This week, Rupert Murdoch quietly shuttered yet another local publication in Inner Sydney. On March 14th, Nine to Five joined a fast growing grave yard of once independent Sydney publications shut down by News Limited. Writing her own obituary in the final edition of the magazine, editor Abi Weeks noted, “… after 22 years 1132 issues and more than 45 millon distributed copies, this is our final edition.”
Since 1988, Nine to Five had offered CBD commuters a shopping guide to Sydney’s city streets. Founded by a small British based publishing company, the free city magazine was a spin-off of a similar recruitment rag handed out at London Tube Stations. In its heyday, Nine to Five was chock-a-block full of ads from employment agencies, city shops and services catering to young office workers commuting from the burbs into the City for work, fun and play. In the mid nineties, the owners of the Wentworth Courier, the Hannan family acquired the independent publication and added it to their stable of inner city publications, which included the City Weekly another once independent, free distribution City magazine, launched by Eric Beecher (the owner of Crikey) and long since shuttered by Rupert Murdoch.
In 2007 News Limited acquired the Hannan’s FPC Courier group of inner Sydney publications and merged it with its own Cumberland community newspaper chain. When Australia’s largest newspaper publisher gobbled up the half billion dollar group of prestigious City publications, the ACCC rolled over and went back to sleep. At the time, the City Hub accurately predicted that News would close down a raft of once competing weekly publications to consolidate its monopoly position in the Australian newspaper marketplace. On Sydney’s streets, where three local publications once competed for the lucrative CBD advertising marketplace, the Murdoch owned MX newspaper is now the only game in town. By shutting down first the City Weekly and then Nine to Five, News has established a monopoly position in the CBD. The company has also saved on exorbitant distribution costs, since Town Hall charges hundreds of thousands of dollars for the right to hand out free publications on the publicly owned footpath. While Clover Moore’s free speech tax is beyond the means of most local newspaper publishers (ensuring that no local competitor will fill the vacuum left by News) a global corporation like News Limited sees little reason to dip into profits to line Town Hall’s coffers.
A big company like News Limited doesn’t need to be concerned about the little guy. After a raft of journalists, designers distributors and sales people were sent home, no one bothered to tell the advertisers, who had supported the local publication, that the magazine’s last edition would appear on the streets on March 14th. Local small businesses in the CBD, who had entered into contracts with News Limited to advertise in Nine to Five were distraught to learn their vehicle of choice had been driven off the Harbour Bridge by Rupert Murdoch. Others were confused by news that their ads would be shifted into other Courier publications in which they had not agreed to advertise. As Rupert Murdoch once quipped, “Monopoly is a terrible thing, till you have it.”