Australian magazine industry in crisis after COVID-19 pandemic and Bauer closures

Press/Media: Expert Comment


For years the internet was blamed for killing magazines, now the COVID-19 pandemic has been labelled the final nail in the coffin of what was once a billion-dollar business.

In July, German magazine giant Bauer closed eight of its titles, a significant blow to the Australian publishing industry. 

"I'm wearing black today because I'm in mourning for the Australian magazine industry," former magazine editor Nene King, told A Current Affair.

"What was popular years ago just doesn't exist anymore."

Australia's colourful 'Queen of magazines' was credited with turning Women's Day into one of the highest selling magazines in history.

"When I was doing Women's Day, we sold 960,000 copies every week. That's sales, not readership," Ms King said.

"Now, if Women's Day do 200,000 circulation, they'd open the champagne bottles."

It was announced last month Harper's BAZAAR Australia, ELLE Australia, InStyle, Men's Health Australia, Women's Health Australia, Good Health, NW and OK! Australia would be axed after publication was halted in May. In a statement, Bauer cited a lack of travel and declining revenue for the closure.

"We, like many other media companies, have deeply felt the impact of COVID-19," Bauer Media Australia and New Zealand CEO Brendon Hill said in a statement.

"The reinstatement of these titles and teams was always dependent on the advertising market bouncing back and the return of domestic and international travel.

"Despite promising signs from advertisers in recent weeks, this has not outweighed the medium term outlook for these titles." Marketing expert, Jana Bowden, from Macquarie University said COVID-19 "is simply the nail in the coffin".

"The major issue is the younger generations, like the millennial's have shifted to online," Ms Bowden said. "The real crux of the issue is the seismic shift in human behaviour basically from print to digital."

In 2012, Bauer paid $525 million when it took over Australian Consolidated Press, including some of Australia's biggest magazine titles. Ms King has dismissed links between the pandemic and the closures.

"To be rude, that is bulls---. They were closing magazines before we knew what the coronavirus was all about," she said.

She says the takeover by Bauer was a disaster for the local industry.

"It goes in with a sledgehammer, cancels wonderful magazines - remember Dolly, remember Cleo, remember Cosmo?" she added.

In June, Bauer sold the business to Mercury Capital for an estimated $50 million. A month later, eight magazines became the latest victims of a shrinking market.

Block Judge, Neale Whitaker, is the former editor of high-end publications Belle and Vogue Living magazines. He believes magazines still have a place in the Australian media landscape. 

"I still enjoy curling up with a mag, but I have to admit too there are other times when I just want to consume my media on the go and I'm looking at my phone as well," Mr Whitaker told A Current Affair.

He said it was always going to be challenge for a European company to adapt to the Australian market.

"I think they thought whatever made them successful in Germany or the UK or Poland or Romania would work here in Australia and that was never going to be the case," he said.

Mr Whitaker said a decline in advertising revenue is likely to blame, but the industry does have a future in Australia.

"I think the magazines that will survive will be the ones that adapt very successfully to other mediums and I think we're already seeing that. Magazines that look at other ways of engaging with the reader beyond the print vehicle, I think they're the ones that will succeed," he said.

Ms King believes some of the magazines brought themselves undone.  

"A lot of readers lost respect for the magazines. I mean one week the Duchess of Cambridge is having triplets, the next minute she's divorcing William. Nicole Kidman's been having a baby for nine years.  People started to say, 'oh, fake news, rubbish.' And I think they lost their way a bit," she said.

But she's agrees there is a future for the industry, but is unsure what form it might take.

"There is a hard core of readers that love their weekly magazines, but they're really going to have to watch the way they go, otherwise we'll read one day the Woman's Day and New Idea have been put together," she said.

Period15 Aug 2020

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