have been taken over by Pagemasters, along with “most of the feature work” at The Sydney Morning Herald.

Other well-known supplements at The Age, including Epicure, EG and Greenguide are currently “under consideration”, although this appears to be a polite way of saying their subbing out-sourcing is imminent.

Pagemasters is having so much success, that it now claims to be “leading the world in the establishment and operation of centralized sub-editing centres for the newspaper and magazine industry”. This is akin to Macquarie Media, which has become the national leader in the hubbing — or centralisation — of radio newsrooms.

Centralization is all about cost-cutting and it’s proving very popular with media companies desperate to protect what’s left of their profit margins.

The decision to out-source is part of the Fairfax drive to cut 550 jobs. Fairfax’s chief executive for metropolitan publishing in NSW, Lloyd Whish-Wilson revealed in a memo last August that, “The layout and sub-editing of some sections and special reports will move to … Pagemasters. This will enable us to reduce the current extensive reliance on casual editorial production staff.”

The extent and the speed of the out-sourcing is surprising many, including Pagemasters itself. As one insider told Crikey today, the trend “has taken off quite quickly”.

The financial crisis has been great for business. In January Pagemasters announced it would provide sub-editing for the weekend supplements for the UK’s Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, out of Sydney.

So if the Fairfax staff in Melbourne and Sydney are unhappy that their content is being subbed at the Pagemasters’ office in Brisbane, they should spare a thought for their British colleagues, as their content is being proofed and laid out in the antipodes.

Pagemasters is also doing a large share of the sub-editing and layout for APN News and Media in New Zealand, although this is being performed in New Zealand.

Pagemasters boasted in January it was sub-editing 1800 pages a week for papers in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. With sections like The Age’s Greenguide, EG and Epicure likely to follow, that figure will rise considerably.

Pagemasters is a wholly owned subsidiary of Australian Associated Press, which in turn is owned by a consortium of Australian media companies, including Fairfax.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey