The current troubles of Evo Media – publishers of SX Magazine, SameSame and Gay News Network – as first revealed by True Crime News Weekly reflect a bigger trend faced not just by gay and lesbian media, but all traditional media around the world, writes journalist, author and queer media watcher, Bill Calder.
OPINION: The Internet has cut a swathe through the business model of newspapers and television stations. Viewer numbers and revenues plummet as people move to get information online more conveniently and often free.
Just a few years ago, at the start of this millennium, more than five million copies of gay publications were printed annually, with revenues approaching eight million dollars a year.
Yet this was not always the case. Fifty years ago there was no internet and there were also no lesbian or gay magazines.
It was a hostile world back then. Homosexuals were actively oppressed. Books and publications with even hints of homosexuality were zealously banned under strict government censorship laws.
Only very clandestine means of communication were available to gay people. Graffiti was scribbled on toilet walls to suggest possibilities. Physique magazines, allegedly promoting fitness, were used for visual titillation. And secret coded language emerged in both word and gesture.
In 1970 the first gay magazine, Camp Ink, was published. Growing liberal attitudes within sections of broader society, and, at a practical level, reform of censorship laws, made lesbian and gay publishing possible.
The first publications were often gestetnered newsletters or smudgy porn sold in brown paper bags, but a vibrant array of voices was soon heard.
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The publishers were a diverse and lively lot. They used print media to advance gay movement aims, despite pursuing a variety of visions and goals for how they saw a better world for gay and lesbian people.
Some wanted to publicise where the best parties were held; some to fight the political battle; and others to show new ways for lesbians and gay men to live their lives.
Few publishers started newspapers or magazines to make money: they were usually activists, commercial venue promoters, or simply participants in the social scene. Their publications allowed discussion of what it meant to be gay or lesbian in Australia; presented positive viewpoints regarding homosexuality to counter hostile mainstream attitudes; and brought people together through personal classifieds and information about bars and other community activities. They reflected the debates, and at times hostile schisms that occurred within the lesbian and gay community.
In order to pay the bills, publishers expanded their operations to attract readers and advertisers. All were forced to deal with the business side of their operation, which often caused tension between their initial goals for a better world and the need to run the business. A key resolution of this tension came through adopting the promotion and defence of community as the primary political project. This allowed publishers to freely develop synergies with advertisers that helped build and develop community infrastructure, such as the bars, festivals, and small businesses.
Out of humble beginnings an industry grew, but one that still faced difficulties from government censors, mainstream advertiser disinterest, and the AIDS epidemic that claimed the lives of several key publishers.
Overcoming these difficulties, lesbian and gay publishing expanded rapidly, producing glossy coffee-table magazines and printing millions of newspapers each year.
VIDEO: WATCH AS MARK ANTHONY – THE OWNER OF SX MAGAZINE AND SAMESAME – IS SERVED BY ASIC AS HE AVOIDS THE QUESTIONS OF TRUE CRIME NEWS WEEKLY
So what now for the future?
The internet has smashed the gay print media business model with rapidly declining circulation and advertising revenue.
People have moved to digital sites such as Grindr for its convenience and enhanced features but this has meant journalism and news has suffered as digital news media currently struggles to find a business model that allows it to fund journalism.
But that may change. There is a growing appetite for edited and verified online information, including journalism, to offset the spread of genuinely ‘fake news’. Developments in the online business model and subsequent competition for ‘eye-balls’ will drive this.
Mainstream media, possibly Facebook and Google even, will solve this first and then a myriad of commercially successful special interest publishers will follow.
The reasons for gay and lesbian media remain. And while online media will have more global reach, we still want to know where the best parties are happening; to fight the political battle; and to learn new ways to live our lives.
For nearly two decades Bill Calder edited and published Australian gay newspapers and magazines, including Melbourne’s Brother Sister in the 1990s, and more recently Bnews. Previously he was the senior news journalist at The Melbourne Times. Last year his book Pink Ink: The Golden Era for Gay and Lesbian Magazines was published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.