As recently as February Fairfax were in denial.
Here are some facts:
• The standard measure of engagement for business audiences is that published by IPSOS. By its measure, The Australian Financial Review has a higher readership among senior executives than does The Wall Street Journal in the USA or The Financial Times in the UK. The AFR’s reach grew in the last year to its highest level so far recorded. This occurred despite the global financial crisis and its after effects.
• On available data The AFR is the only publication of its kind to have produced profit through all of the last 15 years. It produced record profits in some years that the FT and WSJ reported losses.
• Unlike many others, The AFR did not create a free web site. This is a major reason for its sustained profitability.
• The paid model for afr.com is no longer controversial. The model is now promoted by people such as Mr Rupert Murdoch who was among its critics.
The new CEO Greg Hywood has different views.
RG: Greg , you’ve got a new executive in charge of the AFR who is coming in. What are you going to do about product, both online and in print? How do you want to change that?
GH: Well, it’s going to be very much Brett’s baby obviously, but the Financial Review is a particularly important product or particularly important newspaper for this country. It was the driving force behind the big economic reforms of the ‘80s. And we see it as integral to the future of the company. Quite clearly we have to look at the issues around the paywall and quite clearly we have to look at the issues around circulation. And the brief for the new management team will be to make sure that we’re performing well online and in newspaper. That’s going to be very much a focus.
RG: You said you’d lower the pay wall? Is that the idea?
GH: Well, we’ll be reviewing what works best. It’s extremely important that the audience who’ve come to rely and respect on the AFR over the years can connect with that brand.
RG: Have you been affected by what Rupert Murdoch has done with The Australian? He’s certainly beefed up the investment area and, of course, the Spectator as well. Has that affected the Fin Review?
GH: Well, business journalism is competitive. Always has been and you guys have come into the market and created new competition and there’s no doubt The Australian has beefed up its business. The AFR operates in an intensely competitive environment and has to operate effectively.
(HT: Chris Joye)