Gardening Australia, one of Australia’s most popular gardening magazines, and for many years published by NewsLifeMedia, has been sold to niche publisher NextMedia. What might this mean for the magazine’s relationship with Gardening Australia TV?
Fans of Gardening Australia are often unaware of the curious commercial relationship between the government-owned ABC TV series Gardening Australia and its associated, but separate, corporate-owned magazine.
Gardening Australia magazine was originally started as a JV with the Federal Publishing Company, which was then sold many years ago to NewsLifeMedia. Hard to know why the ABC didn’t start its own publishing venture, which it has done in years since with the strong-selling Organic Gardener magazine, but I’m sure others know that story.
The contract between NewsLife Media and the ABC had all sorts of oddities about it. Although in the early days there was cross promotion with a ‘what’s in this month’s issue’ at the end of the TV show, the ABC in more recent years has claimed the high moral ground about not being commercial, and stopped cross-promoting the magazine on the TV show, although it does on its ABC Gardening Australia website. So the TV presenters appear on the ABC’s non-commercial network program, but then write copy on the same stories for a commercial magazine, which is emblazoned with the ABC logo. Confused? Or bemused?
Further complicating the relationship is the ownership of digital rights under the NewsLifeMedia-ABC contract. I was completely unaware of this until a couple of years ago when, as a regular writer for the mag I was under pressure to sign the new NLM contributor contract, if I wanted any more commissions. (I didn’t sign). Apart from the other pretty appalling conditions for freelance writers, like having to assign a perpetual worldwide exclusive licence (ie give away copyright for free), the contract kept mentioning a shadowy ‘third party’ involvement. After some digging and demanding of answers, I was told that this third party was the so-called ‘non-commercial’ ABC and that it would apparently at least partly own the digital rights to my material, even though I was assigning them to NLM.
I realised then that my personal feelings about the publishers involved – malign Uncle Rupert (boooo! bad!) and benign Auntie ABC (yay! good!) were not exactly on the money, so to speak.
Under the Gardening Australia NLM-ABC contract, my understanding is that NLM had no digital rights to Gardening Australia magazine stories or photos, which meant that even the digital version of the magazine itself is an ABC publication. That’s why if you look at the Gardening Australia magazine website, the only content there is a brief list of what’s in the current issue and a yearly index of back issues. With online digital content worth big money to big players, that’s a serious flaw in the business model.
Curiously, ABC Gardening Australia TV had no problem vigorously promoting its JV with erstwhile commercial partner Toro Media, producer of the doomed Gardening Australia Live in Sydney in 2013.
The ABC TV Gardening Australia show is also a bit up in the air with the rumoured redundancy of long-time Executive Producer Tim Mitchell Perhaps this signals a change in direction, or look.
But how NextMedia deals with the ABC will, I’m sure, be a new, exciting chapter in the saga. Its first Gardening Australia magazine issue will be April 2015.