A reborn Bulletin?

My Bulletin obituary may have been premature. Reports in several papers over the last few days – the most detailed was in the Weekend Australian – reveal that businessman Peter Hall is considering buying the masthead and turning it

into a weekly magazine of comment and analysis, like The Spectator or the New Yorker. “I believe Australia needs an intelligent weekly magazine of comment and analysis.”

But surely we have more than enough ‘comment and analysis’ already, at least of party politics. While The New Yorker comes out weekly, the articles that make it worth buying have nothing to do with the previous week. Often they are the results of months of research, and written and edited so well that they could not have been rushed to meet a weekly schedule. A magazine with a circulation of over a million can sustain the expenditure needed to reach such excellence. The Australian market cannot.

The Spectator perhaps highlights the problem. Its home market is three times as big as Australia’s, but it has a very patchy history. It’s currently going through a bad phase, with its star writers of the 2000s gone (Mark Steyn) or irregular (Theodore Dalrymple). And even the early 2000s were a long way from its golden period in my magazine reading life, the mid to late 1980s. As many magazines have, The Spectator seems to have partly turned itself into a lifestyle magazine to attract more lucrative advertising, but the journalism has deteriorated.

Hall does however have some background in magazines, being an investor in Prospect (which is consistently good, but from the advertising levels doesn’t look very profitable), and Monocle, which describes itself as a ‘briefing on global affairs, business, culture and design’. I’m not quite sure who Monocle is aimed at; how many of us (from the issue I bought) really need a guide to the 20 most liveable cities in the world or 50 things to improve our lives with suggestions as diverse as German underwear and Toyko’s airport limousine bus?

I was sorry to see The Bulletin go, but I don’t think it can be revived. Australia doesn’t have the scale necessary for a weekly magazine of high journalism, even if it is mixed with lifestyle features.

9 Responses to “A reborn Bulletin?

  • 1
    Rafe Champion
    April 26th, 2008 23:13

    The Spectator is the natural comparison, for years they struggled to get over a circulation figure that was (just) sustainable, the figure 22,000 comes to mind. Their constituency simply has not grown. Much the same applies to Quadrant.

  • 2
    Spiros
    April 27th, 2008 02:54

    “Their constituency simply has not grown. Much the same applies to Quadrant.”

    Interesting, that, seeing as how the population keeps growing. The younger male that would once have started Quadrant is probably now reading Ralph.

    What’s the average of Quadrant readers? 78?

  • 3
    Sinclair Davidson
    April 27th, 2008 03:00

    Interesting, that, seeing as how the population keeps growing. The younger male that would once have started Quadrant is probably now reading Ralph.

    Sure the population has been growing but teacher unions have kept literacy levels down.

    Seriously, I suspect blogs and the internet are culprits here too.

  • 4
    Spiros
    April 27th, 2008 03:45

    The terrible quality of the teaching in business faculties at the second and third tier so called “universities” hasn’t helped either.

    Seriously, Quadrant should be put in aspic and preserved in a museum.

  • 5
    Sinclair Davidson
    April 27th, 2008 04:40

    LOL. stung did that?

  • 6
    Andrew Norton
    April 27th, 2008 04:49

    Rafe’s number is way out. The Spectator’s circulation is around 75,000 and growing.

  • 7
    Rafe Champion
    April 27th, 2008 05:39

    Thanks Andrew, I recall a piece a few years ago where they bewailled a circulation figure that was stuck for years and would not move despite various initiatives to improve the figures. Maybe the lifestyle conent is paying off!

  • 8
    Pete from Perth
    April 27th, 2008 22:28

    I can’t see a reborn Bully being financially viable, personally, particularly if it turns into the rightwing sewing circle that was The Bulletin in recent years and is Quadrant. People who want that sort of thing can go and buy The Australian for less money.

  • 9
    TimT
    April 28th, 2008 04:35

    I think the original plan for The Monthly was to feature Australian fiction writers and poets, in much the same way as the New Yorker features American and international fiction writers and poets. That went phut, though in some other respects (eg, the expanded arts and reviews section, the stylised design) it seems to be based on this American model. Not sure how well they’re doing though, and it strikes me that given the relative size of the American and Australian markets, US magazines are much more likely to be able to present a stylised, ‘elitist’ arts-focused magazine than those in Australia.

    I’ve never had a second glance at Monocle, it looks deadly dull. Prospect is interesting. It would be exciting to see a revivified Bulletin, perhaps with an expanded lifestyle section, a better website, and more of a focus on those things which are currently neglected in mass-circulation Australian magazines: light humour writing, fiction, well-written poetry, cartoons, etc. I think there’s enough room there for some editorial flexibility that would make for a fresh and interesting product.