Acquiring a hard copy of a non-Melbourne newspaper in the UNESCO-deigned City of Literature has become next to impossible.
The aftershocks from last month’s closure of the McGills newsagency in Melbourne’s Elizabeth Street has left internet-averse news junkies suffering withdrawal symptoms after major interstate titles, including the Canberra Times, the Courier-Mail and The West Australian, disappeared from shelves.
McGills’ demise has meant the CBD has been left with only one walk-in newsagency — Transit News in Swanston Street. The other two newsagencies — Ledermans and Flinders City News — only provide home delivery services. This means customers are reliant on sub-agents, who generally only stock locally-printed staples The Age, the Herald Sun, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review. Acquiring interstate titles means placing an order with one of the big two, with no guarantee of regular delivery.
A daunting 44 kilometre round-trip to Tullamarine Airport seems to be the last remaining option for readers itching the bust out of the Age-Herald Sun duopoly.
A Crikey visit to Transit News only revealed one yellowing-copy of the Weekly Times, one copy of the Guardian Weekly and two copies of Greek bi-weekly Neos Kosmos, on top of the usual selection.
Carmel Dwyer, from CBD sub-agent Mitty’s, said the situation was “a disgrace”.
“We get lines of customers every day coming in asking for their hometown paper. You feel really guilty that can’t help these people,” Dwyer told Crikey.
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Mitty’s recently sold its distribution business to Flinders City News. In response to customer requests, Dwyer said Mitty’s had recently received three editions of the Launceston Examiner, but these suddenly disappeared after Flinders City pulled the plug.
Anxious to get our hands on a copy, Crikey contacted the Examiner and was told to head to GPO News Kiosk, adjacent to the former McGills storefront in Elizabeth Street. But the kiosk attendant told us that he had never seen a copy of the Examiner, and that in any case, he lacked the space to carry the interstate and regional titles that drew people to McGills. His inaugural copy of the Sydney Sun-Herald had arrived this week, but promised copies of the Sydney Morning Herald had failed to appear.
News Limited titles, including the Hobart Mercury, the Perth Sunday Times and the NT News can only be sourced from the Herald-Sun Shop in Southbank, an option denied to Fairfax loyalists following the closure of The Age shop as part of cost-cutting drive headed by former Rural Press axeman Brian McCarthy.
Policy wonk-stalwart The Canberra Times is also absent from Melbourne’s streets. A call to the CT subscription team revealed that those eager to ponder the latest APS developments in the bath would need to “register an account” before they could purchase a hard-copy. Walk-up-sales were a no no, the staff member said.
The situation for regional news is just as grim. The “out of town” newsstand at Flinders Street Station has receded into history, denying regional readers their local news fix. In fact, the only regional hard-copy newspaper Crikey was able to locate was a day-old copy of the Geelong Advertiser from Southern Cross Station, presumable on sale to placate commuters on the Melbourne-to-Geelong V-Line service. The Ballarat Courier and the Bendigo Advertiser were nowhere to be found.
Andrew Crook’s fruitless search through the Melbourne CBD
By comparison, the Sydney CBD appears flush with interstate titles. The Daily Planet newsagency in Chifley Square told Crikey that only regularly unavailable masthead was the West Australian, owing to prohibitive freight costs.
Newsagency Blog editor Mark Fletcher told Crikey that Melbourne has the poorest newsagent coverage of any CBD in Australia.
“In Brisbane there are 8 or 10 newsagents. Melbourne’s soaring rents makes it extremely difficult for newsagents to meet their traditional margins.”
Fletcher said slim margins on newspapers meant newsagents are focused on much higher-margin products.
“Newspaper cover prices haven’t gone up in ten years, and newsagents are reducing their supply.”
Melbourne also seems to have a paucity of Newspaper Direct kiosks – which allow the user to print out copies of interstate and international newspapers direct onto A3 paper. On a recent trip to South-East Asia Crikey noticed a multitude of machines keen to cater to poolside expats.
For the moment though, Melbourne remains a dead-tree news black hole. Rumours that some absent titles could be sourced “virtually” on the Internet could not be confirmed before deadline.