Rural Press Ltd.

159 Bells Line of Road
North Richmond
NSW 2754
Telephone: +61 2 4570 4444
Fax: +61 2 4570 4663
Web site:

Public Company
Employees: 2,899
Sales: AUD 515.11 million ($400.20 million) (2004)
Stock Exchanges: Australian
Ticker Symbol: RPL
NAIC: 511110 Newspaper Publishers; 511120 Periodical Publishers; 515112 Radio Stations

Rural Press Ltd. is Australia's leading publisher of newspapers and magazines targeting the rural and agricultural markets. The company publishes more than 140 titles, including the daily newspapers Canberra Times and Burnie Advocate, and weekly newspapers including North Queensland Register, Queensland Country Life, The Land (the group's oldest agricultural holding), Stock & Land, Stock Journal, and Farm Weekly. Monthly titles include Agriculture Today and Australian Cotton Outlook in New South Wales, Farmer & Grazier in Queensland, and Queensland Farmer. In addition, Rural Press publishes nearly 100 local newspapers. Rural Press's nearly 20 magazine titles include Alternate Farmer, Australian Farm Journal, Australa-sian Flowers, Australian Horticulture, Farmer & Stockowner, Friday Mag, Good Fruit & Vegetables, Hoofs & Horns, Landcare, and The Grower, among others. The company also publishes several titles in New Zealand, including Straight Furrow, The Dairyman, and AgTrader. Since the late 1990s, Rural Press also has built up an impressive portfolio of rural- and agricultural-related magazines and newspapers in the United States, including the Farm Progress Group, acquired in 1997 and featuring 35 state-focused editions. The company also operates a number of web sites targeting the Australian rural and farmer market. Rural Press has built up a network of ten rural radio stations in Australia, including River94.9 FM Ipswich, 5RM Berri, 5RIV FM Berri, 1557 Wild Country, and 5CS Port Pirie (SA). Rural Press emerged from the breakup of the Fairfax publishing group in the late 1980s, and remains controlled by the John B. Fairfax wing of the Fairfax family. In the 2000s, however, the company has been rumored to have entered merger talks with John B. Fairfax Holdings, which controls the other half of the former Fairfax group. Rural Press is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. In 2004, the company's revenues topped AUD ($400 million). John B. Fairfax remains company chairman. Brian K. McCarthy serves as managing director.

Founding an Australian Publishing Empire in the 19th Century

Rural Press's roots lay in the development of the Fairfax family publishing empire. John Fairfax, a native of Warwickshire, England, had published two newspapers in Leamington before emigrating to Australia in the late 1830s. In 1841, Fairfax acquired his first Australian paper, the Sydney Herald, which grew into the country's largest newspaper, with a circulation of 4,000 by 1851. The following year Fairfax was joined by son Charles, and the company became known as John Fairfax & Sons. After Fairfax died in 1877, the company was taken over by two other sons (Charles died in 1863), who expanded the business with the launch of a second newspaper that same year. James Reading Fairfax became sole owner of the company in 1886, backed by sons James Oswald and Geoffrey.

The Fairfax company converted to the status of limited corporation in 1916. James Reading had remained as head of the company until his death in 1919, at which time James Oswald took over the company's lead until his own death in 1926. In that year, his son, Warwick Fairfax, became head of the company, a position he would maintain until 1987.

Throughout this time, the Fairfax company expanded to become one of Australia's leading publishing and media groups. In addition to its own newspaper launches, the company grew through a number of acquisitions, such as the purchase in 1934 of Home and Art in Australia, as well as the Illawarra Mercury, through the purchase of South Coast Times in 1969, among many others. In 1971, the company launched its own national weekend paper, the National Times. Yet the Sydney Morning Herald remained the group's flagship.

The company also acquired stakes in a number of Australian media groups, such as the purchase of 45 percent of the Newcastle Morning Herald and the Newcastle Sun in 1961, and a minority stake in David Syme & Co., publisher of the Melbourne Herald, among other titles. The company later acquired majority control of the Syme company, passing the 50 percent mark in 1972. The company also acquired full control of the Newcastle titles in 1978. In that year, as well, Fairfax acquired control of the radio group Macquarie Broadcasting Holdings.

In the meantime, Fairfax had begun to explore interests beyond newspaper publishing. In 1955, the company acquired the license to operate the television channel ATN7 in the Sydney market. To help pay for its extension into broadcasting, the company went public in 1956. The Fairfax family maintained control of the company for the time being. By the early 1980s, however, the family's shareholding had slipped below majority control. This left the company vulnerable to a takeover—which came in 1981 from Holme a Court.

The company successfully fought off that bid, and launched a new expansion policy in the 1980s. An important part of the group's growth came from a rapid expansion into Australia's regional newspaper market, and especially the market for rural and agricultural publications.

The Fairfax company's involvement in Australia's rural and agricultural newspaper market stemmed from its 1970 purchase of a 25 percent stake in the Land Group, publisher of Australia's oldest newspaper dedicated to Australia's farm community, The Land. Launched in 1911, The Land took on the mission of promoting the interests of the country's agricultural community, more specifically, in its New South Wales market. Fairfax continued to increase its shareholding in the Land Group, eventually acquiring control of the company.

Rural Specialist in the 1980s

The takeover attempt from Holme a Court at the beginning of the 1980s had far-reaching consequences for the Fairfax company. When Warwick Fairfax died in 1987, his son, also named Warwick, took over as head of the family's shareholders group. In 1988, Warwick Fairfax, fearful of the possibility of another hostile takeover attempt, launched his own takeover offer in order to de-list the company from the stock exchange. Another faction of the Fairfax family, led by half-brother JohnB. Fairfax, opposed the takeover, however.

Warwick Fairfax formed Tryart Pty. Ltd. as a takeover vehicle, which acquired the Fairfax group for AUD 2.25 billion—including a cash payment to the John B. Fairfax faction. Yet Tryart quickly stumbled over its heavy debt taken on in order to complete the takeover and was forced to sell off a number of assets, such as its rural publications, including The Land, and the Courier group of suburban newspaper titles. These were picked up by John B. Fairfax and brother Timothy as the cornerstones for their new publishing empire, Rural Press. The Fairfax brothers subsequently merged the Courier titles with the holdings of another family-controlled media group, Hannan, creating Independent Print Media Group (IPMG). In the meantime, Tryart continued to flounder; when the stock market crashed at the end of the decade, the company was forced to declare bankruptcy. A new group of investors bought up the company, which continued to be known as JohnB. Fairfax Holdings, in 1990, marking the end of the Fairfax family's involvement in what remained as one of Australia's top media groups.

Rural Press started off the 1990s as a specialist publisher of rural and regional newspaper and magazines dedicated to Australia's farming and agricultural community. This position was boosted with the purchase of a 60 percent stake in The Examiner, serving Launceston, in 1991. The company soon began to spread its wings into other media, however, and in 1993, the company entered radio broadcasting, acquiring its first radio licenses. The company continued acquiring stations, including Queensland Maranoa stations in 1994 and the CairnsTownsville-Mackay radio network in 1995. By the middle of the 1990s, Rural Press's radio holdings included 27 radio licenses in Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia.

The year 1995 marked a significant milestone for the development of Rural Press, when the company acquired Macquarie Publications. That purchase included some 56 newspapers and magazines focused on the New South Wales market, including daily, weekly, and monthly titles. Formed in 1949, after husband-and-wife team Leo and Pat Armati purchased the Dubbo Liberal, the Macquarie Group had grown into Australia's leading regional publishing company by the early 1990s. Among Rural Press's newly acquired titles were Macquarie flagships such as Western Magazine, Town & Country Magazine, and Southern Weekly Magazine.

Rural Press boosted its penetration of the rural market with the creation of the Farming Online web site in 1996. The following year, the company breached another new frontier when it purchased the Farm Progress Group. Based in the United States, Farm Progress was that market's leading farming and rural publishing group, with 26 regional editions covering 43 states. Farm Progress also held the United States' oldest farming title, Prairie Farmer, which was launched in 1841, as well as Feedstuffs, introduced in 1873, and the leading title targeting the U.S. livestock feed industry.

Company Perspectives:

Our Mission: To produce relevant quality content that benefits customers and stakeholders.

The acquisition of Farm Progress led Rural Press to sell off most of its broadcasting assets, at least temporarily, that same year. The company sold off its Broadcast Division to DMG Regional Radio, for AUD 88 million. By 1998, however, the company staged a return to radio, buying up Coast & Country Broadcasting Services Pty. Limited, which operated two radio stations in Port Lincoln and Port Pirie. The purchase boosted the group's portfolio of radio stations to five.

Major Australian Media Group in the New Century

Acquisitions played a major role in Rural Press's development into the mid-2000s. In 1998, the company purchased Federal Capital Press of Australia Pty. Ltd., paying AUD 164 million to acquire its holdings. Federal titles included Canberra Times, Sunday Times, The Chronicle, a free weekly, and Valley View, a free tabloid. In that year, the company relaunched its revitalized Broadcast Division, which operated primarily through a joint venture established with Unitel Corporation. Rural Press's share of the joint venture, called Star Broadcasting Network Pty. Ltd., stood at 50.1 percent. In 1999, the company launched its seventh station, Magic FM, in Port Lincoln.

Other acquisitions followed into the 2000s, including the purchase of the Bellingen Shire Courier Sun, based in the New South Wales North Coast, and a 50 percent stake in Golden Mail, a free weekly serving Kalgoorlie, in Western Australia, both acquired in 2001. The following year, the company bought up The Bendigo Advertiser and the Wimmera Mail-Times, both serving Horsham, Victoria.

Rural Press sought new acquisition opportunities in order to boost its portfolio of titles. Its next purchase came in 2003, when it bid AUD 47.6 million to acquire 85 percent of Harris & Co., a publishing group based in Tasmania, which held the remaining 40 percent of the Launceston Examiner. Another prominent Harris title was the Burnie Advocate.

In the meantime, the Fairfax family sold off its half of IPMG, raising AUD 200 million ($134 million), in 2003. That sale came amid rumors that Rural Press had been involved in merger talks with John B. Fairfax, a move that would create Australia's leading media group. The two sides denied their interest in merging, however.

Instead, Rural Press maintained its acquisition drive. In 2003, the company acquired full control of the Star Broadcasting Network, which by then had grown to ten stations. Then, at the end of 2004, the company struck again, buying several titles, including the Hepburn Shire Advocate in Victoria and the Senior Post in Western Australia. In December of that year, the company added the Moree Champion in New South Wales and the Goondiwindi Argus in Queensland. With more than 140 titles, Rural Press remained true to the Fairfax family tradition of Australian media dominance in the new century.

Principal Subsidiaries

Agricultural Publishers Pty. Ltd.; Bridge Printing Office Pty. Ltd. S.A.; Canweb Printing Pty. Ltd.; Country Publishers Pty. Ltd. S.A.; Cudgegong Newspapers Pty. Ltd.; Esperance Holdings Pty. Ltd.; Examiner Properties Pty. Ltd.; Farming Online Pty. Ltd.; Farm Progress Holding Co, Inc.; Golden Mail Pty. Ltd.; Harris and Company Pty. Ltd. (85%); Hibiscus Happynings Pty. Ltd.; Hunter Distribution Network Pty. Ltd. VIC; J & R Graphics Pty. Ltd.; Macleay Valley Happynings Pty. Ltd.; Media Investments Pty. Ltd. S.A.; Merredin Advertiser Pty Ltd.; Mountain Press Pty Ltd. (88%); Northern Newspapers Pty. Ltd. S.A.; NZ Rural Press Ltd.; Port Lincoln Times Pty. Ltd. S.A.; ProAg Pty. Ltd.; Queensland Community Newspapers Pty. Ltd.; Regional Printers Pty. Ltd.; Regional Publishers (VIC) Pty. Ltd.; Regional Publishers (Western Victoria) Pty. Ltd.; Regional Publishers Pty. Ltd.; RP Interive Pty. Ltd.; RPL Technology Pty. Ltd.; Rural Press (North Queensland) Pty. Ltd.; Rural Press (USA) Ltd.; Rural Press Printing (Victoria) Pty. Ltd.; Rural Press Printing Pty. Ltd.; Rural Press Regional Media (WA) Pty. Ltd.; Rural Press USA Inc.; Rural Press Pty. Ltd.; Rural Publishers Pty. Ltd. S.A.; Regional Media Pty. Ltd. S.A.; Snowy Mountains Publications Pty. Ltd.; Star Broadcasting Network Pty. Ltd.; Stock Journal Publishers Pty. Ltd. S.A.; The Advocate Newspaper Pty. Ltd.; The Barossa News Pty. Ltd. S.A.; The Examiner Newspaper Pty. Ltd.; The Federal Capital Press of Australia Pty. Ltd.; The Miller Publishing Co., Inc; The Printing Press Pty. Ltd.; The Queanbeyan Age Pty. Ltd.; Tofua Holdings Pty. Ltd.; West Australian Rural Media Pty. Ltd. WA; Western Australian Primary Industry Press Pty. Ltd. WA; Western Magazine Pty. Ltd. (75%); Whyalla News Properties Pty. Ltd. S.A.

Principal Divisions

Regional Publishing; Architectural Publishing; Printing; Broadcasting; Interactive.

Key Dates:

John Fairfax buys the Sydney Herald, launching an Australian newspaper and media empire.
The Land, a weekly serving the rural and agricultural communities in New South Wales, is launched.
Fairfax goes public on the Australian Stock Exchange as John B. Fairfax Ltd.
The company acquires 25 percent of The Land group, later acquiring full control.
Warwick Fairfax forms Tryart and launches the privatization of Fairfax; The Land forms the basis of the new Rural Press, led by John B. Fairfax.
Tryart declares bankruptcy.
Rural Press acquires 60 percent of The Examiner in Launceston.
Rural Press enters radio broadcasting.
Rural Press acquires the Macquarie Publications group, including 56 regional titles.
Rural Press acquires the Farm Progress group of the United States and sells off most of its broadcasting holdings.
The company relaunches its broadcasting division; Federal Capital Press of Australia Ltd. is acquired.
Full control of Star Broadcasting Network is acquired.

Principal Competitors

News Corporation Ltd.; AAPT Ltd.; John B. Fairfax Holdings Ltd.; Independent Print Media Group; Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd.; APN News and Media Ltd.; Independent Newspapers Ltd.

Further Reading

"Australia's Fairfax Family Sells Stake in IPMG for US$ 134.4 mln," AsiaPulse News, July 2, 2003.

"Australia's Rural Press Fall Short of Harris & Co. Acquisition," Asia Pulse, December 30, 2003.

Buffini, Fiona, "Rural Press in the Thick of the Action," Australasian Business Intelligence, February 14, 2005.

"Fairfax, Rural Press Merger Talks Denied," B&T, September 16, 2002.

Kappelle, Liza, "Publisher Tunes in to Radio," Courier-Mail, September 7, 2004.

"Rural Press Chief Can't See Any Black Holes Looming," SMH, February 11, 2005.

Ryan, Rosemary, "Newspapers Target Rich Seniors," Australasian Business Intelligence, March 24, 2005.

Shoebridge, Neil, "Rural Press Keen to Stay in the Hunt," Australasian Business Intelligence, February 10, 2005.

—M.L. Cohen

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: