BOTW: The business of business publishing; Optus starts advertising; Falloon's Nine exit
Welcome to Best of the Week, mostly written on a pleasant Friday evening in Perth and completed on Saturday morning, enjoying the novelty of sunrise over the ocean.
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Suddenly, business publishing is where it’s at.
This week, an Australian edition of Forbes magazine launched, Private Media revealed it will be publishing a local edition of business title Inc, and Jag Sanger, the founder of The Market Herald, revealed in the Unmade podcast that the company is planning a broadsheet business newspaper.
On top of that, it’s just a month since Nine launched its crypto-for-the-kids news site Chainsaw, and earlier this year saw the arrival of daily deals newsletter Letter of Intent.
Other scrappy new contenders include daily finance podcast Fear & Greed, along with streaming business news operations Ausbiz and Ticker.
The territory previously firmly held by The Australian Financial Review, The Australian, and the business sections of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald is becoming a more contested space.
All these new arrivals have different business models, some likely more viable than others.
Still sitting at the top of the business food chain is Nine’s AFR, started by Fairfax as a weekly a little more than 70 years ago, before going daily a decade later.
As a paper, the AFR’s influence outweighs its print circulation. Before the publishing houses assassinated the Audit Bureau of Circulations four years ago, the AFR had dropped below 40,000 printed copies per day. I imagine that number is closer to 30,000 now, as readers continue to switch to digital. But from the advertiser perspective, it’s the right 30,000.
Most of the Nine’s publishing revenue still comes from the traditional areas of the news industry - copy sales and advertising. It also gets a little from tickets sales and sponsorship from events, plus in the near term a large chunk of the cash which the Morrison government strongarmed from Google and Facebook. It’s a similar story over at News Corp.
Perhaps because of the comparative health of the core products, Nine and The Australian have neglected to be particularly innovative in commercial and product development around the edges of their business coverage. That’s left gaps for others.
It’s surprising that neither company offers a dedicated daily business podcast for instance. Across the combined resources of the AFR, SMH and The Age, Nine has the best team of business journalists in the country. Forget about the expense of video, imagine how good a daily business podcast it could produce with that range of experts at its daily disposal. Or more topic-specific business podcasts, come to that.
Add in the resource of owning the Nine Radio audio network, and the company’s lack of movement into business audio looks like an omission.
Instead, the country’s most downloaded business podcast is Fear & Greed, launched two years ago by a trio of refugees from the company in Sean Aylmer, Adam Lang and Michael Thompson. Last month, one of The Age’s best investigative journalists Richard Baker left The Age to start his own podcasting operation.
Within the Nine stable, its efforts around business podcasting have been modest. The AFR won a Walkley for its excellent podcast documentary into insider trading The Sure Thing, but that success has not spurred anything more systematic.
Instead, Nine’s most noticeable attempt to do something new in the business space this year comes out of its youth publishing division Pedestrian, which has just launched The Chainsaw, “the home of Web3”.
Think crypto and NFTs. Or maybe crypto winter and scams.
Meanwhile, the upstarts are taking a slice here, and a slice there.
The Market Herald is intriguing, and coming on fast. Led by Jag Sanger, who briefly worked for Fairfax back in the day, the group just bought Gumtree, Autotrader and Carsguide. For now, the company is a relative minnow, with its $110m market capitalisation just a 30th of Nine’s .
Within the portfolio, The Market Herald is easy to miss, unless you happen to be in the target audience - middle aged small investors.
TMH’s core product is not original journalism (although it does do a little investigative reporting) - its point of difference is being first to cover news about listed stocks simultaneous with its release to the market. The company deliberately avoids covering the big stocks - plenty of other outlets would cover Telstra’s announcements, for instance.
Produced out of its Perth headquarters overlooking Elizabeth Quay, It’s a lower cost model, with TMH’s video content produced near-live, but not actually live. Coming down the track is TMH One which will be a full streaming channel.
Even more interestingly, The Market Herald will be launching a weekly broadsheet newspaper to complement its digital offering I saw a 20-page dummy this week. It looks like a traditional business broadsheet, albeit with a font size large enough that the middle aged audience might not need their reading glasses.
The additional investment in journalism will be modest. Much of the news content will have already been published online, with decisions about placement based on analytics. There’ll be no editor-in-chief.
As a journo, that’s unromantic. But the advertising proposition is extremely clear. With pages on luxury travel and high end real estate, it offers a high quality lifestyle audience. With print, online and video, that becomes an interesting network to monetise. In the UK, the How To Spend it section of the Financial Times is among the most lucrative parts of the business, for instance.
Meanwhile, as connected TVs gradually change how audiences navigate, streamed video becomes competition for traditional broadcast.
However TMH does not have that video market to itself.
There’s also Ausbiz, led by former Sky News producer Kylie Merritt and backed by David Koch who owns publishing and production house Pinstripe Media as well as presenting Seven’s Sunrise.
Broadcasting from Barangaroo in Sydney, the Ausbiz model leans into sponsored content, along with studio and facilities production for corporates.
What had initially seemed a direct rival for Ausbiz in Ticker TV - founded by Ahron Young and now based in the former Holden building in Port Melbourne - has since pivoted, becoming more of a general news streamer under the new label Ticker News.
Connected TV may be here, but the audiences are going to take a long time to follow, so my guess is that they’re tiny for all the streamers compared to traditional broadcast. Monetising niche audiences are key.
And also entering this crowded business space, and with an eye to the lifestyle ads I suspect, is Forbes Australia.
The person behind the local edition is first time publisher Michael Lane, who’s previously made his living bringing motivational speakers like Tony Robbins to Australia under the Success Resources banner. He’s also a director of personal debt management company Infinity.
Globally, the Forbes brand is not what it once was. Its digital offering runs a wide network of contributors who receive remuneration based on traffic, while brands can also pay to have their voices heard in what is hard, if not impossible, to distinguish from genuine editorial.
In fairness to Forbes Australia, however, I don’t yet evidence of that grubbiness in its initial content. Given Lane’s background, I presume the way the franchise will pay for itself will be in using the Forbes brand around events
And this week saw Private Media, owner of Crikey, pick the day of the Forbes launch to make its own announcement. The company has signed up the local franchise of US business publication Inc. It will sit alongside its existing business site Smart Company.
Private Media has hired former BuzzFeed Australia GM Simon Crerar to lead the project.
Despite the rush towards the sector, it feels like few of the new players are in head-to-head competition. Their models and offerings are differentiated. Whether they all survive through to profitability remains to be seen.
Finally, the Optus apology
Earlier in the week, I wrote about Optus’s communications since it revealed its database had been hacked.
I’m glad to see that as of today, Optus has started using print advertising to get across its message.
The ads are simple, and in my view do as well as they can in the circumstances. There are no wasted words. There’s none of the previous prevarication about what happened, instead a focus on apologising, acknowledging the loss of trust, and empathising with the customers. It’s a small first step in moving on the conversation.
Unmade Index - red again as Falloon leaves Nine
It was another draining week on The Unmade Index, with falls on four days out of five, including 1.1% yesterday.
Almost all of the Unmade Index’s basket of ASX-listed media and marketing companies saw their market capitalisations drop as part of a global selloff of shares.
A year ago, Nine was a $5bn company. A month ago it was nearer to a $4bn company. Now it’s knocking on the door of being a $3bn company.
Yesterday, Nine’s deputy chairman Nick Falloon announced he will leave the board next month. He represented the Fairfax side of the merger with Nine, and his departure may heal what had at times - particularly in the battle to succeed Hugh Markjs as CEO - looked like a divided board.
Seven, meanwhile, is starting to look like it will struggle to rejoin the three comma club with its market cap well below $700,000 now. And Southern Cross Austereo’s market cap is now so small it’s starting to look like loose change to own a couple of radio networks.
Time to let you go about your Saturday.
Another big week is coming up, including the Paramount Upfront.
We’ll be back with Start the Week on Monday. You’ll also find out Unmade’s first sponsor.
Have a great weekend.