Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood says there has been no rise in business sentiment since the federal election, underscoring comments by Australia's top retailers that hopes of a post-election rise in confidence have been disappointed.
But he said Fairfax, owner of The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Australian Financial Review, would not rely on fleeting improvements in sentiment as it shifted focus from print to digital.
"It's pretty clear that there hasn't been a post-election bounce in the economy," Mr Hywood said on Friday. "We see it, everyone sees it."
This week Pacific Brands CEO John Pollaers said it was going to take time for any post-election rise in consumer confidence to translate into sales. Richard Goyder, head of Wesfarmers, said sales spiked in the week after the election but quickly returned to subdued levels.
Mr Hywood told an American Chamber of Commerce lunch in Melbourne that Fairfax remained on a conservative footing and was not betting on a post-election bounce.
"We've seen structural change in our business and we're absolutely managing the worst-case scenario, and, if there's some benefit from the cycle, we'll take that," he said.
Mr Hywood said four months after online subscriptions were introduced for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, the sites had 80,000 subscribers, an increase on an initial figure of 68,000.
In a broader speech titled "The Pleasure and the Pain", Mr Hywood detailed significant changes at the company he joined in 1976 as a reporter on the Financial Review. At that time Saturday papers were stuffed with advertisements for jobs, cars and homes.
Now, Fairfax was "rebuilding its business model" by taking out 25 per cent of costs over several years, charging for online content, and focusing on growth in custom publishing, events, and marketing for small and medium-size enterprises.
"Here's a business that was a newspaper business and for many years created a digital output ... now we're a 24/7 digital news and information business that happens to produce a newspaper at the end of the day," he said.
"What's the pleasure in that? Well, the pleasure in that is ... these mastheads which were newspapers but are much more than that now, provide an absolutely fundamental good in our community.
"What we are, actually, is a very interesting company: we provide a public good within a commercial model. We ask the questions that need to be asked," he said, describing recent coverage of Leighton, the Reserve Bank's Securency business, and disgraced former NSW politician Eddie Obeid as stories that "did not come about from a press release".