The first systematic closure of Australian paid newspapers has begun.

Yesterday, regional publisher APN announced that paid editions of two long-standing titles — the Tweed Daily News and the Coffs Coast Advocate — would vanish during the week with the “Daily” surviving only on Saturday and the Advocate retaining its Wednesday and Saturday free editions.

The two mastheads have been given three weeks to live in their current form before embarking on a brave new digital-centric strategy.

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An apologetic email to staff explained that the titles in their current form were unprofitable and that the Daily News — which had seen its circulation dip below 4,000 amid a booming population — had become terminal. Its Saturday cover price will now be slashed from $1.50 to just 50 cents.

APN also announced that its two weekly glitter strip giveaways — The Gold Coast Mail and the brand new Robina Mail — will vanish before the end of the year. However, a free weekly, the 30,000-circulation Border Mail, would remain untouched.

Crikey understands that a significant number of voluntary redundancies will be triggered as a result of the changes and other affected staff will be redeployed elsewhere within the APN empire.

APN is the dominant regional publisher across northern NSW and rural Queensland and publishes 22 daily and over 100 non-daily papers in Australia and New Zealand. Despite fears the closures could spread, APN regional media CEO Warren Bright told Crikey this morning there were no current plans to mothball other titles.

Media analyst Steve Allan said the closures were reflective of fresh-faced CEO Brett Chenoweth’s talent for forensic analysis and cost-cutting.

“This is about a new chief executive coming in and thinking ‘we’re not going to beat them… let’s just rationalise make the best of running a distant second.”

“The kind of skills Brett’s bought to the business has stood them in good stead,” he added, despite a 64% drop in the share price this year.

He said the move to ditch the two Gold Coast freebies was a tacit concession the space is increasingly dominated by News Limited’s Gold Coast Bulletin.

“It’s really no surprise to us, the Gold Coast and the regions are really controlled by News. They’re well and truly established compared with APN and they have the Bully. They have more advertising demand and yield than anyone else.”

As Crikey has previously reported, APN is currently the target of an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission predatory pricing probe on the Sunshine Coast.

It is accused of selling advertising at below the cost of physical newsprint to force an independent competitor, My Property Preview, to the wall.

Some observers say the decision to end production of the Gold Coast titles is part of a plan to cross-subsidise the losses incurred further north, which has seen full-page ads offered up in Fairfax joint-venture Domain for a paltry $140-$190 each.

On November 2, local Fisher MP Peter Slipper used an adjournment debate in the House of Representatives to highlight alleged breaches of the law by APN. He called upon the ACCC to “investigate this matter thoroughly to ensure Australian independent publishers are not forced out of the market by predatory pricing.”

APN’s Bright declined to comment on the ACCC investigation but did say his new “digital first” strategy would deliver substantial benefits for advertisers and readers on the Tweed.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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