What’s going on at Bauer?

Sarah Homewood
By Sarah Homewood | 19 January 2016
Sarah Homewood, AdNews journalist

No CEO, no director of sales, no editor for one of its strongest titles and rumours swirling about the closure of another, Bauer Media doesn’t appear to be having the best start to 2016.

At the end of last year it was announced that Bauer's current chief executive officer, David Goodchild, was stepping back from his Australian role at the publisher, with that move coming just months after Bauer's director of sales, Tony Kendall, was named chief executive of Australian Radio Network.

These changes were followed by the news that editor-in-chief of The Australian Women’s Weekly, Helen McCabe had resigned after six years at the publication and last week, rumours flew thick and fast about how Bauer’s youth-focused title Cleo, was set to close its doors after 44 years in business.

While no official announcement was made, and even though Bauer publicly denied the closure, it didn’t stop story after story about the imminent closure of the title appearing across every news outlet in the country on Friday.

The news probably took off like wildfire because closing the mag wouldn't exactly be a surprise. It's a familiar tale.

Every time the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures roll around, it’s the titles aimed at the 18-25 demographic that are always the hardest hit in print. It’s almost entirely because those audiences are now almost purely getting their information online. But it isn’t just Bauer’s youth-focused title that is being hit by this shift.

What made less sense is the publication closing Cleo’s website back in November, further fuelling the speculation that the mag is set for imminent closure. This also wouldn’t be the first time the publisher had said: "nothing to see here" about a rumour taking hold, only to release a 3pm statement announcing a title's closure a week later.

What is more troubling is the lack of leadership at the top, and the seemingly lack of direction of the publisher. It does feel though we are fairly quick to bash the publishing industry for not having pivoted fast enough.

The reality is that while publishing was hit the hardest and the fasted by the online age, all the major publishers spent a big chunk of their time, and their money, focusing on digital transformation.

Cleo's current circulation sits at approximately 42,000, with its readership being 144,000 according to the publisher. However it has been extremely vocal about its digital network over the past year and the fact its stripping out titles and focusing on verticals not brands individually.

It has also ramped up its mobile media investment off the back of the shift towards consumers paying to access content and titles via apps – with the publisher saying consumers have paid to access or download its branded apps more than one million times.

Somewhere there is a plan at Bauer, maybe it involves Cleo and maybe it doesn't. However without people to shout about it or to push it forward, people are just left to join their own dots, and if that continues, it’s not going to create a picture that is positive for the publishing industry.

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