Fairfax: No paywall for NZ sites for now

07:26, Jun 18 2012

Fairfax says there are no plans at present to introduce paywalls on its New Zealand websites despite plans to charge for online content in Australia.

The trans-Tasman media company announced today that it would axe 1900 of its more than 10,000 staff, close two printing presses and print the two Australian newspapers in a "compact" rather than a full broadsheet format.

The changes are designed to cut A$65 million in annual costs and reflect Fairfax's shift to "an increasingly digital business".

Fairfax New Zealand chief executive Allen Williams said none of the redundancies would be in New Zealand.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age will start moving their content behind a paywall early next year when they will only allow internet users to read a limited number of stories for free.

Williams said Fairfax had no plans at present to move New Zealand titles to a compact format or to introduce metered paywalls on its websites here.

The shift in audience from print to online was driving the changes in Australia, he said. "We haven't seen the shift to digital away from print as they have. Our plans will be governed by the needs of the New Zealand market and its readers and advertisers."

The Dominion Post this month attained 50,000 subscribers for its Saturday edition for the first time.

Fairfax also announced today that it had sold a further 15 per cent stake in Trade Me, raising A$160m and reducing its shareholding in the online powerhouse to 51 per cent, but said it intended to retain its majority shareholding.

Fairfax bought Trade Me from founder Sam Morgan and his fellow private investors for $700m in 2006 and previously recouped $364m by selling a 34 per cent stake through Trade Me's initial public offering in December.

Investors in both companies responded positively. Fairfax shares have slid from a high of more than $5 in 2007 but were up 7.8 per cent at A$0.652 in afternoon trading on the ASX. Trade Me shares were up 3.9 per cent at $3.70.

Australian media forecaster Ross Dawson said the Australian lay-offs suggested newspapers would "essentially die in Australia within the decade" but believed publishers such as Fairfax could survive.

"I believe we will have an even richer and more diverse news media landscape in years to come. The large news companies of today have baggage in their debt, infrastructure, and mindset, however they are still better positioned than anyone else to dominate the news landscape of tomorrow, if they act decisively," he said.

Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood said Fairfax had considered a "demerger"  a break-up of the company  as an alternative to the restructuring. "No one should be in any doubt that we are operating in very challenging times," he said.

Trade Me chairman David Kirk said the sell-down of shares by Fairfax was a positive step for Trade Me shareholders.

"We understand the shares have been placed with a wide range of New Zealand and Australian institutions, and this broader spread of shareholdings in Trade Me will assist liquidity," he said. "There has been strong support from existing Trade Me shareholders, which shows their confidence in the company."