Today Fairfax documented its performance over the past six months. Some figures:

25% was the fall in Fairfax group second-half revenue.

$26.9 million, or just over $1 million a week, was the profit for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age publications groups in the June half, down 66% or more from a year earlier.

$23 million was the operating profit for Fairfax specialist publications in the second half, which includes the AFR and BRW. That was down 37% on the same period of 2008.

$52 million was the online operating profit for the six months to June, or $2 million a week, down around 12% on the second half of 2008. (Online operating profit for the year was $108 million from $109 million in 2008).

And that’s the Fairfax story: those rivers of analogue gold have dried up … and even though online wasn’t immune in the second half, its $52 million of operating earnings was more than the SMH and The Age and the other specialist publications (including BRW and the AFR) combined.

The message? It’s complex, but here’s something the Fairfax board can have for free: don’t charge for news content like Rupert Murdoch wants you to. Why should Fairfax surrender its leading position to level the playing field and improve Murdoch’s second-class online status in Australia? Fairfax is the dominant online news brand in this country and it’s vastly more profitable than the Fairfax metro papers. For that matter it’s vastly more profitable than the Nine and Seven TV Networks and probably the Ten network is at the moment. Newspapers may be dying in a ditch, but Fairfax still has a good little earner online … unless Rupert cons them out of it.

Peter Fray

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