Thousands of magazine subscribers are out of pocket following the closure of the New Zealand arm of the Bauer publishing empire. Cat MacLennan is one of them, and she has a message for the company’s German chief executive and majority owner, Yvonne Bauer.
Tēnā koe Ms Bauer,
I am one of your magazine subscribers in Aotearoa.
Since all the magazines you publish here were closed on April 2, the accountancy firm EY has been working on winding down the business.
I therefore asked EY how much subscription money was held by Bauer, and when it would be refunded to subscribers. EY replied that it would not be commenting on its subscribers to the media at this time, adding the following:
“Our subscribers are very important to us and, as you are aware, magazines are not legally allowed to operate in NZ currently. When they are able to, we hold great hope that many/all magazines will continue through alternate publishers.”
I found this response puzzling, as Bauer has closed its New Zealand operation. It has not ceased publishing due to the coronavirus level four lockdown. Further, the media here is in a desperate position and the hope that new owners will resume publishing Bauer titles any time soon appears unrealistic.
Accordingly, I went back to EY, noting that subscribers had a contract with Bauer to receive magazines and as the publications were not being provided, the subscriptions should be refunded. I then asked whether subscription money was going to be retained in the hope that some of the titles would be sold and, if so, what the legal basis for that was.
Once again, my questions went unanswered. I simply received a brief response reiterating that there would be no comment on subscriptions to the media at this time and that subscribers “will continue to be updated as the managed wind down progresses”.
I am writing to you to ask that you refund subscriptions to New Zealanders as soon as possible. Most media organisations in this country are on their knees. They are the ones who now need our support.
When Bauer shut up shop, 237 people lost their jobs. Last week NZME, publisher of the NZ Herald, made 200 positions redundant. In other media organisations, staff are being asked to take pay cuts. And this is only the start.
The media in New Zealand is teetering on the brink of even more catastrophic collapses. A parliamentary committee recently heard evidence from the main media organisations here and the picture painted was uniformly bleak. We are awaiting the announcement of a government rescue package for the media, but this will not be a cure-all.
My extended family had several Bauer magazine subscriptions, paid 12 months ahead. One subscription had only just been renewed and we had not received a single issue when your company shut down its New Zealand operations.
I see that you are currently ranked 938th in the world on Forbes’ global billionaires list, with a net worth of approximately US$2.6 billion. As well as being CEO of Bauer Media Group, you own 85% of the family-run company. It would be a drop in the bucket for you to promptly refund the money paid by your New Zealand magazine subscribers for titles we did not receive.
I’m asking not only on behalf of subscribers, but for the sake of the New Zealand media that continues to operate. My family would like to use the money to support publishers in this country. Other Bauer subscribers might like to do the same, in the hopes of helping prevent further media outlets from collapsing.
Unfortunately, the position of the media here is so dire that if you do not refund subscription money promptly, it may be too late to save some of our most trusted voices in news.