Fairfax Media, which has churned out millions of words since its beginnings in Sydney in the 1830s, has itself inspired hundreds of thousands of words in the last year or so. First came Colleen Ryan’s Fairfax: The Rise and Fall (June 2013), followed by Pamela Williams’ Killing Fairfax (July 2013). Now comes Stop the Presses! by Ben Hills, a veteran investigative journalist who would no doubt self-identify as a ‘Fairfax lifer’, like many characters in his book. Just in case the theme of these tomes isn’t clear, we have Hills’s subtitle: How Greed, Incompetence (and the Internet) Wrecked Fairfax.
All three books cover, in their own way, Fairfax Media’s struggles since the 1990s, as it failed to migrate its business to the Internet, and to profitably bring together its print and digital operations. Hills calculates that at the 2012 Fairfax annual general meeting a company which had once been capitalised at $9 billion was then worth $900 million; the loss in 2011–12 was more than half the size of the entire budget of Tasmania; and it was possible to buy two shares for the cost of one Fairfax paper by 2008. As the author explains, Fairfax Media did not have a crisis with audience – its free websites were market leaders – but with revenue.