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Axe falls on Fairfax computer titles

UPDATE / June 17: NBR ONLINE has obtained a copy of a press release Fairfax will shortly send on the closure of NZ PC World, Computerworld NZ and Reseller News.

The final Fairfax-licensed issues of each publication will be in July. The statement says there will be job losses - indicating a tighter situation than the closure of the Independent, when reporters were reallocated to a busiiness reporting hub.

The press release says IDG - the multinational publisher behind the titles - will continue to serve the New Zealand market. And a source close to negotiations tells NBR there are four parties interested in picking up the local licenses to PC World, Comptuerworld and Reseller.

However, the fact Faifax plans to keep CIO magazine - the stable's cash cow, by dint of its associated events business - limits the appeal of the other titles.

Another disincentive: NBR understands IDG takes a flat cut of revenue from licensees, rain or shine - not an attractive proposition when the titles face a loss-making period of rebuilding.

 The press release reads:

Media Release
17 June 2013
Fairfax Magazines resign technology title licences
Fairfax Magazines will resign the licences, owned by IDG, to publish technology titles Computerworld, Reseller News and PC World early next month.
The decision has been made to close the print and websites of the titles under the Fairfax banner as the wider group adapts to changes driven by the current economic climate in publishing worldwide.
“As much as we regret having to make this tough decision, we believe it is in the best interest of our long-term success as a producer of quality content for New Zealanders,” says Lynley Belton, Fairfax
Magazines general manager.
“With change comes opportunity, and we are looking at ways to increase our technology presence across other Fairfax channels as the business adapts.”
Staff are being consulted about their options to remain within the company, but it does look likely that job losses will occur.
“We are proud to have been associated with all three titles for the last seven years and would like to thank staff, both past and present, who have contributed to quality IT journalism during that time,” says Belton.
All subscribers will be contacted and refunded for issues they will not receive.
The final date of publication are: Computerworld July 1, Reseller News July 5 and PC World July 1. IDG plans to continue serving the New Zealand market with its global brands and products, and will announce its plans shortly.
"The announcement is very unfortunate news for the IT sector as a whole, with Computerworld having been a part of our industry for over 27 years," Insititute of IT Professionals NZ CEO Paul Matthews told NBR.
"While it is possible the titles might be picked up by someone else, it’s looking likely that this is the end of an era," Mr Matthews says.

"The editors, journalists and others involved in these publications over many years have done a great service to our industry and these publications will be sorely missed."

Fairfax in talks with staff on possible closure of computer titles

May 31: Fairfax Media is in talks with staff over the possible closure of its stable of computer publications, NBR ONLINE has been told by two people immediately familiar with the matter.

NBR understands the bi-weekly Computerworld and Reseller News, and the monthly magazine NZ PC World will be closed altogether (rather than moved online-only, as has been the case with some computer titles).

A fourth, CIO magazine, will be kept on.

Computerworld, Reseller News and PC World staff have been in consultative talks with Fairfax Magazines general manager Lynley Belton. The GM told staff Fairfax has run all possible models, including online-only publishing but no scenario looked workable.

The four titles are licensed from US publisher IDG Communications, owned by billionaire Pat McGovern.

NBR understands the CEO of IDG's International Publishing Services unit, David Hill, who handles licensing negotiations, was recently in the country.

"Fairfax decided it can't carry the losses any longer. So we're talking about the possibility of the titles disappearing in New Zealand completely," a person familiar with the negotiations told NBR. A second source, who had viewed an internal email sent to staff yesterday, corroborated the story.

CIO would be kept on because it was still making money from events, which include its annual conference pending in June. The magazine targets chief information officers at large organisations.

NBR understands Fairfax is required to give IDG Communications three months' notice on the termination of its licensing contract, but is looking to negotiate a swifter exit.

Fairfax group executive editor Paul Thompson tells NBR, "We are not in a position to comment at present. We are carefully working through some issues with those titles and will make decisions in due course."

Computerworld, PC World and Reseller news editorial and advertising staff are not answering their phones, and have gone dark on social media.

On May 21, Fairfax NZ acting general manager Andrew Boyle said the company was undergoing a wide-ranging restructure which was likely to lead to redundancies among its 1800 staff. A hiring freeze has been in place for most positions since November. In June last year, Fairfax announced a plan to lay off close to 2000 of its 10,000 staff.

IDG New Zealand rode the tech boom duriing the 1990s, with around 50 staff at its height and millions in revenue. At its peak, PC World had close to 20,000 paid subscribers; it's total circulation was recently reported as 7754. Computerworld, which at its height could pull in $50,000 a week in ad revenue, now has a handful of ads per issue. Titles and events across the group were hit by the dot-com bust and the internet's increasing impact on readership and advertising yields.

IDG passed the New Zealand license to its titles to Fairfax Business Media Australia in 2005.

At the same time, a business title in the stable, Unlimited, was sold to publisher Julie Gill. A subsequent restructure saw the titles brought under Fairfax's New Zealand operation, and Unlimited brought back into the fold. Earlier this year, Unlimited was made online-only. Ms Gill departed for an IDG job based in Europe. (Unlimited's complicated history began in 1998, when it was set up as a joint venture between IDG Commmunications NZ and NBR Publisher Fourth Estate Holdings; IDG bought out Fourth Estaste a couple of years later) 

The general consensus among ex-staff was that Fairfax Business Media Australia lacked the focus of the fully-owned, computer publication-only IDG Communications (which also benefited strongly from the contribution of market research wing IDC, which has remained under full IDG ownership). Fairfax NZ, which had never sought the titles, had less commitment again.

Comments and questions

I hate it when bad things happen to good people. Hopefully their talent will ensure they land on their feet elsewhere.

One company's problem is another persons opportunity.

If they'd been rugby, farming, sheep or even politics then the magazines would have survived. Good on ya New Zealand, the support for tech is once again amazingly cr*p.

Farmers and rugby supporters pay for content.

And so did my sub to PC World.

Certainly the end of an area. These were once the premier technology titles in NZ and have been part of the NZ tech landscape for decades. Hard to believe that with such a legacy and reputation, and with all the marketing funds tech companies have, publications like these can't survive.

That's where you have it right - they were a legacy, not contemporary. How many tech companies have you been to in the last five years have had any of the publications sitting around?

PC World was a wonderful magazine and all associated past and present have cause to be proud. Tragedy of a small market at the a*se end of the planet.

The tragedy is in Fairfax' inability to allow NZ titles to flourish. Instead ,any and all profits were used to prop up the Aussie side of the business.

When was the last time you saw any promotional work for any of these mags? When did they last have an increase in capability? Where was the investment in online services?

Fairfax destroyed the legacy built up over years. It's NZ IT readers who will suffer as a result b

Fairfax media in Australia are also going downhill, putting off graphic designers and sending the work offshore to India.

It is indeed sad news, but the reality is that they were dinosaurs, lumbered with publishers who didn't understand how tech news was changing. Keall here on NBR has become the go-to place for breaking tech news, which is more the TechCrunch/Verge model that now predominates in the US. That's the future of tech media, though a dedicated online-only publication serving that type of content, with proper resourcing, would be ideal.

Although, on the whole, I enjoyed reading PC World I stopped buying it because I didn't feel it warranted the cover price. I also felt that in the end they didn't really have a sense of who they were writing for. The basic structure of the magazine didn't really change to reflect a change in how people get information. The letters section became somewhat redundant and what is the point of a 'help section' where people email a magazine? All paid-for journalism will have to offer something special to survive - be it content or quality (even then it will be tough). I would have preferred more in-depth articles discussing longer term trends or issues in PC World. Towards the end of my time buying it they did have one or two (e.g. security issues) but not enough for me to keep buying it.

Resisted online for so long and when they did missed the boat. Jobuniverse was actually a good job site but they tried to promote it through print!

That attitude reverberated through their whole business plan in that print rules over online and the inevitable has happened.

I couldn't agree more. Before Fairfax took over the local operation we had discussed the future and it was clearly online. Peter's idea #7 is right - dedicated online-only publications that serve the content we want.

The journalists understood. The local managers understood. Fairfax Australia was having none of it.

Here's hoping the local industry doesn't lose its local voice altogether.

Every industry needs a healthy flow of fact-based reporting so this is a sad outcome not only for those directly affected. While opinions come free they are often ill-founded, so proper journalistic integrity will always have its place, but it comes at a cost. The dilemma being faced by all media is how to meet that cost in the face of declining, or more accurately, fragmenting, revenues. Content-based marketing is what brands are backing, and this requires a hybrid approach to informing and educating without sacrificing integrity.