ACP needed a miracle. It arrived

paul merrill headshotACP Magazines’ gives the company a much brighter future than many expected, argues former ACP editor Paul Merrill.

The TV news reports last night about the sale of ACP Magazines to the German publisher, Bauer were funereal in tone. That potent pillar of Australian greatness, the Women’s Weekly was now the German Australian Women’s Weekly. Yet another Aussie icon had fallen into the evil clutches of a foreign behemoth.

And we can’t trust foreigners, can we?

The actual facts of this deal tell a very different, and very positive, story. I believe this is a miraculous outcome for ACP and one that bodes extremely well for its titles.

For a start the reported price of $500m is astonishing in the middle of a global meltdown, with collapsing ad markets and a ludicrously high Aussie dollar. Five hundred million for an industry that has been declining for years (in nearly all international markets, not just here), has been criminally slow in investing in its own future and faces a potentially cataclysmic battle to remain relevant in a digital world.

As part of the Nine Entertainment Co, ACP had a hard time. Badly in hock to a private equity company who faced losing about $2 billion on the company James Packer had sold them just five years ago, the past few years have been all about stripping out costs, short-termism, closing and selling off loss making or niche titles and leveraging its relationship with Nine to make it as appealing as possible to foreign investors.

It wasn’t a good time to be in any magazines company as ads gravitated online, circulations declined, editorial and ad teams shrunk and budgets were pared back.

All of which makes ACP sale a surprise, and a not inconsiderable triumph that is hopefully good news for the rest of the industry. For the first time in a long while, someone has actually shown some confidence in magazines.

And that someone is a slightly eccentric company that has always been passionate about the titles it publishes. It’s family run so has no shady venture capitalists to placate.

If ACP benefited from being aligned to Nine, just think what advantages it can gain from synergies in all of Bauer’s international markets. More than anything, Bauer has always put its money where its mouth is. It has a proven track record of investing in its products and has a more long-term outlook than many of its rivals. It also takes risks – and copes with failed launches like the weeklies Enjoy and Cut in the UK.

And, while we’re on the subject, the other winner is Nine, already resurgent in the ratings and now cut partially free from a crippling debt and more able than ever to push hard to reclaim its place as Number One. A gauntlet has certainly been thrown down to Channel Seven and Pacific Magazines. Will the latter be able to compete if a more cashed up ACP enters launch mode?

So enough with the hand wringing about selling off the family silver. For a start, CVC Asia Pacific is part of an international investment capital company that started in the UK and has fingers in pies throughout four continents, so the AWW hasn’t been exactly true blue since 2007.

The sale probably won’t make much difference to ACP operationally in the short term – and revenues will remain a worry – but it can now do something few predicted: look to the future with a lot more relish.

  • Polar bear ate my headPaul Merrill was founding editor of Zoo Weekly and editor-in-chief of a number of ACP titles. His book, A Polar Bear Ate My Head is on sale now. Buy it online via this link



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