Crikey readers have contributed a lot of stories on circulation rorts,
fiddles and the like over the past week or so, but here’s another tale,
a bit historical, which would be hysterical if it wasn’t serious. BRW is one of the few magazine success stories in Australia over the
past 20 or so years. Started as low key reply to the classier
Australian Business from the Packer empire, it has outlasted the
competition, even if the circulation has got the staggers at the moment.

BRW was started on the cheap by Fairfax as part of the National Times
with Bobbie Gottliebsen as editor and driving force. Fairfax slowly
built it by doing deals, such as the one with the accountants
(the CPAs), with copies sold on a sort of ‘affinity group plan’ to the
members at a substantial discount. BRW then took a big step by acquiring the venerable Rydges Magazine
from the Rydge Family (Greater Union, Amalgamated Holdings, Carlton
Investments, etc). That was supposed to boost circulation and push BRW
past Australian Business.

After acquiring the magazine in 1987, Fairfax management tried,
unsuccessfully, to find out just what the real print run was. The
negotiations and purchase deal were based on the magazine’s
ABC print run of 50,000 copies. But when the
deal was done and Fairfax people settled down to run
Rydges, they were told the actual print run was not 50,000 but 15,000!

Should Fairfax sue? Nope, it was a family-run company and in
those days
the old families of Sydney didn’t sue each other (not like today). The
Fairfax family was richer and more powerful than the Rydges, whose
fortune was a little ‘newer’ but nevertheless it was old enough to
count. After all, they lived in Point Piper, in one the best locations
on the Harbour. The former insider says there were various
stories about just how the
difference was ‘audited’ each year and accepted by the ABC.

The best story was the tale of the ‘Wrapper Lady.” Apparently, she
used to write factious names in a book which were single sales of
Rydge magazine and the auditor would just accept her word for the accuracy of
the figures.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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