catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The Australian Out on its Own

with 20 comments

News Limited has announced a very interesting reorganisation in Australia. The Australian, the national daily, will move out from under Nationwide News which contains the state based dailies. It will, says the report, “position The Australian for further growth in print and online, as well as through emerging digital platforms such as smartphones and electronic readers, at a time when the media group is looking to charge for online content.”

Reorganistations  can happen for all sorts of reasons: a slow week in the HR department, personality conflicts, a need to give a promising manager a chance to run something. With a well managed company like News though, we should give the benefit of the doubt and accept that there is a good business reason, though not necessarily the one announced.

Murdoch has been trying to thrash out an online strategy for quite a while. He (and on important issues we can assume that it is his decision) has made mistakes. MySpace looks like an expensive mistake. He has publicly canvassed whether he can or should charge for content online and seems to have changed his mind a couple of times on this. His  current position is that he will.

Many tech scribblers dismiss Murdoch and his organisation: “he just doesn’t get the internet” is a common theme. This I think is a misunderstanding of how, in the real world, companies develop strategies when technology changes the game. No-one can predict the future so trial and error is the only way to get there. Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Apple all did that.

I would not bet against Murdoch. If any old-media organisation will survive, my guess is that it will be his.

Coming back to the reorganisation, I suspect that The Australian has been chosen as the publication to survive in Australia. Classified advertising is dying and that is hurting the state papers – though not Murdoch as much as Fairfax – and the future is probably in national content and national advertising. It is a big bet, and ironic after those stories that The Australian was continued for many years to give Murdoch as bit of class in his home country.

It seems to me that The Australian has improved a lot in recent years. You might want to bleep over the leaders and some of the columns if they offend you and you are left with meatier and better news stories than you get elsewhere.

It will all be most interesting to watch.

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Written by Ken Nielsen

January 13, 2010 at 9:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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20 Responses

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  1. I’ll bet against him at least on the Australian (if I could!). The only section that I find better than other papers or that other papers don’t have is the H.Ed one, and I imagine that only has very limited appeal. The rest appears essentially duplicated across different papers. Given this, I can’t see why people won’t just plonk their browsers somewhere else. I know I will.
    .
    It seems to me that all of these “general” papers are stuck in a bit of a prisoners dilemma type situation. As long as one or two of them have the main news, it undercuts all the rest, and there will always be incentive to be one of those that do the undercutting given advertising revenues.

    conrad

    January 13, 2010 at 11:49 am

  2. It’s the best paper in the country, Conrad.

    jc

    January 13, 2010 at 12:00 pm

  3. what does super-media-consultant Chairman Mark Bahnisch have to say about all this?

    jtfsoon

    January 13, 2010 at 12:17 pm

  4. Dunno, I’m fixated on the Lamborghini thread. It’s the best thread there in a long time and of course Murdoch comes into the discussion.

    So the law is an ass, big deal. Why do I need to weep for this guy in particular? Because of a dictum from a Murdoch paper? Forget it, especially when the punishment is so benign. One less car, meh.

    I’m sure MarkB from LP has a position on the Australian’s Strategy and perhaps wants to keep int under raps prior to discussing it with Rupert.

    jc

    January 13, 2010 at 12:24 pm

  5. That is just nasty

    tal

    January 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm

  6. Talking about papers.

    I’m quietly watching in wry amusement as The Age continues to wither its pages down almost every month. At the rate they reducing pages the term Board sheet will take on a whole new meaning… It will literally become one sheet… one broad sheet, eventually printed on just one page.

    jc

    January 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm

  7. Yeah, that Lambo thread is one of the more dreadful things I have read in a blog for quite a while.
    There are frightening people about.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 13, 2010 at 12:39 pm

  8. “It’s the best paper in the country, Conrad.”
    .
    That doesn’t mean it’s a good paper — I find the quality and diversity of papers in Aus pretty awful in general. I also don’t think it’s different enough to other papers that people will care much about not having it. I guess it also depends how much they want to charge — if it was 5c a day, I might get it.

    conrad

    January 13, 2010 at 1:05 pm

  9. Poor old myspace. It’s the betamax of our times, without any of the technological superiority.

    Infidel Tiger

    January 13, 2010 at 1:25 pm

  10. Reading the link to the their strategy it appears they’re going right after Farleftfax in a big way and giving the advertisers far more opportunity to match the readership with the ads.

    I always wondered when the farleftfax advertisers such as Myers and DG’s or expensive watch retailers would begin to wake up that The Age’s readership are not their target audience unless they thought Clive Hamilton wannabe types and newly minted doctors wives were.

    I’m watching with further anticipation of another round of shareholder dilation at Farleftfax in the not too distant future unless of course the online dating service website makes them billions in revenues each year.

    Falling off a cliff and another comes along.

    http://www.google.com/finance?q=ASX%3AFXJ

    jc

    January 13, 2010 at 1:37 pm

  11. Murdoch’s dilemma reminds me of this.

    Sleetmute

    January 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm

  12. Crikey discusses whether Australian will be willing to pay for online news.
    http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/01/13/murdochs-grand-paywall-experiment-will-aussies-pay/

    It quotes some research by Swinburne in which people were asked whether they would pay. No business would make a decision on “research” like this. Consumers do not tell the truth, especially when asked a question like “would you pay for something that you now get free?”

    Any market researcher who proposed a project like this would be laughed out of the profession. Any marketing manager who proposed it would lose her job.
    I don’t know why universities still produce such nonsense and claim it’s scientific.

    Now, I have no idea how many people will pay. Web publishers do need to work out a model that somehow pays the cost of creating the content plus a profit. I don’t know how they will do it but I would still bet on Murdoch to be there at the finish.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 13, 2010 at 2:08 pm

  13. I bet Murdoch won’t be there at the finish — that’s what being 78 already does to you. It will be interesting to see whether his kids/whoever-else-makes-the-big-decisions are as smart as him. Hopefully they’re smarter than James Packer, otherwise we might see them buying Second Life also.

    conrad

    January 13, 2010 at 3:41 pm

  14. Yes, conrad, you’ve got a point.
    But you never know, his mother is 101.
    Another 5-10 years will get the online media issue resolved one way or the other.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 13, 2010 at 3:49 pm

  15. Many tech scribblers dismiss Murdoch and his organisation: “he just doesn’t get the internet” is a common theme..

    It's a common theme because he, um, doesn't get the internet. Until a few years ago he maintained that no-one would ever give up the pleasure of reading newspapers. And then, wow, he suddenly realised people had given up the pleasure of reading newspapers.
    .
    This is, in part, due to the fact that what used to be news is now a menagerie of run downs of celebrity cellulite and intellectually arid, propogandistic tripe that would've made the editor of Pravda c. 1950 blush.
    .
    Naturally they’ll be a chorus of howls here. After all Murdoch is always spruiking about freedom and the market. So while he tries to enforce a monopoly throughout the Anglosphere that harnesses the vast power of proud stupidity and increasingly treats any voice that dissents or worse launches unassailable criticism of his political allies as if it is crazy (more shades of the Sovs) all those people who believe in freedom and economic competition will blindly follow him because what people say is more important than what people do.

    Adrien

    January 13, 2010 at 5:25 pm

  16. Adrien – I’ll not defend Murdoch’s papers. I like the Australian and the WSJ but that’s taste.

    No -one in the MSM gets the internet now. Understandable because it changes all the rules they learned over many years.

    But I believe Murdoch has the perserverance and willingness to experiment and change his mind to get there. I can’t see any print media anywhere in the English speaking world that will do more than hang on in a run down form.
    So, if not Murdoch, then probably no-one.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 13, 2010 at 6:11 pm

  17. I think the most interesting question will be waht happens to the paper’s online strategy. Murdoch’s been banging-on for ages about readers paying for content being the way to go.

    Crikey today reports:

    “Australian researchers working with the international World Internet Project have conducted their first survey on whether and how much Australians will pay for content online. The results have been released to Crikey, and they are depressing for Rupert.”

    http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/01/13/murdochs-grand-paywall-experiment-will-aussies-pay/

    And that seems to be consistent with failed attempts by other papares earlier in the decade to force readers to pay, particularly the NY Times which eventually realised they were flogging a dead horse a couple of years back.

    And you need only to look at the success of the Guardian’s website to see that you can come up with a viable successful web strategy where you don’t flog your readers and you greatly enhance the brand’s global presence.

    BirdLab

    January 13, 2010 at 7:13 pm

  18. I think the future of the paper business rests nestled somewhere in the tablet technology that’s coming out where you could end up buying a bundled up set of pay sites and fork over the cash each month like you do for cable television.

    Ted Turner had an enormous problem convincing the cable operators that there was a market for 24 hour news and he was right.

    People will pay for decent content. I know I would pay for the Oz and already pay Murdoch for the WSJ and Barrons.

    If he was younger he’d kill fairfax by sending those idiots bust.

    I pay 79 bucks for the online version of the WSJ and about the same for Barrons I think.

    Farfax charges over 1000 bucks for the AFR- the most left wing business newspaper in the world. I could easily see him doing a local version of the WSJ and finally take those boneheads out. I think the AFR is the only paper those meatheads make money on.

    jc

    January 13, 2010 at 7:31 pm

  19. Birdlab – this was my reaction to the “research” quoted by Crikey:

    It quotes some research by Swinburne in which people were asked whether they would pay. No business would make a decision on “research” like this. Consumers do not tell the truth, especially when asked a question like “would you pay for something that you now get free?”

    Any market researcher who proposed a project like this would be laughed out of the profession. Any marketing manager who proposed it would lose her job.
    I don’t know why universities still produce such nonsense and claim it’s scientific.

    Somebody’s going to figure out how to add enough value to a news site to get people to pay. And/or find a way of selling sufficient advertising. My bet is that it will Murdoch. He is a good gambler and he wants it badly.

    Most other media proprietors seem content to decline gracefully.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 13, 2010 at 8:13 pm

  20. I think you make a fair point about the reserach, Ken. But I guess the key to the thing is content, for which some people will happily pay.

    But I’ll stick to my guns. I don’t think it’s a winning strategy. Why, for instance, would I pay for Timesonline when I can get equally quality content from the Independent or the Garudian for free?

    Having said that, Crikey seems to have carved out a successful business model for itself, but it’s catering to a niche market.

    And JC, the AFR charges $1000? Fuck me. Where do they find these rubes?

    BirdLab

    January 14, 2010 at 2:18 pm


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