News Corp, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled publishing group, will suspend the print editions of 60 newspapers in Australia as the spread of coronavirus causes a rapid decline in media advertising.
The decision on Wednesday by Australia’s biggest media company followed similar moves by publishing groups in the US and UK, where local advertising spending has been hit by the collapse of businesses in sectors such as hospitality and retail.
The community newspapers whose print copies will be halted include Sydney’s the Manly Daily and the Wentworth Courier. They will continue to operate online editions.
“During this unprecedented time it is imperative that we reduce costs while continuing to keep the community informed and doing all we can to retain jobs,” said Michael Miller, News Corp’s Australia chairman. “The print suspension will allow us to assess the shape of the market itself and future conditions, taking into account how the coronavirus situation unfolds in the coming period.”
Mr Miller said restrictions on Australia’s property market and the temporary closure of restaurants and other venues were to blame for a steep decline in advertising revenue. He did not specify if or when the print titles would be re-established.
Larger-circulation News Corp Australia titles such as the Daily Telegraph and the Australian were unaffected by the decision.
Australia’s advertising market was already under pressure prior to the coronavirus crisis due to drought, bushfires and a weakening economy.
Total advertising spending fell 5.3 per cent year on year in February, according to Standard Media Index data. Publishers have also been hit by a shift in advertising spending to online platforms such as Facebook and Google, which now account for more than two-thirds of the market in Australia.
“Local advertising is crashing through the floor due to the coronavirus crisis and this is forcing publishers which rely on advertising to make drastic cost cutting efforts,” said Brian Tan, an analyst at Morningstar.
In the past week two independent, century-old newspapers in Australia — Broken Hill’s Barrier Daily Truth and Mildura’s Sunraysia Daily — have also ceased printing due to the coronavirus crisis.
JPI Media, publisher of the Scotsman, last week said it would stop printing a host of newspapers in the UK because of the pandemic.
Rod Tiffen, a professor of government and international relations at the University of Sydney, said News Corp’s decision to cease printing local titles was not surprising given the advertising downturn. He said he doubted the company would reinstate the print editions once the outbreak passes.
“It is sad to see local media closing during a huge crisis when communities want to know how it affects their local areas,” he said. “The big question is whether these newspapers will be able to restart after the crisis has passed or whether we have lost them for good.”