Perhaps one more edition for Australia's magazine story

Sadder almost than if it had fallen into administration is watching the newly-expanded Bauer Media Australia being slowly taken apart.

All of the German publisher's New Zealand business has been closed, an undisclosed list of Aussie titles - reported to be OK, NW, Elle Australia and Harper's Bazaar - is to go, and other print publications are on hold indefinitely.

And having been - with some apparent reluctance - taken over with the Pacific Magazines titles Bauer contracted to buy last year, staff from the former Seven West Media unit are the latest to be told they're out of a job, with two titles being put "on hold".

Some 60 redundancies and 14 "stand downs", understood to have been announced by Zoom call, follow the 70 job losses announced last week. Ironically there's also some doubt about whether those stood down - for three to six months - would qualify for the JobKeeper assistance they would have probably received while at SWM. What a welcome!

It's a far cry from the glory days of the rivalry between the Packer and Murdoch-owned magazine houses as their flagship mastheads vied for six-figure weekly circulations. When Australian Women's Weekly was a weekly, for that matter.

My first contact with what became PacMags was on a visit to the Southdown heatset plant in Melbourne; not yet an Australian resident, an object for me was to view a three-colour web unit to add to the Goss press back home - which we duly found printing contents bills in the reelstore - although my enduring memory is of lunch at a topless bar and a boozy afternoon during which I was introduced to Dulcie Boling, editor-in-chief and "god" to the Southdown stable.

I didn't (and still haven't) met the then-rising star of Packer's ACP, Ita Buttrose but had heard plenty of life in the famed Park Street, Sydney, offices from my wife-to-be, then employed fitting words around nipples in the pre-electronic age as a sub-editor on Cleo, over which (with AWW), Buttrose presided.

I went home clutching a copy of Cleo, remembered still for a cartoon in which a man was pictured trying to make a night deposit at a sperm bank.

Times change, not only in production, but in the fortunes of these two great publishers and their role in leading the lives of millions of Australians in a manner which has not been possible since the advent of digital.

Seven West is, in a way, acknowledging the waning influence of broadcast television in its sale of Better Homes & Gardens, the archetypal co-promotion of its TV show and still this country's top-selling paid-sale magazine.

The golden days are gone when publishers could afford to "throw" numerous magazine ideas into the air hoping that not all would fall to ground. But the influence of the glossy printed word remains, as acknowledged by the appearance (and reappearance) of printed forms of music titles Rolling Stone and the UK's NME. Also the growing number of "native content" mags, headed by Coles and Woolworth's supermarket titles, but also by new insurance-focussed Dare, a 100-page free glossy with a 150,000 initial print run.

Yes, there's a market in there somewhere - even in these COVID-ridden times - if Bauer has the will to find it. If not, maybe someone else has, with speculation that the German parent company may have found a buyer. Watch this space.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: 1970s magazine publishing was so larger-than-life they made a TV miniseries about it, Paper Giants - Magazine Wars, focussed on the rivalry between Dulcie Boling and ACP's Nene King

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