Monday, August 21, 2006

In my end is my beginning

Weekly frequency. Supermarket distribution. The magazine world has revolving around these questions for some time now, so thank goodness the storm has finally burst with the announcement of Xplode in Press Gazette and elsewhere.

Xplode seems to be, in essence, a contract magazine, on the lines of Tesco's own title, but aimed at children aged 7 to eleven. It will be available only in Tesco to start with but the supermarket giant may allow the publisher to circulate it to other outlets in due course (but if so, who will do the distribution, eh?).

Some commentators have already predicted a direct intervention by supermarkets, who sell massive numbers of magazines. This is a very straightforward way of getting into the market. It also predicates some very interesting questions.

1) So magazines aren't dead yet?
As we all know, supermarkets, and especially Tesco, are top at customer research. They don't stock things that people don't want and they certainly won't commission, or put their imprimatur on, products which they don't think will sell. Ergo (unless this is too syllogistic) Tesco believes that magazines will sell in large enough quantities to make it worth their while getting into this market.
That's a relief.

2) So children are a big market?
Just 17, Smash Hits, Sneak – three big hits taken by the teen market in recent months. Xplode is pitched just below the age target ("demographic" somehow seems wrong here) of these casualties and, again, Tesco's reputation for intensive and accurate research tends to reassure us that there will still be a large market.
Maybe these children are not quite into MySpace and Bebo yet, or maybe they still like reading (could it be a Literacy Hour effect from the National Curriculum?).
And maybe the stated upper age limit of 11 is a predicted cut-off point, after which children will migrate online, which is what seems to have happened in the teen sector generally, see intellagencia or Press Gazette for detailed breakdowns, or go direct to ABC.

Another explanation could be that this substantially pre-teen market is the new teen. Large scale discretionary expenditure – the thing that will interest advertisers – may be moving down the age range; pester power may still be a force among the younger readers.

3) So this could be the "film production" scenario?
Following the thoughts of David Hepworth this blog has suggested that a new model of production for magazines may emerge, perhaps using the analogy of a film production: creatives + producer + studio + distributor. In principle, contract magazines conform to this model and Xplode, put together by James Pembroke Publishing of Bath) is another link in the chain.

On the other hand, Xplode may just Mplode.

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