Australian publisher Fairfax Media yesterday said it would shed 1,900 jobs over three years and erect pay walls for two flagship newspapers as readers increasingly move online.
The company said it is giving itself the flexibility to ditch its print operations entirely at some point in the future if that is what consumers demand.
The job cuts at the Sydney-based media empire represent almost one-fifth of its 10,000 staff, spokesman Brad Hatch said.
Fairfax said that its Sydney Morning Herald and The Age broadsheet newspapers would become tabloids and their Web sites would introduce pay walls from early next year.
Fairfax owns more than 300 newspapers, 50 Web sites and 15 radio stations in Australia and New Zealand.
Australian staff were told in a memo that 300 jobs would be shed within three months in the cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth. Half of these jobs would be editorial.
Australia’s largest newspaper publisher after News Corp also said it would close two printing plants in Sydney and Melbourne by June 2014.
Both sites have printing presses with significant surplus capacity that is no longer required, Fairfax said.
In a filing to the Australian stock exchange, Fairfax said the changes “provide flexibility to move the business to a digital-only model if that is what is required in the future.”
The company said 65 percent of readers of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age now access that content digitally — through computers, smartphones, tablets or smart television.
“Readers’ behaviors have changed and will not change back,” chief executive Greg Hywood said in a statement. “As a result, we are taking decisive actions to fundamentally change the way we do business.”
Hywood said Fairfax devised the changes after considering the merits of a range of alternatives, including splitting the company into its separate businesses.
“The package of strategic initiatives is bold, and several are difficult, particularly as they will impact on some of our people,” he said
“However, we believe that they are in the best interests of Fairfax, our shareholders, and ultimately the majority of our people,” he said.
The restructuring will have a one-off cost of about A$248 million (US$251 million) and result in annual savings of A$235 million from June 2014.
Allen Williams, CEO of Fairfax’s New Zealand operations, yesterday said the announcement would not affect the company’s 2,500 New Zealand employees.
There are no plans to shift Fairfax’s New Zealand broadsheet newspapers to tabloid formats or introduce Web site pay walls, he said.
Fairfax owns more than 70 New Zealand daily and community newspapers, as well as more than 25 magazines and a number of Web sites.