If Laurie Oakes was to leave, or the Newsweek agreement to end, The Bulletin would reach a crucial decision point – merge or die.

More speculation about the future of the Packer-owned news magazine today with Mark Day penning a good commentary in his Australian Media column – Woolly Bully a prime example of the magazine malaise

He neatly dissected the sharp fall in the Bully’s circulation in 2004, especially the last six months of the year and provided some historical context to the decline. But according to ACP insiders, the determining factor as to its future will be the agreement with the US owned Newsweek.

That Newsweek agreement covers the vast bulk of international stories in The Bulletin, which is one of the points of difference for the magazine, which really has no more competition (Time magazine is almost all overseas stories). So it all depends on the agreement with Newsweek and when it runs out.

The Bulletin has basically abandoned the extensive business coverage it attempted in the 90s and moved to a more general approach, with considerable and growing tie-in to the Nine Network, especially Business Sunday and Sunday.

Without the Newsweek content, there wouldn’t be much reason to buy the magazine, except for the Laurie Oakes column on politics.

The Bulletin’s content and approach has been basically stolen by the weekend editions of the broadsheets, The Weekend Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne Age and The Australian Financial Review.

Without the Newsweek content, costs would rise because some token overseas coverage would have to be organised or bought in. But Laurie Oakes remains the only reason for many people to buy the magazine each week

If he was to leave, or the Newsweek agreement end, the magazine would reach a crucial decision point. Merge or die.

It could be merged now with the circulation-challenged stablemate, Money magazine, which has seen its salad days in the 90s. Now it’s down to 50,000 or so copies a month and fading. But Money has a different readership to The Bulletin, and any merger would be destructive.

But with rival Fairfax still with two magazines in the field, Shares and Personal Investment, it’s doubtful ACP would give up with Money and admit defeat to Fairfax!

The Bulletin’s circulation is down to 62,600 or so copies a week. Time magazine is around 92,000 copies a week, down 11,000 in the year. The sector seems to be on the nose with readers.

Finance magazines like BRW, Money, Personal Investment and Shares were also down, like the two editions of The Australian Financial Review.

One solution to help The Bulletin, and perhaps the only one sought by Park Street, has been to strengthen the ties between the magazine and television.

This so-called cross-platform synergistic approach is very much the vogue at PBL, with John Alexander in the chair at both ACP and the parent.

He’s been driving this approach for years and Nine itself has used it well to market its stars. But now it’s being used more deliberately to try and revive an ACP publication, and possibly help justify the continuing spend on Business Sunday at Willoughby.

The marketing co-branding with Business Sunday at the Nine Network is weighted in favour of the magazine.

The Bulletin’s name appears on Business Sunday’s on-screen graphics, Ross Greenwood and Adam Shand write for the magazine, and are paid in part by ACP (Greenwood also writes for Money).

The magazine’s rural writer, Anthony Hoy, did a story on the Sunday program last Sunday about whether white pointer sharks were being encouraged in South Australian waters to be big nasty brutes. A competent report, but as a TV reporter he made a great newspaper journalist!

The Nine Network’s Business Sunday program ad in the magazine over the past two weeks shows only one fulltime employee of Nine on the program, the host, Ali Moore.

Ross Greenwood writes for The Bulletin and Money and does work for Nine News, The Today Show, radio and occasionally Business Sunday.

Oriel Morrison does nothing for Business Sunday at the moment, but works for the Today Show and the rump of the ‘business unit’.

Tim Lester, when he arrives from the ABC will be working for news, and no doubt for Sunday, maybe Business Sunday and The Bulletin.

Karen Tso works for Nine News and the Today show and may get a story up on Business Sunday in the next couple of weeks.

Adam Shand works for The Bulletin, Sunday and Business Sunday.

The new reporter, Katrina Nicholas, is bound for Business Sunday, but no doubt she will end up penning an article or three for The Bulletin.

This is what appeared in yesterday’s second sealed section of Crikey:

There was a nice big picture of the new look Business Sunday team in a full page ad in The Bulletin this week and it is fair to say the loss-making and circulation falling mag. is very light on for paying ads at the moment.

This week’s edition had a double pager from Malaysia Airlines on pages 2 and 3, a full pager from Westpac on page 5 and thereafter it was slim pickings with a full page for Sunday, a full page for Business Sunday, a full page for Packer’s Crown casino, a double page spread for Microsoft (a contra on the Ninemsn joint venture?) and some rats and mice up the back.

That light advertising level is the biggest worry for ACP and PBL.

The Bulletin is part of Australian media history, as well as our wider cultural history. The Packers still seem to appreciate that, hence this tightening of the links with TV and Business Sunday and Sunday.

But will this be enough?