The once ubiquitous newsagents is now an endangered species in Australia.

The once ubiquitous newsagents is now an endangered species in Australia. Photo: Phil Carrick

Last Saturday, the paper didn't bounce into my front yard. It's my signal to wake up, drain a coffee and bury my face into acres of broadsheet and fail the Good Weekend quiz for the 700th consecutive weekend.

I lay in bed, awake. Six-thirty, it's usual arrival… silence… seven… more silence…

By eight I'm wrapped in mismatched clothes and staggering down the street to my newsagency. But, wait. It's gone. The sign says "Closed."

There's no forwarding address. It was there a couple of months ago, but whatever. It had morphed into such an emporium of crap, of toy guns vacuumed packed in plastic and gifts you wouldn't dare give anyone whom you remotely cared for, that it wasn't a great loss. Inconvenient, sure, but no tears.

Ok, there's another one up the hill. Old school. Where the owner sits at her desk reading a newspaper and peers over her spectacles at anyone who comes in and dares browse the titles. Curmudgeonly!  I trudge up there and walk past it. I double back when I hit a sports bar. Wait. I double back. Closed. No sign. Empty store.

Sign of the times? Yeah, it is. The newsagency, in the form that we all know it, is dead. If you think you can stroll into a store that is brimful of newspapers and the latest magazines, and not much else, forget about it.

Ten years ago, there were nearly 5000 store front newsagencies in Australia, now it's a little under 4000. Print is evaporating before out eyes, lotteries are moving online and Officeworks is eating up stationery sales. There ain't a lot of sunshine.

What used to be the go-to-biz for anyone with a redundancy package or who was newly retired and who didn't want to stare at a TV in their harvest years, has become one of the great business challenges of our time.

Mark Fletcher, whose Australian Newsagency Blog delivers a surprisingly entertaining window into the minds of newsagency owners, agrees that the old-schoolers are dead.

"They don't know how to be retailers," he says, "and they're the one closing. They don't know how to be relevant in this marketplace. But then you've got smarter news agencies that are nimble, that are actually…growing."

By smarter, he means turning away from magazines and becoming a mini-department store, somewhere between a gift shop and a toy store. Fletcher says one of his own new agencies in Victoria has grown by around 17 per cent every year just by reacting to shifts in pop culture.

He sells Game of Thrones and Big Bang memorabilia, jigsaws, soft toys and $200 Charlie Bears alongside the usual staples of mags and greeting cards.

But, still, if you want to get out of the news agency game now, you'll sell for around one-and-half times your earnings instead of more than double that back in the glory days.

Buy or sell? Disappearing or changing?

"It's hard," says Fletcher, "but the truth is, if owners aren't excited or if they're not engaged, their failure is on them.

"Newsagencies used to be the business you'd retire to. Now they're the business people buy to work hard and turn the situation around. A good newsagent will attract you back."

And what will we lose if the newsagency were to disappear?

Carolyn Doherty, from the Australian Newsagency Federation, says we'd lose part of our community.

"We're here. If we end up with Coles and Woolworths and nothing else we'll lose the heartbeat of the community. We're the ones supporting local sports clubs, schools, answering tourist's questions, taking papers up to the old people's homes.

"It would be very sad to lose them. But they have to change. If they don't change they'll go out of business." 

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