A year after being acquired by News Corp, Business Spectator cost the company $2.5 million despite pulling in revenues of $3.4 million. Its stablemate Eureka Report added only $671,000 in operating income.

News Corp bought Business Spectator and Eureka Report from Australian Independent Business Media in June 2012 for $30 million.

The deal was speculated at the time to have overpriced the company, an impression aided when journalism megastar Alan Kohler, one of AIBM’s owners and chief commentators, told The Age that News Corp had made him an offer he “couldn’t refuse”.

Leaked figures published today by Crikey add strength to the argument that News overpaid, showing in June 2013 Business Spectator was burning a hole in News Corp’s pockets not filled by the surprisingly modest revenues brought in by the Eureka Report.

A year after the purchase, AIBM was both part of The Australian and still considered separately when it came to operating revenues and expenses.

The analysis for the business unit shows subscription revenues were running behind budget, pulling in just $4.4 million, while the budget had planned for $5.1 million. Advertising revenue was also behind targets — $3.9 million instead of $4.2 million.

Meanwhile, total wages for the division’s 52 staff — 27 at Business Spectator and 21 at Eureka Report — ran to $6.7 million. Total expenses for the division before depreciation were $10.3 million.

Despite Eureka Report being widely seen as the jewel in the crown of AIBM, it couldn’t counteract the losses at the rest of the division. Total operating income was -$1.9 million. That amounts to the $2.5 million lost in Business Spectator, offset by the $670,000 made at the Eureka Report.

Intriguingly, Eureka Report had only 14,294 subscribers on June 30, 2013. Many had assumed News bought the group to take the business media fight to The Australian Financial Review and its lucrative subscription base. But subscriber numbers at the personal investment newsletter either went backwards or stayed the same in the first year of News ownership. When Eureka Report was sold, it was reported as having 15,000 subscribers by Fairfax, and 16,000 by Crikey.

The figures, however, did show AIBM remained one of the leanest parts of the News Corp operation. Average wages at AIBM were just $127,000 a year. The equivalent figure at The Australian is $178,000 a year.

Crikey owner and chairman Eric Beecher was one of the owners of AIBM before it was sold.

The AIBM stable was not unusual in its financial position. Most of News Corp’s digital efforts appeared to be losing propositions in 2012-13. For example, although True Local beat expectations and made a small profit of $1 million, News Ticketing doubled its losses to $3 million, and Sporting Pulse almost tripled its losses to $4 million. Carsguide and Get Price both recorded small losses. Overall, News’ digital media investments lost $3 million in 2012-13, though that was better than the $12 million loss reported the year before.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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