Still building: Digital and print priorities in IPMG renewal

Sep 26, 2008 at 02:30 am by Staff

There’s ongoing industry speculation about what Independent Print Media Group plans to do with its new Warwick Farm site in south-west Sydney. But then, there’s ongoing speculation about what IPMG plans to do, period. And that’s the prerogative of the Hannan family-owned print operation ... to mind its own business. Since 2003, when the Hannans bought from J.B. and T.V. Fairfax – now major shareholders in an expanded Fairfax Media – their remaining shares in the private business which is IPMG, it has been precisely that ... private. It’s now approaching half a century since the Hannan family partnered with the Packer family and Fairfax to form a publishing company which first merged five competing papers into three, and then spawned the massive Hannanprint commercial printing operation. Francis Hannan had opened his first butcher’s shop in Randwick in 1887, having migrated from Ireland via New Zealand in 1879, paving the way for a chain of butchery businesses and an impressive property portfolio. Having bought the 11-hectare former British Oxygen site in Bourke Road, Alexandria, it moved the Hannanprint business there in 1986, extending it to create what is claimed to be the largest single-site printing facility in the southern hemisphere. A commitment to Fairfax, whose weekly ‘Good Weekend’ magazine supplement it has printed since 1988, led to the opening of a Melbourne plant in Noble Park, relocated from the Macquarie Print operation acquired from John Armati (and Fairfax) in 1990. IPMG, which now has 1600 staff and claims annual turnover of more than $500 million, has also just spent more than $30 million on upgrades and expansion at the Alexandria site within South Sydney Corporate Park. New are sports facilities including a gymnasium, a 25 metre swimming pool, rooftop tennis court and a conference centre. Earlier this year, IPMG – apparently cashed up after the $530 million sale of the Federal Publishing magazine and suburban newspaper business to News Limited – bought the former Kimberly-Clark mill site in Warwick Farm for a reported $29 million. Relocation of Hannanprint Sydney to this western Sydney suburb is not on the cards, according to a statement by print general manager Stephen Anstice ... but then, those cards have traditionally been kept close to the corporate chest. And as the time IPMG can expect to get possession approaches, Michael Hannan has let it be known that the group will spend $150 million on a new catalogue and magazine printing centre. It’s a relatively modest sum, but enough to create a pretty focussed operation on a site it now owns. By comparison, the much talked-of new Cox Target Media plant in St Petersburg, Florida – designed to print 52 billion advertising inserts a year in targetted 10,000-copy units – cost only US$220 million ($257 million). However the future of IPMG is not solely in print. Its print publishing activities restricted after the FPC sale to News, the group has developed a digital business. Its wholly-owned Independent Digital Media division, under the direction of chief executive (and former Time South Pacific managing director) David Burkett, has been building a portfolio of digital holdings including Jane Dinneen’s online advertising sales company Response Directive and property website Homehound. Burkett says the company has its eyes on the opportunity to strengthen links between advertisers and premium independent websites. “Our goal is to ensure Response Directive is positioned to be the market leader in this space,” he says. Dinneen stayed as managing director, and Response Directive now represents IDM’s websites including In April, Michael Hannan and IPMG chief financial officer Kevin Slaven joined the board of digital and interactive marketing communications group BlueFreeway after IPMG increased its shareholding to 19.9 per cent. Hannan becomes non-executive chairman. In the newspaper segment, IDM’s publisher solutions has Australian rights to the SaxoTech’s online collaborative software, used to good effect on sites such as, now part of News Limited. Speculation continues about the form in which magazine giant ACP plans its production future. Will it go ahead with the mooted plans for its own plant? Or with new leadership at parent Publishing and Broadcasting – courtesy of its major private-equity partner – will continued outsourcing get the nod? And 20 years after the first ‘Good Weekend’ – and 27 years after Hannan’s first heatset press printed ‘Modern Motor’ for the then Packer-owned ACP – Fairfax is known to be keen to take on more of its own heatset production as contracts come up for renewal. In March, Fairfax Media web printing chief executive Bob Lockley told GXpress that looking at the best presses, inline finishing and robotics would be part of his brief at DRUPA. Fairfax has some heatset capacity through its 2007 acquisition of Rural Press, including the hybrid MAN Roland Uniset press installed as part of a $24 development in North Richmond in 1999. Since then, other semicommercial sites have followed at West Australian Newspapers in Perth, and at APN News & Media in Yandina, Queensland. Currently Fairfax purchases the paper stock for its publications, and outsources the printing to IPMG. Whether the fact that John B. Fairfax and his family interests are now closely involved in Fairfax Media, and no longer in IPMG, is significant remains for speculation. What is clear is that IPMG will be keen to demonstrate that it can continue to meet these two groups’ heatset requirements more efficiently and economically than they can themselves.
Sections: Columns & opinion


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