Opinion

Farewell Cosmo, the missed opportunity

Cosmopolitan Australia is dead, but who killed it? Was it Bauer? Was it Australia’s declining print industry? Or was it Kerry Packer? Mumbrella’s Zoe Samios takes a look back to figure out where it all went wrong.

In the wake of Cosmopolitan Australia’s closure, a former ACP executive echoed the words of the former CEO of Publishing and Broadcasting Limited, John Alexander, to me: eternal life cannot be guaranteed for any publishing brand, no matter how big.

This week his words will be ringing through the walls of a nervous 54 Park St, now a skeleton of its former self.

The final edition of Cosmopolitan Australia

Cosmopolitan Australia is gone: another brand fallen victim to a lack of relevance and value in the digital age.

Inevitable? Of course. But sad, given it’s just been added to an ever-growing heap of axed magazine titles, most notably women’s lifestyle brands Cleo and Dolly.

So was the problem Bauer Media, the German-owned publisher whose reputation in the Australian market has been tainted by ongoing departures, closures and a major defamation case loss? Was it Bauer’s decision to separate print and digital teams? Or do the issues pre-date that of Bauer Media?

The mistakes and shortcomings of the Cosmopolitan Australia brand far precede its German owners, who bought the magazine brands in 2012. They date back to the days of Ninemsn, when former owner Kerry Packer handed the digital rights to the ACP titles, including Cosmopolitan, to Nine Entertainment, following the merger of ACP and Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL Media). The partnership meant Nine’s commercial team handled digital sales of the magazines, rather than ACP.

Put simply, he did not see the value or opportunity in magazine brands beyond the print medium. That inability would become the curse of ACP Magazines, and following its sale, the curse of Bauer Media too.

Lorna Gray was the newest editor of Cosmo, appointed in July

Once Bauer Media bought the stable of ACP brands, it had to work through Ninemsn’s digital arrangements, and in 2015, it took over full trading responsibilities for its entire digital strategy.

But 2015 was too little too late. With its print and digital teams operating separately, it would struggle to build its brands beyond a print medium.

Add that to a number of digital women’s lifestyle brands entering the market, and Cosmopolitan Australia’s brand continued to wane.

Last year when Mumbrella spoke to then editor-in-chief Keshnee Kemp about a relaunch of the product, she spoke about “real conversations” with young women, noting the title was behind on where it should be.

“When Cosmo was created in the ‘60s with Helen Gurley Brown, the idea was that we are starting conversation and driving conversation and we were inspiring women to have conversations about things they wanted to talk about but didn’t necessarily talk about,” she told Mumbrella.

“When I joined the brand we were a little bit behind on that, that Cosmo had been quite quiet for some time and we had some initiatives but certainly not as many as we should be having.”

Kemp wanted to focus the magazine back on ‘real conversations’

“I wanted to introduce a real sense of service back into the mag, making sure that we are aspirational but also attainable, because we are a mass market brand and we need to be sure that we are representing that,” she said.

But the problem wasn’t the content. People were and still are interested in the content Cosmopolitan Australia produces. The problem is consumers can read that same content on any other lifestyle website, or on social media.

The lack of differentiation and failure to evolve is not limited to the failing of Cosmopolitan Australia, but a challenge for all magazines, who have for the most part been usurped by social media.

Ironically, former editors like Mia Freedman and Sarah Wilson noted that struggle by launching digital properties of their own.

Former Cosmo editor Mia Freedman jumped in digital more than 11 years ago, at a time when Cosmo should have pivoted too

The difference for a brand like Cosmopolitan Australia, Cleo or even Dolly, is that they could have been relevant. ACP Magazines and later Bauer Media could have chosen not to laugh executives who talked about the merging of print and digital teams out of the room.

It could have made the once powerful print product an iconic local brand. But no one did.

In 2018, what was once the ‘ideal’ Cosmopolitan reader would spend her time scrolling through Instagram, Facebook or YouTube. It’s inevitable, then, that CEO Paul Dyzkeul would see no other option but to part ways with the once iconic brand.

Add all of that to advertising spend decline (new SMI figures reported a 28.3% decline for magazines), and Cosmopolitan was in dire need of help.

The most obvious sign, of course, should have been the departure of editor-in-chief Keshnee Kemp earlier this year, who was later replaced by digital managing editor of features, Lorna Gray. There was also the fact that Bauer Media diverted questions about the future of both Cosmo Bride and Cosmo for months.

Earlier this year, Bauer Media also restructured its digital team, and ‘centralised’ other magazine titles, including Woman’s Day, OK Magazine and NW. It later merged the print and digital teams of Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. And in the last few months, Kemp’s departure was joined by other print editors, including Harper’s Bazaar’s Kellie Hush, Elle’s editor Justine Cullen, and NW and OK editors Lucy Walker and Mark Brandon.

Two years ago there was the hope that with the closure of Cleo, Bauer Media could focus on Dolly and Cosmopolitan. Yet struggling ad revenue and a lack of digital strategy will kill a brand, no matter how strong it once was. And without a digital strategy, it simply could not adapt to changing consumer habits.

Cosmopolitan Australia was a ticking time bomb, a sinking ship, a title dead in the water for some time.

But it was also a missed opportunity. A brand that could have, and should have, prospered as a brand-safe platform and content provider for women.

And while Bauer Media’s CEO Paul Dykzeul has worked tirelessly to integrate digital and print teams across magazines, it is too little too late.

For other print-focused women’s lifestyle products, this week’s announcement should be a concern. Broad mass market women’s magazines just don’t cut it anymore, and implementing a digital strategy now means competing with major digital brands who are agile and can adapt to consumer behavioural changes a lot quicker.

“Fundamentally, Bauer has failed to transform itself from a legacy print publisher to a digital media company,” my former colleague, Miranda Ward, once wrote.

“The closure of icon, Cleo, proves no title is safe as Bauer looks to reinvent itself. But how much of its rich history does Bauer need to shed to move forward?”

This isn’t the end for one of Australia’s oldest publishing businesses. But without brand relevance in the modern era, being a ‘legacy’ or ‘iconic’ brand isn’t enough to survive.

ADVERTISEMENT

SUBSCRIBE

Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing