Given the doom and gloom surrounding most discussion of print media, some might find it surprising that there is a flurry of hard-copy start-ups in Australia at present. This is the fourth episode of our series on new media enterprises, and the second to feature a print media new entrant.
This year The Melbourne Review, a free tabloid magazine, began circulating in Melbourne’s city and inner-suburban cafes and bookshops. It is an offshoot of the Australian-based branch of Spaniard media moghul Javier Moll, who some years ago was mooted to be considering starting a weekly newspaper in Adelaide.
Those plans never came to fruition, but since the early 1990s, Moll has owned The Adelaide Review, which was founded more than 25 years ago by Christopher Pearson, then a big fish in the Adelaide pond and now a medium-sized fish in the national pond.
The Adelaide Review has since its founding served as a focal point for thinking South Australia. It is free in the city’s cafes and runs ads for everything foody, winey and bohemian.
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The Melbourne Review has a similar vibe, although, to my eye, a bit more weighty content and, so far, a lot fewer ads.
So why the expansion? And why now? And does this mean that the Review might open more branches in other capitals?
General manager Luke Stegemann told Crikey that Melbourne had always been on the radar as a possible site for expansion. There is, he says, an affinity between Adelaide and Melbourne, and the Review aims to “celebrate Melbourne as Australia’s intellectual capital”.
As well as food, wine and lifestyle content, Stegemann says the copy will tap in to the innovation that is centred in Melbourne, from bio-technology to fashion and publishing.
This, obviously, is territory that The Age might fancy it owns. Has the Review stable chosen this moment to expand because The Age is seen as weak in serving that market? Stegemann doesn’t comment, other than to say that he believes there is a gap that the Review can fill.
The current issue, which came out last week, features an interview with the CEO of Federation Square, Kate Brennan, and the first in a series of essays from Asialink, the not-for-profit organisation based at the University of Melbourne, which has partnered with The Melbourne Review. The Asialink essay, by Will McCallum, responds to the Prime Minister’s recent white paper on Asia.
For this reader, one of the nice things about The Melbourne Review is the word length, with the main features being up to 1800 words. In recent years The Age has cut back on the space for substantial essays. While there is a limit to what can be done on such a lean and mean budget, The Melbourne Review has the space, for serious think pieces — though it lacks on journalistic heft.
No journalists are employed, but contributors are paid on a sliding scale for feature articles of 1500-1800 words. Some copy is provided free by institutions, such as galleries and so forth, in return for the platform.
It should be noted that the levels of contributor payments have been the cause of controversy at The Adelaide Review in the past. The Review stable is a very lean operation.
The monthly magazine is free in hard copy and online. Advertising is aimed firmly at the A-B demographic of the city and inner suburbs. The print run is 70,000. One difference from the Adelaide-based distribution model is that a sizable portion of that is delivered direct to corporate offices — a market Stegemann hopes to expand.
Perhaps wisely, given the aggressive competition between Fairfax Media and Antony Catalano’s The Weekly Review, The Melbourne Review has shunned real estate advertising. Instead most of the ads are for retail outlets and cinemas, and at the moment it has to be said they are a little thin on the ground.
The Melbourne Review runs a regular column from former foreign minister Alexander Downer, who has also featured for years in the Adelaide sister publication. Does Downer get paid? “Yes,” says Stegemann, though not surprisingly, he won’t say how much.
Stegemann claims the new publication is close to profitability, and the Review stable as a whole, which includes street press in Adelaide, is nicely profitable. He will not give detailed figures.
He describes The Melbourne Review as a niche publication, tightly targeted to a particular demographic. Many people have queried the launch of a new print publication at a time when most are considering retiring the printing presses, but, he says “we are very confident there is a market for it. People love magazines, they love something tangible, and there is always a market for quality.”
And, he acknowledges, advertisers also love hard-copy display ads, pitched to affluent cafe goers and corporates.
So will the Spaniard use this as a foundation for a national move? Stegemann says there are no plans to move beyond the Melbourne-Adelaide axis at present. The enterprise is, he says “lean and ambitious, but we don’t want to over reach”.