One of Australia's favourite weekly paper publications - The Trading Post - latterly owned by incumbent telco Telstra, is rumoured to be closing. If true it's all very sad, says Tony Poulos, but there's a bright side. The electronic version is doing very well as a competitor to eBay.
In the days before the Internet and eBay The Trading Post was THE medium for selling things privately in Australia.
Then Telstra's directories division, Sensis, acquired The Trading Post Group for AU$636 million (US$534m) in 2004. The purchase included five online sites as well as the print operation, but the business was soon struggling under an onslaught from more sophisticated online competition.
By 2007 Telstra was forced to take an AU$110m write-down on The Trading Post due to weak print sales and there was talk of its imminent demise, with observers claiming that Telstra knew little about print and that placing it under its directories division would doom The Trading Post to become the poor relative in the Sensis family.
But as things are turning out the original acquisition might come to be be seen as a stroke of genius. The site was relaunched in May last year to include an online auction service in direct competition to eBay and (to generate some nationalistic fervour) the site was promoted for its ‘Australia only’ content.
As a result, while the print versions now average 469,000 readers per week, the website is winning 1.8 million unique browsers a month and growing.
In March this year, The Trading Post was shifted from Sensis to Telstra's 'Big Pond' ISP operation as part of Telstra Media, while at the same time costs were trimmed and staff sacked. Now The Trading Post has become one of the top five favourite download sites on Big Pond.
It is doubtful that The Trading Post saga will be a one-off and it may well be a portent of things to come in all areas of print. The amount and variety of non-print media is growing rapidly with Amazon’s Kindle, Audiobooks, digital magazine services such as Zinio, all proving that the market is ready and willing to take up new technologies and to pay for them if necessary.
The Trading Post development is also timely in view of Rupert Murdoch’s recent comments on the need to move from print to paid-for digital news content. After all, if people are happy to pay for newspapers and cable TV why shouldn't they pay for online content as well - even if it's only done to avoid being bombarded by ads?
Whatever the case, the environment should certainly benefit with fewer trees being chopped down.
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