Barely a month goes by without news of more redundancies, more magazine closures, more restructures at the once-great owner of Australia’s most well-known and prestigious magazines, ACP Magazines. German publisher Bauer Media bought out ACP from Nine Entertainment in 2012, ending an era for locally owned magazine publishing in Australia.
The Bauer family’s investment was greeted with something of a sigh of relief from many staffers — a fifth-generation family of printers, with ink in their veins, promising investment and innovation in the glossies, which included the Australian Women’s Weekly, Rolling Stone, Dolly and Cleo.
After her family business paid an estimated $500 million for the company, CEO Yvonne Bauer gave interviews in Australia saying the company saw ACP as “represent(ing) our vision for the future”.
But, five years on, that future is looking shakier than ever. Last year, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Australian branch was likely to be worth only a quarter of what Bauer paid for it.
Last month, the company’s most prestigious and familiar title, Australian Women’s Weekly, cut up to 15 positions, including the important roles of art director and chief subeditor. The title is operating under new editor Nicole Byers, who replaced Kim Doherty after she’d spent just over a year at the helm. Doherty left around the same time as CEO Nick Chan, who was unimaginatively replaced by Bauer’s NZ boss Paul Dykzeul, who now oversees the company in both countries and is the fourth CEO of the Australian arm since 2012.
Earlier this year, actress Rebel Wilson won her defamation case against Bauer for articles published in Woman’s Day, another of its magazines, which followed the closure of titles of Dolly, Cleo, Shop Til You Drop, Rugby League Week, Yours, Homes+ and Recipes+.
So what does that mean for the future of the industry?
As the biggest magazine publisher, Bauer is seen as a barometer for the industry. And according to one former senior manager who spoke to Crikey, that doesn’t bode well, unless companies invest in product, people, culture and management.
“For magazines to do well you need Bauer to start improving. There’s no silver bullet in this. There’s very few media companies that have learned to run a global business. It’s more by good luck than good management they’ve got [into markets] like eastern Europe,” he said.
Bauer started and is still based in Germany, and had been running low-cost magazines for decades in its home country, across eastern Europe, the UK and the US when it bought EMAP, a UK based high-end magazine and radio company, in 2008. The company was the second-largest magazine publisher in the UK, with titles including Grazia, Closer and Empire.
The former senior manager who spoke to Crikey said that the Australian market had baffled the German owners, who still make good money on their low-cost magazines overseas just on the cover-price. In Australia, where agency ad spend to October was down by 28% compared to the previous year, and cover prices alone won’t deliver the same results.
“I don’t think Bauer assume that they’re going to close anything. But it’s very cut and dry for them. If it doesn’t make money it goes,” he said.
One former Bauer editor told Crikey that the feeling on the ground was “quite depressed”: “Everyone is waiting to see which magazine will be next and there is a feeling that management (and HR) is not making decisions to ensure the future of the magazines they work on. Bauer Media seems unwilling to invest in innovation, relying more on stop-gap solutions that will lead to the selling off or closing of all their titles eventually.”
Media analyst Steve Allen said the company’s revenues were off by up to 70% since the Bauers bought in. “They’ve lost substantial amounts on circulation and even more on advertising, and digital’s not made up for it,” he said. “Paul Dykzeul has come in to cut all the fat, or what’s left of it. It’s a shadow of itself but so’s the whole magazine industry.”
The former Bauer editor concurred, saying that the prestige that the company once had as an employer had gone. “Ten years ago ACP was where you aspired to be eventually in your career. And while the industry has changed, now interns and uni grads start at Bauer for a year (as the salaries and reputation are so low) and then they move on to other publishing houses and websites.”
In an interview with AdNews in September, CEO Dykzeul said he planned to change and grow the Australian arm of the business.
“I haven’t come to manage the status quo. I’ve come to change the business and move it on,” he said.
He echoed those sentiments in an email to staff when he announced Bauer was closing three more magazines last month, saying again it was an attempt to be more creative, but also warning that there would yet be more restructures and changes to workflow. But after years of staff not seeing the talk of change reflected in the company’s actions, there’s still no real indication of just how much more Bauer will cut, and what will be left of the industry.