Stuart, you have spotted a gap in the market. Are you surprised that Trading Post has left you this opening?
I don't want to comment on Sensis. All I can say is that I believe that there is an opening because The Trading Post was a profitable publication and it still has a good readership of 179,000 Victorians and a circulation of around 30,000 copies a week.
Which makes it a pretty attractive little niche?
Well it may, but there are no guarantees in any of this. At the end of the day I can only push the print button if I have sufficient classified advertising and that's what we're working to do over the next week or so.
So the idea is that you'll build up the advertising over this week and then hopefully push the button on the first issue for a couple of week's time?
And what's the early sort of support been like?
We're getting a lot of support from Victorian newsagents who stand to lose more than $1 million in commissions on the sales of The Trading Post. And we've sent out 200,000 flyers in the last 24 hours to hand out to customers tomorrow which is the last publishing date of The Trading Post newspapers and we'll just have to see how it goes. It's just too early to make a call at this point.
You're someone who's worked in the print media for a long time. Do you think there's still space for the right type of print product?
Yes, I think the emphasis is on the right type of print product. There are many people who buy The Trading Post because they just like reading the ads. They were not actually in the market, they were not intending to buy anything in any point in time. But they just liked reading what people were selling. It's much easier to read that sort of classified advertising, scanning a newspaper than it is to try and do it on a web browser, it's as simple as that. Having said that, we are using the web to garner our advertising, we're doing television, radio. We've got advertising in CBD office elevators, towers in Melbourne. And that's all pointing people to go to our website which is tradingmart.com.au to lodge their ads. So we're using the tradingmart.com.au as the vehicle for people to lodge their ads.
Will there also be an online classified directory at tradingmart.com.au?
Yes absolutely, but our primary focus is on print and you pay to go in the print and we then put you online at no charge, whereas the Sensis model was basically had to pay for both.
Do you have a feeling as to how long it might take before you're ready to launch, are you prepared to spend a few weeks or a month?
I think if it goes on too long, it becomes difficult because we will have lost the momentum. We're trying to publish as close as we can to the last publishing date of Trading Post which was last Thursday. And we're doing Victoria only. This would not be able to drag on too long.
The media landscape is obviously changing pretty quickly at the moment. That sort of classified ad market, is it quickly becoming a niche business?
In print what's happened is it has been impacted by the web but it has also been very much impacted by the major publishers just increasing their prices too much. They've basically priced the ordinary punter out of the major daily newspapers. And those people have had to retreat to suburban newspapers, but even they have become quite expensive.
That's why I think there is a future for as long as I can see in these buy and sell type newspapers. I mean, we're offering people who want to sell an item for under $100 a free listing and we're also reintroducing the highly popular pay on sale arrangement that once existed on Trading Post, I must say for private individuals not for business.
Looking outside the classifieds, are you dismayed to see how newspapers are tracking at present?
No, not really. Yes their classified volumes are falling but it's interesting, their overall display revenues appear to be holding up no worse than most people during the economic downturn. And also the readership and circulation numbers of publications like The Age I think have held up pretty well over the last year or so. So I think people do get a bit overly excited over the whole thing.
You are also an investor in some internet businesses including our stablemate Crikey. Are you happy to be across both? Is it horses for courses?
Yes it is. I mean, I haven't played in print since I left The Age as MD in 1996. I've played in pay television, I've owned regional radio stations, I'm currently chairman and a substantial shareholder in Switch Digital which is an online media buying agency and I have various other interests including Inlink which provides the advertising services into office towers into elevators. I primarily played in the digital space but I've been around media for 40 years now and I think there is an opportunity with our new publication Trading Mart. But I must say, only time will tell. Clearly I'm taking a calculated risk but time will tell if we can get enough classifieds in to be able to push the print button.