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Beecher Backs Smart New Company
Jane Schulze, The Australian

FAIRFAX Media's decision to move its BRW magazine from Melbourne to Sydney and lock its online content to its AFR Access product has spurred the creation of an online business targeting small businesses and entrepreneurs.

It is the third Melbourne-based online site backed by former Text Media owner Eric Beecher, and confirms Melbourne as Australia's new-media hub.

Mr Beecher's Private Media Partners, owned with former publisher Di Gribble, is the majority owner of Smartcompany.com.au, which was launched two weeks ago.

The business employs 10 staff, including a number of former BRW journalists led by publisher and co-owner Amanda Gome, who was previously BRW's emerging companies editor and the editor of its Fast 100.

Former BRW franchising editor Jacqui Walker is now Smartcompany's editor and its contributors include former BRW marketing writer Simon Lloyd, former personal finance writer Michael Laurence and former legal and accounting writer Lucinda Schmidt.

Ms Gome said she had wanted to create something similar at Fairfax but the group was not interested. "I wanted to do something like this for years but Fairfax just wanted to tie up all the content in its big AFR Access site," she said. "First they moved all the content away from the businesses and put it in (the online division) F2, and then they put BRW content into AFR Access and locked it all up, so if you wanted to know about business there was nothing for you."

Smartcompany.com.au has divided its service into free and premium content, with the premium subscription costing $198 a year.

It has also been well supported by advertisers such as NAB, Optus, Hewlett-Packard and Flight Centre.

"Advertisers say they have never seen anything like what we are doing, as we're combining news, trends, blogs and features," Ms Gome said.

Subscribers receive an email each lunchtime highlighting the new free and premium content on the site.

The investors spent less than $1 million creating Smartcompany and it is believed to have already turned cash-flow positive. Apart from Smart company.com.au, Private Media Partners also owns crikey.com.au and Mr Beecher is an investor in the online investment site The Eureka Report.

Ms Gome said each of the site's editors met regularly to share information as their net businesses evolved.

"It's fantastic in this declining media market to be having new products and creating jobs," she said.

Apart from those businesses, other large internet sites such as News Limited's majority-owned realestate. com.au and seek.com.au are also based in Melbourne.

Mr Beecher said he enjoyed investing in independent media.

"It seems to me there are evolving business models in new-media and it's really interesting and stimulating to be part of it. We are doing things that largely haven't been done before because it's a completely new medium, so everything is a learning experience."