Compact won’t stop decline: Fairfax unveils strategy behind print overhaul

BMW will be the official sponsor for the launch of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age compact editions, which Fairfax does not expect will arrest print declines long term.

Revealing copies of the new compacts to the media for the first time this morning, Fairfax said it expects an initial uplift following the new format’s launch on 4 March, but its strategy is not based around long-term circulation gains.

“There will definitely be an increase particularly at launch,” commercial director for Fairfax Metro Media, Ed Harrison, said. “Whether or not it gives us a huge sustained lift we will have to wait and see… Our strategy is not based around significant long-term gains in circulation.”

The move from broadsheet to compact is a well-trodden path among publishers globally, having played out in the UK and US some time ago. Fairfax moved its New Zealand Herald from a broadsheet to compact in September last year, resulting in a 30% improvement in sales in the first week, before tailing off to between 2% to 5% above its broadsheet figures.

Fairfax will also introduce new sections to the papers, redesign the homepages of their websites and simplify its rate card for advertisers, although ad rates will stay the same.

Director of advertising strategy, Sarah Keith, said extensive neuro-testing and eye tracking studies had been conducted on the new formats, revealing engagement with the content had improved 22% while eye gaze on ads was up 50%.

“When people purchase from us they purchase the environment, and that remains strong,” Keith said.

The resdesign will see sport placed at the back of the paper, business placed in a self-contained section that can be lifted out of the middle and new sections ‘Pulse’, a health and wellbeing section, and ‘The Shortlist’, an expanded entertainment guide, join the existing content streams. Fairfax stressed the tone and commitment to quality journalism will not change, even though the 10% jump in font size will mean shorter stories.

Redesigned homepages for the masthead’s websites will also be rolled out a day prior to the compact’s launch, focussed on reducing clutter and making mobile sites more ‘finger friendly’.

The change marks a rejuvenation of the brands across all platforms, chief product officer Sigrid Kirk said. “Fundamentally it’s about modernising our site… we’ve tried to make it more user friendly for multiple screens and devices,” Kirk said. “You’ll find that there’s more white space making it fundamentally more tablet friendly.”

The new design will also feature elements of personalisation, zeitgeist style content, more prominence to associated properties, such as women’s network the Daily Life, and highly shared and commented on content, in what is the first major revamp for the mastheads’ online destinations in several years.

It was revealed a 20% increase in referrals through social media had been noticed since social media editors were hired for each masthead during last year’s newsroom restructure.

“We’re thrilled from the response we’ve had from our readers on this,” Kirk added. “We’re not just launching a newspaper in a new smaller shape, we’re launching a fundamentally better product.”

BMW’s sponsorship of the launch, which promotes its X1 compact SUV, will see the brand ‘metroblock’ the Herald and Age for the day across print, website, mobile and tablet.