Magazines and digital: a report from the PTC Academies and Industry Forum

Suzanne Kavanagh reports on key insights and highlights from the Periodicals Training Council (PTC) Academies and Industry Forum, at Bauer Media’s central London office.

Editorial is at the heart of management at Bauer, said the company’s CEO, Paul Keenan, who explained how they work across media and events for brands and are embracing digital.

Keenan provided several insights into the industry and Bauer’s business – helpful information for anyone applying to get into the industry:

  • There are 3600 consumer magazines published each year; 85% of revenue comes from the top 250 titles
  • And of the top 250 titles, 50% are new
  • 500 magazines are launched each year; 500 magazines fail each year – there is a high churn rate
  • New launches are the lifeblood for creativity & help advertisers reappraise their strategy
  • Digital is either an extension of editorial strategy and added value or a business with a model & multiple revenue streams

Recent brand extensions and product developments have included:

  • The launch of a new online luxury shopping site Cocosa, born out of Grazia, with 250k members in UK
  • The Grazia Live office at Westfield shopping centre
  • Motorcycle News, which sells 110k copies per week, has set up a transactional money making website selling bike insurance
  • Motorcycle News also has an iPhone app on way which will provide the average and top speed per journey and – crucially – how far over you leant on your bike!
  • The More Facebook Group Challenge where readers adopt a newsagent, improve the presentation of More instore and submit photographs, going out to over 50k Facebook group members.

There were some useful tips on what Bauer looks for in new entrants to editorial from Keenan and Matt Swain, editor of Trail magazine: there have been structural changes in the industry – there are now fewer people with increased demands on their time – which has led to a shift in working. Journalism courses need to shift how they prepare students for working in the industry.

4 skills to get in and get ahead

Matt Swaine, former Cardiff University lecturer, outlined the four skills students need to get into the industry and get ahead:

1. Understand design (including how print can excel, how good design can save time, and the curatorial role of harnessing the power of great images)

A good writer needs to be able to visualise what a feature will look like – even at the initial stage. Pictures are as important as the words in telling a story.

Be able to sketch out feature openers. Headlines need to work with a strong opening visual.

Make collecting and assessing published magazine spreads an integral part of the course and design awareness should be part of the final assessment of *every* course.

2. Get to grips with digital (what it can and can’t do)

Understand what print does well and what the web does well (e.g. SEO). It’s *not* about repurposing content anymore. Anyone can set up a really meaningful web presence in under two hours now and it’s not worth teaching HTML anymore (you wouldn’t teach students how to make paper…)

Trail has experimented with video starting with a video camera and higher post-production values, but it took too much time and only gained 5k views. So they moved to a reader competition to shoot a video of favourite walks. They received c.100 entries and the shortlist was shown at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival. It plugged into a community of enthusiasts and was a great way to get content cost-effectively. A great example of exploring the strengths of different platforms and user generated content and how they can drive subscriptions.

Courses need to encourage digital experimentation. However, good ideas should be judged by how they meet reader needs.

3. Know your readers

A typical question in an interview (for Men’s Health magazine): who reads this magazine? The answer? It’s not just about demographic info, it’s more about getting under the skin of the reader: their hopes, their fears, their needs. Be able to conceptualise who they are and communicate that. Encourage students to describe readers in these terms.

Get students to expose their work to real readers (you can do this via Twitter, online forums and via a website). Get them to go out and meet readers and let them assess the quality of their work. Build your contact book for your niche, get round an over-reliance on the web. People are where great stories lie.

4. Entrepreneurial skills

Develop business sense. How do you extend brands? How do people make money from online? What other titles could be launched? What else do readers want and how do we provide in ways that generates revenue? How do we extend beyond print?

Swaine’s one key piece of advice? If you do one thing with your students, make sure they meet their readers, but not in focus groups, just talk to them.

Changes in production

Geoff Campbell, MD of the Mens division and Stuart Williams, MD of music & entertainment ran through some of the developments in the editorial production process since they’ve set up Bauer’s production ‘hub’. They have managed to streamline the reprographic house production process and have got picture editors working together on negotiation and supplier selection.

They manage variable production workflows while minimising freelance support. They still use freelance support for generating editorial content. Mojo, for example, has a core editorial team of 10, with two regular freelancers and a pool of 60-70 other writers they use.

Perhaps the most anticipated speaker of the day was Jane Bruton, editor-in-chief of  Grazia. She provided 11 reasons why Grazia has been so successful:

  1. 10 hot news stories each week (mix of A list, high fashion + news)
  2. Build a ‘no-brow’ team – the newsiest fashion tean + fashionable news team!
  3. Create your own soap stories
  4. Leave an emotional memory (people like us)
  5. Nailing trends
  6. Stimulate debate
  7. Rev up the pace
  8. Sound like a weekly
  9. React to the times (recession response etc)
  10. Have good covers and finally…
  11. Be brave (cites recent Florence Welch augmented reality issue)

When asked about whether or not Grazia takes interns and work experience placement, she confirmed that they do, but advised hopeful applicants to not just approach the editor. Find the right person in charge of organising placements and make sure you do a stunning cover letter.

The final session was presented by Charlie Watson, head of digital content and Julian Linley, creative director. Watson outlined the four media trends for digital:

  1. Google (friend or foe): an emerging tool. Google Trends allows you to compare key words/brand (inc. key word suggestion tool). A free tool that gives you an instant idea of what people associate your brand with.
  2. Multimedia: they have defined 16 different types across their brands and markets which has an impact on the content distribution cycle
  3. New revenue streams: revenue diversification – editorial and marketing have to increase their business and financial savvy. Watson has created the following graph to illustrate the different models. 
  4. iPad – a mix of heaven + hell? Apple get 30% from app store and there are questions around the commercial reasons why they won’t support Flash.

Linley explained how most of their success online has been where they add value rather than replicating what’s in print and where they have a loyal readership. He cited the recent example from More magazine, where they asked their Facebook members to choose a cover star. They wanted Gaga. They got her. It was one of their bestselling issues ever.


4 thoughts on “Magazines and digital: a report from the PTC Academies and Industry Forum

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  2. Peter Demain

    While the high failure rate is nothing new and therefore hardly worth mentioning unless the PTC were angling this to a bunch of beginners, these days of falling circulations do merit consideration.

    Frankly you can hurl fancy buzzwords at me all day long, but myself stick to the old fashioned dictum which is that the content is king. Good, memorable stuff is what keeps people buying your mag because whenever they’re walking past a stand or shop there’s a chance they’ll recall a good/funny/interesting write-up and buy your mag on the strength of a thought. Some will even subscribe if convinced enough.

    A ‘your letters’ section never did any harm either. People love the notion of getting some ramble they dreamed up into a popular mag; same goes for answering their letters and e-mails if they pose a question or grant an idea to staff. This responsiveness means more than some vacuous or thinly-disguised promoting tweet.

    Oh and the graph at the bottom reminds me of The Day Today with Chris Morris. Sounds like PTC need lessons in avoiding oblique rubbish themselves eh?

    Half that conference looks to resemble A-Level Business Studies; the hard part is having the talent behind you, because real talent is scarce. You can’t polish a turd; any mediocre or crap businessperson will slip up no matter how many of these ‘industry forums’ they attend. Oh and poor writers often stay that way, either being too lazy/awful/stupid to improve – that this dry rot hangs around so much in papers and mags is another thing to take on board.

    – Pete

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