Way out west, cash-positive print still works for SWM

Things are not the same 'out west' and the West Australian's unique market position is part of a bigger picture being taken into consideration in an assessment of the publisher's future.

Former Fairfax Media boss Greg Hywood has just completed a six-week review of Seven West Media's print operations, and shareholders today wanted to know of progress made two years into a five-year plan.

But overall they knew they were lucky to be part of a media business which reaches 88 per cent of the population and is largely free of the inter-publisher rivalries of old.

Advertising revenue was down 9.8 per cent - a respectable result when the SMI spend was down 23.4 per cent - and with readership flat, that from circulation fell 7.2 per cent. But the recently-adopted digital subscription strategy is the new success story, with 60,000 subscribers since the paywall went up on regional mastheads in February.

Savings are also mounting, with $21 million gross actioned in the financial year and $15 million delivered. The Seven West debt position is also looking better with the $75 million sale-and-leaseback of WAN's Osborne Park facility - where its hybrid KBA pressline and Ferag mailroom are located - and another $7 million from Seven's Sunshine Coast property. The year has also seen the sales of Pacific Magazines ($40million) and RedwaveRadio ($28million).

While Seven West reckons to have done better, with a 14.1 per cent earnings drop for the period across its core free-to-air broadcast segment against to 15.2 per cent for the overall advertising market, overall EBIT was still down 54 per cent, at $98.654 million from $212.812 million.

Net loss after tax of $200 million was actually an improvement on last year's minus-$327.5 million outcome.

The fruits of Hywood's six-week labour have not been disclosed, but are complex, and involve analysis of all of WAN's print products, far and wide - the West Australian and the Sunday Times, its now-integrated Community Newspapers division, and 31 regional and community newspapers including outliers such as the Kalgoorlie Miner across a Western Australian marketplace varied in its geography and, for that matter, mobile coverage.

Hywood is well known for his drive to digital at Fairfax Media, and the chopping of circulation in parts of NSW which could not be reached economically by its papers.

With cash-positive print, WAN's patch is somewhat different, as is the state's position in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, giving the company breathing space but, as in some other examples, a reminder that tough decisions will need to be taken... but not necessarily the same ones as 'over east'.

Peter Coleman

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