The CWD - a rival publisher's perspective
Last week's big announcement about a likely merger between Fairfax and the Nine Network has the potential to completely change the media landscape in regional Cities like Orange. It is for that reason that I now feel it highly appropriate for me to offer some thoughts on the matter, after all, who is better placed than a rival publisher, to be able to speculate intelligently on what the future may hold.
Let me start by saying that most news reporting on the issue, and indeed anything to do with Fairfax, is so well managed and controlled that getting any view other than their own is difficult. Fairfax is so big and strong, and because so many in the industry rely on them for something, voices like mine have little chance of being heard. Plus, if people like me use our own publications to say anything that is the slightest bit critical of Fairfax or their practices, it will be viewed by many or touted as nothing more than sour grapes. In my case, nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, we have used comparison type ads at times to highlight the differences between our products and theirs, and we've used robust language to try and draw people's attention to practices or claims which we believe to be very misleading at times, but at the end of the day, I'd have to say that much of what we've tried to communicate to readers still hasn't hit the mark, in some cases at least. I can't do much about that now but what I can do is put a few things on record, given that the Fairfax we've come to know, may not be here for much longer.
First, it is no secret that the Central Western Daily is no longer part of the media's once "rivers of gold" existence. One clear indication of this can be seen in the amount of money they now get from the sales of the CWD each day alone. It wasn't that long ago that the CWD sold for between $1 and $1.50 and that each day on average, they sold around 6,000 papers. That would have equated to around $1.5 - $2 million dollars a year on paper sales alone. Today that daily average has dropped closer to 2,000 and even with the cover price now around $1.80-$2, the annual income would now probably be less than $1 million.
The flow on effect of this can first be seen in the number of advertisers who appear each issue. Advertisers are virtually buying an audience when they buy any type of ad, so when the audience drops significantly, and the price doesn't, the value of the advertising is reduced, and advertisers therefore go looking for better alternatives.
This trend has led to a huge drop in advertisers who place ads in the CWD and Midstate Observer. You can almost count the number of local small business display ads in the CWD or Midstate Observer each issue on one hand, and if you know the industry, you'll also know that for many months, each CWD has carried countless ads for their own Fairfax products or affiliated products, often up to 3 - 4 pages of combined space is taken up with such ads.
The next flow on effect impacts on the size of each issue. Where a Saturday CWD once boasted as many as 100 or more pages, that's after counting the pages of their two real estate guides into their pages, today the average page numbers in the Saturday CWD are around 32 and the weekday issue averages around 20 pages
The next flow on effect is a drop in the quality of the content. With the rivers of gold first deteriorating into a stream of silver and more recently, a trickle of bronze, it's not hard to understand why the content of newspapers like the CWD has been reduced to a mish mash of what the industry calls fluffy news, mixed with some local news and some state and national news.
If you put all this together, it's not hard to imagine that where once the CWD had a turnover of several million dollars a year, today it could well be a fraction of that, and that's the real point I'm making here.
These are the facts as we know them -
News reporting has changed over time, as have reader's habits. In depth news reporting about issues and follow up stories have given way to a mix of fluffy stories, trivial issues and shorter stories overall, anything that can be generated or produced quickly and cheaply. Part of the reason for this is that all media, particularly electronic media outlets, now devote several hours a day to "news" programs, some dressed up as radio talkback shows or lifestyle programs, whereas once it was news headlines on the hour on radio, and an hour or so of real news each night for most people. With all this "news" time to fill, the networks have to fill these programs and so they'll include anything from advertising, dressed up as news, self-promotion for their own programming, overseas news that has little relevance to Australia and several items which could be better placed on shows like the former Funniest Home Videos. Social media has also driven this trend with people now wanting to know what's happening in the world as it happens. Details have given way to just reading headlines for many people.
The CWD and the Midstate Observers are mere shadows of their former selves. Sales of the CWD alone have dropped around 3,000 - 5,000 a day over the last several years.
It's only a matter of time before paying for a printed newspaper will be a thing of the past.
The rivers of gold are gone forever.
Online news is the future.
Fairfax and the Nine Network are planning to merge.
So far, nothing definite has been said about the future of Fairfax's regional newspapers like the CWD.
My predications -
The printed version of the CWD will cease to exist, the only question is when. It's hard to believe that the new NINE Group could resurrect the CWD to anywhere near its former glory or be interested in any commercial operation that did not have the prospect of yielding healthy financial returns for its investors/shareholders.
The Midstate Observer will cease to exist. It has generally been 8 pages per issue for 12 months or more now, with little or no news and appears to be simply a carrier for the local Domain Real Estate Guide and a few catalogue inserts.
The local online news service may continue, but it could be like most news services nowadays, and be affiliated with a bigger Hub or fed out of Sydney but with a local or separate component, not unlike local radio news and local television news is presented now.
The Fairfaxes and News Corps will eventually abandon the regional areas making way for magazines like Orange City Life to emerge in other regional cities. I believe former newspaper people right across Australia, would jump at the chance to produce an Orange City Life type publication in similar size cities, provided they don't have a Fairfax or News Corp publication to compete with. I believe locals would warmly embrace a good quality publication in any regional centre, if it was along the lines of Orange City Life. You only have to look at Dubbo Photo News (Dubbo) and Bathurst City Life (Bathurst) to be convinced of this.
And finally, what I'm about to say will seem a stretch to many, but my firm belief is that the time may come when a city's local Council may play a part of providing a magazine or community newsletter like Orange City Life for their community. Apart from the service it would provide, it could be used as a profit generator for the Council to be used for further promotion of tourism or business initiatives.
For the record -
Orange City Life is not a newspaper and doesn't try to be. We have recently commenced Orange City News to produce some local news but as mentioned, it's online only and I believe that's the right platform for it. Orange City Life is more of a high-quality community newsletter and I believe our future is assured for some time yet.