An In-Depth Look into the Fall of the Australian Magazine Industry
Welcome to 2023! I hope you, dear readers, had a great holiday season and start to your 2023. As for my first post of the year, I thought I’d start it off with the last book I started reading last year, and the first to finish in the new year. This book is Phil Barker’s 2022 non-fiction book Axed (subtitled Who Killed Australian Magazines). It’s one that speaks of the downfall of one of the many media juggernauts that once existed in Australia and what caused it. It’s a book I really enjoyed, how so, you can find out below.
From God-Like to Shreds
The magazine industry in Australia was once god-like. Magazines came in all different forms across the country, from the high-end glossies found at the newsagent to pull-outs in the weekend newspapers. Yet, three decades of mismanagement, short-sightedness and poor choices destroyed this once massive industry.
This is what Phil Barker covers throughout Axed. Using his own experience as previous editor of NW and Woman’s Day to name two, he tells the story of how the Australian magazine industry was brought down. He also uses many other examples done through effective research with various media employees (past and current) through from the 1990s to the early 2020s.
Through this research, Barker presents just some of the many reasons the industry fell apart. Like the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, there was not one cause but many that brought down the Australian magazine industry.
How to Internet and Bauer Blunders
Of that many causes highlighted in Axed, there are two major blows that contributed heavily to the downfall of the Australian magazine industry. The first one being the internet. Like other media mediums, the magazine industry was very slow to recognise the threat of the internet. There was also a lot of mismanagement in the early days of the internet by media companies, namely Yahoo7 and ninemsn.com.au. These partnerships between media and tech giants in the 1990s led to issues with magazines years later.
By the time the magazine companies were able to understand the internet, it was already too late. Advertising revenue dropped off significantly, alongside readers. As from page 95 of the first paperback edition, Barker describes how advertising fell from $1185 million AUD in 2010 to (at the time of writing) a forecasted $145 million AUD. In an information filled world, the Australian magazine lost its relevance to readers. Why buy a magazine for when the same information could be found on the internet for free?
The second major blow to the magazine industry highlighted in the book is the mismanagement of Bauer Media. The multinational German media company entered Australia in 2012 after buying ACP Magazines for $525 million AUD. ACP, formerly owned by the Packer media empire, was home to well-known brands like Cleo and Woman’s Day. Right from this moment, things went very wrong for the magazines. For starters, Bauer knew a lot about European tastes in magazines, but had no clue on Australian tastes. It didn’t help either they brought in a whole lot of men from Germany to manage magazines that were read majority of the time by women. This only set the magazines, which had decades of familiarity, on the road to closure.
Perhaps the biggest killer from Bauer Media is how much of the magazine industry it swallowed up. Before its merger in 2020 with Seven West’s Pacific Magazines, it had consumed most of the remaining Australian magazine industry. Competing titles were swallowed up and lay-offs became common and the diversity declined. What once was Bauer Media and Pacific Magazines now makes up the Are Media, which is owned by Australian firm Mercury Capital. Upon their exit, all of Bauer’s combined sale was about $55 million AUD, a significant reduction of the $525 million AUD purchase in 2012.
All Pieced Together with Tight Writing and Flowing Narrative
All this information in Axed is pieced together with tight writing and a narrative that flows like a river. The author tells the story of how the Australian magazine industry became the way it was with clarity and enthusiasm. It does, in a way, read like an extra-long feature in a magazine telling of its fall from grace.
What does make this extraordinary though is it details the rise and fall, as well as the hope for the future. There are green sprouts in the Australian magazine industry, ones more niche and produced as publications by non-media companies. I’ve noticed these new sprouts almost everywhere I look where there’s magazines. Big Australian businesses like Woolworths and Bunnings have been making their own magazines. And then there’s magazine revivals like Rolling Stone Australia and Harper’s Bazaar happening in the 2020s. Niche, custom and specialist appear to be the way.
All this is formed by the flowing narrative of the book. The narrative details in depth of the fall and eventual rise to give some hope. It’s a welcoming response, particularly in the doom and gloom narratives of traditional media that have dominated books on the Australian media since the 2000s. This allows the narrative to go from a high to a low and start to rise at the end.
Axed is a well written account of the downfall of the Australian magazine industry. It details a very complex issue very well and showcases how it wasn’t just one but many factors that contributed to its fall. All this is wrapped up well with a light of hope at the end, which sees what the future may hold for magazines as a publication.
If you’re interested in the media, I highly recommend this book. I also recommend this book to anyone who is undertaking media studies or journalism at university. It’s a great insight to the topic of magazines and explains a lot how the industry has changed since the heydays of the 1990s.
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