Australia’s long-running and respected classical music magazine, Limelight, is on the market following a decision by its composer owner, Andrew Batt-Rawden, to exit publishing. He is preparing the title for sale and confirms there are a number of potential buyers. While this may spell hope for its legions of readers and supporters, Limelight’s future remains far from certain. Unless a buyer comes forward or bridging finance is obtained to tide over its publisher, Arts Illuminated Pty Ltd, the magazine says it will fold.
Limelight’s statement explaining its current crisis can be found on its website.
Arts Illuminated Pty Ltd faces liquidation because it can no longer service the magazine’s operating costs. Batt-Rawden, its director, says he cannot continue to absorb these from his own pocket: “At the end of the day there are so few options for a struggling artist such as myself”.
“It sucks. Even though Limelight has started making a profit, I never had any cash reserve since acquiring it, and it has been increasingly difficult to wear the monthly ups and downs. A week and a half ago I did a projected cash-flow analysis, and it looked unsustainable. I couldn’t do another loan refinance.”
Batt-Rawden bought Limelight in 2013 as a rundown title within the vast magazine empire of UK publisher Haymarket. Since then he, along with Clive Paget and now Jo Litson as editor, has built it up to the point where it enjoys a prime and enviable reputation in arts journalism in this country. Roy Morgan puts its readership at 25,000. In addition, the magazine now has a lively digital platform which Batt-Rawden says has strengthened profitability.
“The growth is in digital readership. We just started introducing a paywall [on some content] and found rather surprisingly that people were more than willing to pay because they wanted to support good journalism.”
Yet the financial margins under which Limelight operates remain extremely tight, and this has forced the monthly into making drastic decisions. It has announced that it will cancel its March edition and is laying off its six staff.
“It is very stressful,” says Batt-Rawden. “I am doing everything I can do to ensure there is a magazine. There are a number of potential buyers, and the sooner it is resolved the better. Otherwise Limelight is my big final gift to the public. I’ve learned so much over the last four years.”
He confirms he has received a number of approaches, but that his priority is to find the right buyer.
“There’s interest from artists, from our clients, and from a very well established multinational publisher. They are very varied. There is such goodwill, but I want to make sure that whoever takes it on board maintains editorial integrity. As soon as you start to bastardise integrity, readers leave you. The arts sector is very different to every other commercial sector because integrity matters so much.”
These are indeed testing times for arts journalism in this country. The Australian edition of Rolling Stone looks to have closed as of January after going into administration, and RealTime magazine closed its doors at the end of last year.
During its two decades, RealTime earned great respect as the leading publication in experimental and innovative arts practice in Australia. Keith Gallasch, its managing editor, says sales its forecasts spelt bad news and unfortunately rules out any chance of it continuing:
“Sadly, revival is not on the cards. Although we’re in the black, in another year or so we’d be badly in the red the ways sales were going — not a good business to be passing on, let alone justify continued government funding.”
Some plans are in the pipeline, however. Gallasch says he hopes to spend the next year archiving RealTime’s best writing, hold occasional forums, and contribute new writing on current developments. “There have been attitudinal shifts that have gradually devalued arts criticism,” he intimates.
Batt-Rawden thinks similarly. “Market forces are a big deal to all publishers. Arts journalism is not finished, but it needs to transform,” he says. “I believe that if audiences are prepared to pay for content, then it makes everything a lot easier for an editorial team.”
Supporters of Limelight can contact him directly at [email protected]
Andrew Batt-Rawden is a Special Member on the Council of Music Australia representing Classical Music / Publishing.