Australia’s two major news and business magazines — The Bulletin and BRW — have each reached a tipping point which could see them both convert from weeklies to monthlies.

Insiders at each magazine, owned respectively by PBL and Fairfax, say their managements are now seriously considering downgrading to monthly publication to assuage shareholders and save money. Both magazines are believed to be unprofitable, propping up their circulations through gimmicks, and increasingly ad-less.

The 126-year-old The Bulletin , Australia’s oldest weekly news magazine, has been suffering static or declining circulation for years as the rise of online media and the free glossy news magazines in the weekend newspapers have cannibalised its readership.

Under Kerry Packer it was at least partially protected from the commercial consequences but insiders say James Packer doesn’t share his father’s sentimentality and has declared the magazine must at the very least break even.

One consequence of this is that new editor-in-chief John Lehmann has not been granted control of budgets. That responsibility has been handed to new publisher Paul Myers, who is ruthlessly cutting costs. 

Another consequence of the cutbacks is that neither Lehmann nor his editor Andrew Forbes will be coming to Melbourne to fly the flag at the Walkley Awards tomorrow.

Staff morale has also plummeted amid confusion about the magazine’s online strategy and debate over whether reporters should be filing stories for the print magazine or the website. Several senior staff are now actively looking for the exit.

The future of the print edition remains up in the air but insiders report the favoured option currently being discussed is to make the magazine a Vanity Fair- style monthly with longer features and the bulk of the shorter news items appearing on the website.

Meanwhile a similar scenario is unfolding at BRW, which was recently revamped under its new editor Peter Roberts. Senior staff have been peeling off at an alarming rate over recent months, with persistent rumours that the magazine’s star columnist Adele Ferguson is about to accept a new job elsewhere. 

The word inside Fairfax is that a monthly BRW would run its “flagship” features — the Rich List, Fast 100 Companies, etc — and abandon any pretence to being a news magazine. And save a truckload of money in the process. 

Peter Fray

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