Apoplexy and indigestion with West’s $1m ‘chicken feed’

May 13, 2024 at 05:33 pm by admin

Do the math: An extra $3000-a-day – described in today’s Australian as “chicken feed to the bean counters at the respective media outlets” – is a little short of a million dollars by our calculations.

Must be well-paid bean counters, we reckon.

It’s Monday, traditionally ‘media day’ for Australia’s news publishers, and they’re having a field day with Nine’s decision to stop printing its Australian Financial Review in Perth because printer-rival Seven West Media is asking for a 100 per cent increase in the cost.

Feigning disinterest The Australian refers to SWM as “Nine’s main commercial rival”, while forgetting for a moment that its biggest rival is in fact News Corp, publisher of the national daily – the country’s only other daily apart from the AFR – and bigger than either of them.

And with revenue from print publishing dwindling almost everywhere, a million’s not “chicken feed” anywhere.

Things may not have changed much since SWM took on the printing of the Financial Review last year – filling in for Ive Group, which had decided that its 2020 acquisition of ACM’s Mandurah print centre wasn’t the smartest idea. Welcome to the newspaper industry guys. Owning a newspaper press is usually a strategic decision, not always an economic one.

But it’s eons since SWM’s West Australian Newspapers spent $210 million on the 2008 Perth “production upgrade” that included integrated six-folder double and single-width KBA Colora and Comet presses – the latter including two heatset towers – and a three-drum Ferag inserting system, in what was still a golden age for print publishers.

Since then, of course, Nine has bought Fairfax Media (in 2018) and decided it would entrust printing of those of the newly-acquired newspapers it retained, to third-party contractors; ACM has also found newspaper printing a liability since being forced to close many of its regional mastheads post-COVID and as much of the advertising market evaporated; and of course, News Corp has also pulled out of printing in Western Australia, following its sale of the (Perth) Sunday Times to SWM.

Nine maintains a digital presence in WA through its Perth Now, and a digital version of the AFR will continue to be available online.

The relationship between Seven and Nine has sometimes been tense, especially when (according to Guardian Australia) Nine thought it lost a “scoop” about the separation of mining billionaire Andrew Forrest and his wife Nicola to its printer (you’ll have to look that one up! – Ed)

Coverage of the spat between Seven and Nine has included some interesting “insights”, among them a third-party suggestion that Nine isn’t that fussed about WA print anyway. The Australian reported that it “has been told” that when Seven chief executive Jeff Howard spoke to his Nine oppo, Mike Sneesby last week, informing him that there was “no room to negotiate” on prices, “the Nine boss was indifferent, even nonchalant” about the end of print in the state, saying “We are going to go digital-only one day anyway, so it’s no big deal.”

Predecessor Fairfax had been talking about cutting print for years before, of course, a decision deferred only as a result of the savings wrought by shutting its expensive Chullora and Tullamarine print sites in favour of North Richmond and Ballarat, the “print sharing” agreement, and the sale of Fairfax.

More irony came with an offer by SWM boss Kerry Stokes to “lend” the cost difference to Nine: “If they are that hard up, I am happy to lend them the money to carry on printing the AFR in WA, as we care about readers,” he told The Australian. The paper was so happy with the quote it put Stokes’ image on the top of the front page.

Seven will be facing most of the same pressures of print publishing in a shrinking advertising market, shared by others in print media, including News and ACM, and with the costs of the second-largest print centre in the country.

It has already “addressed debt” with the $75 million sale of its Osborne Park headquarters – which house the offices of the West Australian, Seven’s studios and the print works – to the “special purpose” Primewest Media Trust in 2020.

Since then, the costs of Ben Roberts-Smith’s unsuccessful defamation case against Nine Newspapers won’t have helped.

But hey, what’s $1 million between friends with a problem in common? There perhaps, you have it.

Peter Coleman

Sections: Newsmedia industry


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