Australia online a faraway and hard-to-reach place
By DAVID WALKER
May 14 2002
Geoffrey Blainey wrote insightfully and famously that Australia suffered from the tyranny of distance. In this digital age you can still be sure that Australia suffers from the tyranny of smallness. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of online content production and management.
The Web has given Australia an opportunity to define the country all over again, to tell its stories and show its achievements, its potential, its unsolved problems. Yet the Australia depicted on the 2002 Internet remains mostly a sparse and barren place, dominated by a peculiar combination of today’s headlines, last year’s government and academic documents, and images of koalas and the Opera House.
Type ”Australia” into a search engine and you quickly see why more than three-quarters of Australians’ Web content is hauled across the Pacific from the US.
Outside a few fields, we simply don’t have much online editorial content. A handful of sites can claim to represent and support Australia online.
The two main newspaper groups and the Nine Network boast extensive news and current-affairs coverage, though little of it is profitable. Former journalist Stephen Mayne rakes muck entertainingly at crikey.com.au, John Tranter publishes the arts online in Jacket (jacketmagazine.com), noted economist Peter Jonson presides over a site full of political and investment analysis at henrythornton.com and onlineopinion.com.au publishes the thoughts of political figures.
Niches such as sport and information technology attract clubs and self-publishers. Governments provide some of the richest resources, offering parliamentary debates and reports online. And the ABC’s under-funded New Media division displays an impressive range of content, old and new.
But other fields from history to ecology to literature are thinly represented on the Australian Internet. A citizen of the US, one of 287 million people at the centre of the online universe, has much more to choose from than an Australian.
And Australian content shows no sign of burgeoning any time soon. The large traditional players may be short on profitability but the new entrants have found no better formula. As Screen Producers Association president Nick Murray put it at a new-media seminar organised by RMIT University’s Network Insight group in late 2001: ”There is no revenue model” for much existing online content production in Australia. As Murray points out, local new-media content battles even to make the audience aware of its existence.
Telstra is this year doling out $50 million for new broadband content. Yet in truth Australia does not have a broadband content problem. It has an Internet content problem, pure and simple.