After five years, we’ve taken the momentous decision to sell Crikey. Read on for all the details and a lengthy explanation as to why this is a good thing. And check out the media reaction here. Subscriber reaction can be found here.
After almost five years of operation, yesterday afternoon Stephen Mayne and Paula Piccinini signed binding contracts for the $1 million sale of Crikey. The buyers are Eric Beecher and Di Gribble from Private Media Partners (PMP), publisher of The Reader. Eric and Di were the original founders of Text Media which was sold to Fairfax for more than $60 million in 2003-04.

The terms of the sale are that PMP pays a non-refundable deposit of $200,000 in installments through the course of 2005 and has complete management control of Crikey for 18 months from the effective date of March 1, 2005.

Then, in September 2006, PMP must either complete the purchase with the balance of $800,000 passing to us, or surrender their deposit and hand back management control.

Why sell?

The decision to hand over management control to some genuine media professionals is based on the desire to take Crikey to the next level. There is only so much you can do from the spare rooms of a modest suburban house in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

After five years of struggle, including moving house five times in 30 months, we really couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. The birth of our third child in October last year meant that we now have three children (Laura, Alice and Philip) under three and a half.

I am exhausted after working 80 hours a week on this labour of love and Paula, rather than selling advertising and doing administrative work for Crikey, would like to resume her career as a family law barrister on July 1, 2005.

It is time to get a life again rather than literally working every day of the week on Crikey, including 6-8 hours every Sunday.

Despite the impressive growth of Crikey, financially it has always been a struggle and to this day we still have Crikey-related liabilities of almost $50,000.

Why Private Media Partners

There was always only ever one natural buyer of Crikey and that was Eric and Di’s Private Media Partners. I know them having briefly written the “Bitch” gossip column for their Text Media magazine The Eye in 1999. They have a vision to grow Crikey whilst retaining its present character and key contributors.

Eric Beecher made the following comments about PMP’s plans for Crikey:

“Crikey is something incredibly innovative, as there is nothing quite like it anywhere in the world. It was a momentous thing for Stephen Mayne and his team to invent and run.

“It is our intention to retain Crikey’s essential ingredients: disclosure, ferreting out important information that people don’t want you to know, being an active and lively part of the fourth estate that acts as one of the crucial checks and balances in the Australian democracy.

“Of course, we’ll do it in our own way, but we won’t be changing the fundamental role of Crikey – if anything, we hope to enhance it and take Crikey to its next stage of development as a distinctive and valuable part of the media landscape in a country that desperately needs more players in its media landscape.

“We intend to ensure that Crikey remains mandatory reading for anyone interested in politics, media, business, professions and other areas of society that matter to thinking people.”

Having championed media diversity over the years, it was important to us that Eric and Di are fiercely independent media players who have a proven track record at Text Media built up over a number of years and now produce a high quality publication such as The Reader. We would never have sold to any major media player.

When we used a Mark Day column in The Australian last October to announce a “strategic review” leading in to our fifth anniversary, a number of parties expressed interest in buying Crikey and a genuine auction would almost certainly have produced a higher price and more certain sale outcome than the 18-month staggered arrangement we have entered into.

However, given that we were looking for an operator rather than a passive investor, Melbourne-based Private Media Partners was the only party we spoke to in detail as they already have the journalists and media monitoring in place for the production of its weekly print publication, The Reader.

The synergies are substantial and I look forward to working with them to build on the strong foundation that is Crikey’s 16,000-plus email data base (5,300 paying subscribers) and 1 million-plus page views a month on our public website.

The shareholder activist is back

As part of the agreement, I am committed to writing exclusively for PMP (Crikey and The Reader) over the next 18 months and will now also have the time to resume serious shareholder activism and business commentary.

As supposedly Australia’s leading shareholder activist, it was a joke that I was down to attending a couple of AGMs a year because of the time commitment involved with running Crikey from our home with a young and expanding family.

This week’s National Australian Bank AGM was a case in point. On Monday morning, a producer for ABC Victoria’s Drive host Virginia Trioli asked if I could attend so I worked frantically to publish the edition and then turned up 90 minutes late for the AGM at 3.30pm. Without a proxy organised there was no opportunity to ask questions and in the chat with Virginia at 5.20pm yesterday I failed to mention the extraordinary intervention of former NAB CEO Nobby Clark because this happened before I arrived.

Without the responsibility of running Crikey, the NAB AGM and subsequent commentary on Crikey and the ABC would have been a lot more compelling.

It will be a case of watch out companies in the months ahead. First port of call might well be the PBL EGM to approve the Hoyts deal in early March.

Thank you, thank you, thank you

While it will very much be a case of business as usual for Crikey, there are many people to thank for helping to create what is arguably the most successful and influential independent ezine of its kind in the world.

Paula, aka Mrs Crikey, has put up with more than any partner deserves and her tolerance, support and dedicated work for the business have been treasured from the outset.

Our political correspondent Christian Kerr has been with us since day one, originally under the guise of Hillary Bray, and has done a superb job building our reputation in political circles with an enormous amount of consistently good copy.

All the other regular paid staff and contributors have also been vital to the success of Crikey and they include, in alphabetical order, Mark Cornwall, Glenn Dyer, Kate Jackson, Hugo Kelly, Charles Richardson, Ben Shearman and Ross Stapleton.

Then you have the various unpaid and occasional contributors such as Noel Turnbull’s Miscellany column, Crikey philospher at large Alan Hajek, consumer and racing advocate Peter Mair, Terry Maher, Cameron Weston in Japan and our Finnish correspondent Therese Catanzaritia, who have all added to the character and diversity of Crikey.

There have also been literally hundreds of other unpaid anonymous contributors who have helped us produce the huge body of work which now numbers more than 10 million words. Thalia Meyerhold, JF Smith, Boilermaker Bill McKell, The Kooka Bros, Outside Centre, Delia Delegate, Dan McNutt, Mr G, Gordon Gong and Wendy West are just some of the stage names that spring to mind.

There are also the three other original partners in Crikey – Con Christov, Andrew Inwood, David Terrazus – who have all moved on but were instrumental in their own way in getting the project up and running.

Others who have moved on but deserve our thanks include Sydney-based AGM attendees and Crikey writers Neal Woolrich and Justin McMurray along with former office helpers Stefo Christov and Liz Martin.

The 200 life and gold members deserve a big vote of thanks. During our darkest days fighting Steve Price and Nick Bolkus in the courts, they were the group who collectively coughed up more than $100,000 after we sold our house and paid out almost $100,000 in settlements and legal bills. Our Steve Price legal team, led by Holding Redlich partner Nic Pullen, also deserves a special mention for all their help during these battles.

Then, of course, there is our paying subscribers, who have stuck with us over the years and put up with the good and the bad, the long and the very long. They are the group that helped Crikey survive and prove to the doubters that there is such a thing as a viable independent ezine.

These are exciting times and we hope you enjoy the new and improved Crikey in the months and years ahead.

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne

PS Check out the reaction from media and subscribers.