Monday, February 25, 2008

Help James Buy The Bulletin

From Anthill's Editors blog:

Posted by James Tuckerman, Publisher, Founder & Editor-In-Chief

Last week, ACP Magazines made an announcement that, to my mind, simply didn’t make sense.

The Bulletin, Australia’s oldest continuing weekly magazine, would be closing after 128 years on Australian shelves.

According to ACP chief executive Scott Lorson, the magazine’s demise could be blamed on “the impact of the internet”. Circulation figures of 57,039 were approximately half of what the magazine enjoyed in the mid 1990s.

In a statement, Lorson said: “We have invested heavily in the title with top editorial, photographic and design staff who have been devoted to making The Bulletin the best of its genre. However, despite our best efforts, the magazine has simply not been commercially viable for some time.”

Indeed. A bit too ‘heavily’, me thinks. Let’s do the maths.

Firstly, with a retail cost of $5.95 per copy and sales of over 57,039, The Bulletin should be attracting weekly revenues of around $339,382. Of course, subscriptions make up part of this circulation figure and subscriptions are usually sold at around 30 percent less than retail. So, let’s be conservative and subtract 30 percent from the entire weekly sales figure estimated above, giving us weekly sales of $237,567.

Most Australian magazine publishers would agree, that’s a hefty chunk of change.

And, of course, that brief analysis fails to consider advertising revenue.

If memory serves me correctly, a full page advertisement in The Bulletin was around $14,000. You’d expect 20 full pages per edition. But, to err on the side of caution, let’s assume the ailing magazine has been attracting 10 full pages per edition. That’s $140,000 in advertising revenue per week. Factor in web advertising and you can safely project an even larger figure.

Add these two sums together and it seems reasonable to assume that the magazine was attracting approximately $375,000 in revenue per week.

That’s $1,562,500 per month.

Or… $18,750,000 per year!

Am I mad? Is this right?

How can an Australian magazine generating $18m a year in revenue be considered not ‘commercially viable’?

For those people who know a little bit about Anthill Magazine and its origins as a $15k start-up, you’ll appreciate my incredulity.

So here’s the thing: contrary to all the headlines, print media isn’t dying – it’s just changing out of necessity. Sure, it’s evolving away from an archaic model formed centuries ago during the Guttenberg era.

But that’s a good thing.

The reality is, for the vast majority of people in developed countries, print media is no longer their primary source of hard news (and that’s hardly news to anyone). Television and the internet are far too instantaneous, pervasive, cheap and easy to distribute and consume for print to remain competitive.

However, print can not only survive but thrive if it focuses on its strengths relative to these rival mediums: its ability to engage and inspire readers – alone in their armchairs, on the train, in their office.

The way The Bulletin did in its heyday.

So, here is my succinct message to private equity company CVC Capital Partners, which paid $4.5 billion to Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting for 50 percent of PBL in October last year, owner of ACP Magazines:

For one shiny dollar, I offer to purchase 51 percent of The Bulletin. If the new entity does not turn a profit in the first year, you can have it back. I might want to make some changes. But heck, change would be better than a permanent holiday for this Aussie icon.

This blog post might sound like chest beating. But sometimes that’s the only way to wake an 800 pound gorilla.

Come on. Who wants to help me buy The Bulletin?

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