Strategies from an Australian success story

The Australian print industry isn’t caving in anytime soon thanks to its readers’ penchant to run marathons, eat gourmet food, watch videos and play with the latest smartphone applications. Robert Whitehead, marketing and sales director at Fairfax Media, is transforming the Australians’ habits into revenue for what seemed to be a dying industry.

“The collection of these activities will be enough to be able to sustain the newsroom, fingers-crossed,” Whitehead said during his presentation at the INK+BEYOND conference on Friday, April 29.

Fairfax Media, a company that owns 440 publications and 287 websites, has launched new applications and organized world-scale events to monetize its content. And this strategy is paying off.

According to Whitehead, Canadian print companies can benefit from a similar strategy because there are many similarities between the countries’ media markets.

Fairfax dove into the applications market two years ago. Among one of its top sellers is a weather application that allows readers to download the app for free and then upgrade to a paid, premium version. All applications will use this premium approach in the future, Whitehead said. He expects that it will boost company revenue.

Dining apps that allow mobile users to find restaurants, make reservations and get special offers drew queues to the country’s eating spots, all at little or no cost to Fairfax.

“If you’re in apps, there are other things you can do with apps, but if you’re not in it, you don’t know,” he said. “And if you’ve got a boss that says ‘Yeah, but everybody’s saying nobody’s making money out of apps,’ get him to give me a call.”

Fairfax’s smartphone strategy has been so successful that the company now launches a new application every six months. The only condition is that the fresh product has to make money in its first year, Whitehead said.

The media company has also organized the world’s largest food festivals and marathons to boost its revenues and branding.

Financing was not a big issue since sponsors picked up much of the tab, Whitehead said. The organizers’ main concern was that sharks would show up for the swimming competition. Fortunately, they didn’t.

Plenty of romantic singles and travel junkies flock to the dating and rentals pages that Fairfax websites host. Whitehead said the transactions made through these pages could become the new classifieds for newspapers. The company’s Stayz holiday rentals site already gets 230,000 inquiries per month.

Fairfax’s latest venture was the expansion of its video services.
The company first put long-form video on its websites in October 2010 and accumulated 120,000 viewers in the first six months. The programs show one advertisement per eight minutes of programming.

The videos that are linked to current events tend to be the most successful, Whitehead said.

“People really like it when there’s a sharable item to a news event,” he said. “It’s about being as opportunistic as I would be running a newsroom.”