APN News & Media, publisher of the New Zealand Herald, is to sell its South Island newspaper interests and its Wellington-based community papers.
In a memo to staff, APN describes the decision to quit the twice-weekly giveaway Christchurch paper, The Star, the Oamaru Mail and a clutch of other small, community titles in the South Island and Wellington as a "strategic decision to consolidate its publishing business in the North Island".
The Star, published Wednesdays and Fridays, has an audited circulation of 71,644, while the Oamaru Mail is one of the country's smallest, with a circulation of just 2883.
APN has a strategic relationship with the privately held Allied Press, publisher of the Otago Daily Times in Dunedin. Almost all other South Island newspapers are owned by APN's chief competitor, Fairfax Media.
The Star unit also publishes several Canterbury community papers: the North Canterbury News, Pegasus Post, News Advertiser, Selwyn Times, The Observer and Western News.
Its Wellington community newspaper stable, the Capital Community Newspaper Group, is published under the City Life brand in several localised editions and competes with Fairfax weekly giveaway papers.
APN will retain the Kapiti News community paper and announced no further plans relating to any of its other titles in the North Island, which includes Whangarei's Northern Advocate, the Rotorua Post, Bay of Plenty Times, Wairarapa Times-Age, Wanganui Chronicle and Hawke's Bay Today.
The company announced early this year that its New Zealand assets were all under review and flagged a masthead valuation writedown as journalism moves on-line, with consequent loss of advertising revenue for traditional media.
Dual-listed, but traded mainly on the ASX, APN shares have lost 62.87% of their value in the last 12 months and were trading unchanged today at 31 Australian cents (40 NZ cents).
It last commented on the review in October to quash market speculation it had found a buyer for the flagship Herald, servicing New Zealand's largest city, Auckland.
Other assets include a half-share of the Newstalk radio station network, the top-selling magazines The Listener and New Zealand Woman's Weekly, and an outdoor advertising business.
In the statement to staff, APN says "while the publishing division has enjoyed a long association with the South Island, we see more expansion opportunities in the North Island, which will drive most of New Zealand's population growth over the next decade and is where most of our New Zealand media businesses are based".
"APN remains strongly committed to New Zealand and we will continue to sell our national magazines and online properties across the country. The company will also continue a major association with Christchurch and the South Island through its 50% ownership of both The Radio Network and APN Outdoor.
The company remained proud of 140-year-old Star's performance after the February 22, 2011, earthquake, when the paper converted to daily publication. It was a daily evening newspaper until the late 1980's.
The company says it intends selling all the businesses as going concerns, with staff transferring with the businesses into new ownership, although it was too early to say when sales might occur.
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