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The Hoopla closes citing competitive market as News Corp launches women-centric challenger

The Hoopla Wendy Harmer’s independent women’s news and commentary site The Hoopla is closing after failing to find a sustainable business model, with its publisher signalling they are in now talks with other media owners to sell the brand.

The Hoopla has been around since 2011 but has struggled to monetise its audience, with its editor Harmer and publishers Jane Waterhouse telling Mumbrella the online market for female readers was too crowded.

rendezviewToday News Corp Australia announced it was launching its own female-centred online masthead RendezView, although editor Sarrah Le Marquand played down the competition saying “I don’t come from the lofty little corner of the media where I’m good at pontificating at the great unwashed”.

It will be in direct competition with numerous female-centred sites including Mamamia, Fairfax’s Daily Life, Women’s Agenda, Bauer Women’s Network and the Daily Mail’s Femail section.

Waterhouse, CEO of Hoopla parent company We Magazines told Mumbrella this morning: “There is a lot of interest around the brand. What we have managed to do is keep that trust around the brand and there is interest from a couple of different media players and also other production people.”

Asked if that meant The Hoopla brand was on the market Waterhouse confirmed it was, while declining to specify who they were in talks with: “We may look to do that (sell the brand) but that is still ongoing. I can’t tell you who without causing myself a lot of grief.”

‘Extraordinarily competitive’ market

Waterhouse

Waterhouse

Waterhouse said that despite putting up a paywall in April 2014 the independent publisher had struggled to find a sustainable financial base at a time when major media outlets like News Corp, Huffington Post and Bauer Media were all entering what is already a busy segment.

“This last year we saw a $2.6bn company like Bauer setting up its own significant team down here,” she said. “The Huff Post is a couple of months away from having a very strong women’s vertical, add to that the Guardian which does a lot in women’s news, Mamamia with Jason and Mia who are aggressive local competitors, plus Fairfax’s Daily Life.

“We have just under 5,000 paid subscribers. It is great additional revenue but no website can rely just on subscriptions, you have to rely on the affiliate sales, the subs and ad revenue.

“That’s if you want to pay people market rate and pay journalists what they deserve.”

Harmer

Harmer

Editor in chief of The Hoopla Wendy Harmer told Mumbrella she was proud of the conversation and audience, claiming it has built to around 370,000 unique browsers a month.

“Our subscriptions have been going really well but we just ran out of time,” said Harmer.

“We are all pretty aware of how tight the market is and how little money there is around for digital advertising – that money is going to be very much fought over. It is becoming extraordinarily competitive.”

Asked if there were simply too many players in the space Harmer said: “We will see how it shakes out. There are only a certain amount of eyeballs to go around and we will have to see but there will be some big battles on I should think.”

‘A lot of women can’t afford to write for free’

Harmer said the Hoopla would have a legacy in terms of the writers it gave a platform to, citing the likes of Tracy Spicer, Paula Matthewson, Gabrielle Chan who have now moved on to other writing roles.

“I am very proud of being able to give them that platform and pay them,” said Harmer. “I also think we have been inspirational for a lot of sites. We unearthed some fantastic writers, we gave them a fantastic platform and its been great to see them go on.”

She also took aim at the little or no money some other women’s sites, such as Mamamia which pays contributors $50, pay to their writers.

“A lot women can’t afford to write for free,” said Harmer. “They are breadwinners, they have bills, they have mortgages, and while The Hoopla was never able to pay women a lot there were instances where we paid more than the ABC.”

She also confirmed that the teenage orientated brand Birdee would go on citing its success in launching a quarterly print newspaper product, which she claimed was selling well.

“Birdee is going well I think the fact that we have got that newspaper out there, which now has its second edition on sale, is something that makes it a unique product.”

‘I don’t come from the lofty little corner of the media where I’m good at pontificating at the great unwashed’

Le Marquand

Le Marquand

News Corp’s Sarrah Le Marquand, who will edit the publisher’s new online property RendezView, today played down the level of competition for female audiences.

“This demographic, which is women in their late 20s to their late 50s are increasing moving into the digital sphere – particularly that demographic – they are mobile friendly and this is really just a way of telling those readers what we have here at News Corp,” said Le Marquand, referring to how it will carry opinion from some of News’ most controversial female columnists such as Miranda Devine and Rita Panahi.

“People like Miranda Devine were there well before anyone else came along in the space.”

Le Marquand will be part of a two person team that will include a senior writer/producer editing the website which she said would have “unique tone” of being “intelligent, sophisticated but very accessible”.

She said: “There is nothing smearing or superior about our content. We don’t talk down to women or to readers.”

Challenged about whether she thought other websites in the space talked down to readers she responded: “I say that as someone who has worked on a tabloid, and in mainstream media, I don’t come from the lofty little corner of the media where I’m good at pontificating at the great unwashed.

“When you work in the mainstream media at a mass title like the Daily Telegraph you have to connect to the broader readership. I really think an intelligent but accessible tone is something that is unique to us.”

The News Corp women’s website will be a subsection of the various state based tabloid mastheads and will fall under News Corp’s paywalls.

“RendezView exists on the various mastheads, it will exist on its own within that but it will take you back to the different websites and will have the same paywall strategy as those mastheads,” she said.

This is not News Corp’s first time experimenting with opinion writing in the online space in 2009 it launched online opinion website The Punch, which did not pay contributors, and closed in 2013 due to the difficulty of monetising opinion writing.

Nic Christensen 

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