Thursday, July 30, 2009

Music magazines and social media

Dancing about architecture or hyperventilating about crap? Slate magazine takes a hard look at music magazines in the States:
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Magazines and the mobile experience

Serendipity (or is it?) sends two separate but related items our way.

In news from Australia, magazine publisher Meredith Corp has just bought a major stake in a mobile marketing company: Keeping Mobile: Meredith Corp. Buys Stake In Hyperfactory

And good old Jakob Nielsen has just released a report on how poor the typical web/smartphone interaction is: The 'Misery' Of The Mobile Web

With increasing focus on the iPhone, Nokia N97, Palm Pre and Google's Android – and the Chrome browser, developed for mobile use – this is beginning to look like an area ripe for development.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cheap magazines via Twitter & Amazon

I've got a twittersearch on the word "magazines" on one of my Netvibes pages and it's constantly updating with a varied stream of tweets; people comment freely on titles, individual features or general stuff about how they use magazines (both education and relaxation are popular).

This just popped up about Amazon (USA) offering discounted mags

So ... distribution = WH Smith, supermarkets and now the mighty 'Zon.

MagazinesImage via Wikipedia

UPDATE: Here's another fab link from the same feed. Power to publish to the people, to misquote Wolfie Smith:
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New women's freebie from Soutar

Mike Soutar's magazine operation is about to come up with a upmarket female companion for Shortlist, called Stylist. If it follows its brother there should be a good online presence to match the print version.

Media Week have details and opinion.

It looks as though Grazia (see previous post) will have some competition after all, AND it will fit with Chris Anderson's theory of Free.
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

2/100 for MediaGuardian

This year’s MediaGuardian 100 has two – count ‘em – representatives from the world of magazines. Perhaps oddly, I do not want to complain about the numbers, even though two does seem a touch ungenerous in a list that is intended to be a snapshot of those who have most “cultural, economic and political influence in the UK”; no, not the number but the people chosen.

And let me state for the record that it is not a personal dislike. I have met, briefly, and heard and read about Nicolas Coleridge (md of Condé Nast UK, vp of Condé Nast International; in at 58, up from last year’s 67) and he always comes across as a charming, astute, hard working man who disguises a fist of steel in the softest, loveliest cashmere glove imaginable. His company produces the most wonderful magazines and the recent launches of Love and Wired UK were bold and deserving of success (disclosure: I love Wired UK so much I am a subscriber).

Jane Bruton (editor of Grazia, multiple award winner; in at 41 up from last year’s 56) I do not know personally but I know people who know her and have a former student who works for her. Like Coleridge she comes across as clever, hard working and demanding but appreciative. She took a fledging concept that had worked in other territories – the upmarket women’s weekly – and made it work in the UK. She has taken the magazine out on the road, making it happen literally in front of people’s eyes, and has given it a good online presence.

So, for the record, both of these people deserve their ledges in the pantheon of magazine publishing.

But … do they really have most “cultural, economic and political influence in the UK” when it comes to magazines?

If we are looking at like for like, I would argue that the person with most power and influence in the UK magazine market (not to mention Europe) at present is Herr Heinz Bauer, alongside his daughter Saskia. When Emap crashed and put itself for sale, Bauer was the only person who could write a cheque to complete the purchase on the spot. He already headed up a global magazine empire (with its roots in Germany, of course) and his UK company now leads the market, ahead of IPC (which, incidentally, has gone a bit quiet and flat, no?).

Where Condé Nast is so heavily reliant on advertising for its swish upmarket titles that, like it or not, have a definite metropolitan bias, the sheer range of titles makes it much more likely that Joe and Josephine Average of Everywhere are picking up and paying for one of Bauer’s magazines.

In short, Coleridge may preside over a small state of wonderfully crafted titles but Bauer is the emperor of the mass market, delivering guaranteed quality at an affordable price. A mirror image analogy would be the Spartans vs the Persian Empire, and we all know what happened at the end of 300.

Grazia, as noted above, carved a new niche in a well established sector but like Condé Nast’s titles, it is upscale and elitist, in intention if not in material fact (ie everyone could afford to buy it if they wanted). Within the weekly market it sits at 8 (circ: 227, 156) in a field of 27, behind titles that include Best (295,970), People's Friend (326,790), Now (433,509) and Heat (470,475). Dominating this sector is Take A Break (943,229) and I would argue strongly that Take A Break has infinitely more cultural, economic and political influence than Grazia. Not just because so many more women read it, but because it has taken a definite stance on involving its female readers in the political process, to the extent of mooting the formation of a political party. Coincidentally, it's published by another part of the Bauer empire – H Bauer Publishing.

In many ways the selections in the MediaGuardian 100 will reflect the metropolitan, upmarket situatedness of the judges (several of whom actually have a good magazine background). Nicholas Coleridge is a very “aspirational” and ubiquitous figure and Grazia seems likely to be the women’s magazine that most of the judges would come across most frequently.

Perhaps it is taking the whole top 100 thing too seriously, but the two magazine selections seem not just like token choices from an otherwise overlooked area of the media, but like the token choices that people who do not know much about magazines would make.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Print mag as a brand extension

And hot on the heels of discussing special issues (see previous post), Bauer is reviving Smash Hits as a one-off Michael Jackson tribute special according to MediaGuardian.

That's an interesting development, given that Smash Hits still exists on/as other platforms – the print magazine as a brand extension to radio, television and online.

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Why *some* journalists deserve low pay

Robert PicardImage by macloo via Flickr

The full text of Robert Picard's lecture explaining why journalists deserve low pay is available in pdf form from

I read it when it first came out but given the chance to contemplate more fully, there are several points that can be pulled out and looked at in the light of magazine journalism and publishing.

Moral philosophers taught us that things and activities can have intrinsic or
instrumental value. Intrinsic value involves things that are good in and of themselves,
such as beauty, truth, serenity, and harmony. Instrumental value comes from things that
facilitate action and achievement, including awareness, belonging, and understanding.

From the standpoint of moral philosophy, journalistic activities produce
instrumental but not intrinsic value. Information and knowledge conveyed by journalism
has instrumental value that is external to itself, is relative to truth, and is related to its
USE not to its creation. Journalism as important not in itself, but because it of its
instrumental aspects in enlightening the public, supporting social interaction, and
facilitating democracy.
I would argue that a beautifully produced magazine (let's focus on print here, though the argument could apply to online) has an intrinsic value, inasmuch as it may be considered "beautiful" in and of itself; the contents – specially commissioned photographs, for example – may also be considered intrinsically beautiful; and a well put together magazine certainly radiates a harmonious whole. Research by academics and by the industry has shown that readers can have an emotional relationship with a magazine and this is surely an intrinsic value.

Closer analysis of one sentence in the block above – "Journalism as important not in itself, but because it of its instrumental aspects in enlightening the public, supporting social interaction, and facilitating democracy" – reveals that Picard is yet another commentator who has adopted the Fourth Estate definition of journalism and used it as if
a) "journalism" only ever takes one form, with one purpose
b) that definition applies to all forms of journalism.

Picard then seems to argue against his former position by stating:

To comprehend journalistic value creation we need to focus on the benefits it provides.
Journalism creates functional, emotional and self‐expressive benefits for consumers
Functional benefits include providing information that helps individuals and
society understand their place in the world, conveying ideas that help or create ease in
life, and supplying diversion and entertainment. Emotional benefits from journalism
include it engendering senses of belonging and community, providing reassurance and a
sense of security, conveying leadership, and creating escape. Self‐Expressive benefits
are provided when individuals identify with the voice, perspectives, or opinions of a
journalism enterprise or it helps provide them opportunities to express their own ideas
and to portray themselves directly.
Some of the benefits he identifies can surely be construed as "intrinsic" or tending towards intrinsic. This distinction is important because it may help to identify areas in which "journalism" can add value, and in which magazine journalism traditionally excels:

"Thus the real measure of journalistic value is value created by serving readers"

So how does journalism actually produce economic value?

Journalism is practice designed to produce breath of coverage of issues and
events, to provide quality control of information, and to promote social well‐being by illuminating issues and informing the public. In journalistic practice, economic outcomes
have low priority for journalists and may or may not be a high priority for proprietors or
managers of journalistic enterprises depending upon their motivations.
I think Picard is conflating and confusing "journalism" and "publishing" in this passage and elsewhere in the lecture.

To create economic value journalists and news organizations historically relied
on the exclusivity of their access to information and sources, and their ability to provide
immediacy in conveying information. The value of those elements has been stripped
away by contemporary communication developments. Because of the emergence of 24‐
hour news and information channels, parliamentary and government channels, talk
shows, and the Internet, individuals are able to observe events in real time, to receive
information directly from knowledgeable authorities, and to interact with sources of
information and news in a variety of ways not previously possible.
If you accept the Fourth Estate definition of journalism, the above may be true – but it is not true for all forms of journalism or for all journalists and especially not for magazine journalists. This is not because of the traditional "immediacy" issue – specialised consumer and B2B magazines have always been able to break news ahead of newspapers or even broadcast media because of their specialisation and their access to sources that other journalisms and journalists would not normally bother with.

Nonetheless, immediacy is increasingly becoming an issue for magazines, whose specialised readerships often want, or expect, up-to-the-second news. This is why magazines are exploring digital communication – websites, mobile devices, Twitter and Facebook all play a role in delivering immediate information to readers.

The value of journalists’ abilities to convey information is also being challenged
by technologies that allow individuals to distribute information on their own. Software is
incorporating essential linguistic skills (spelling, grammar, and translation), audio and
video production skills, and photography and graphics skills. The Internet and various
social networking applications are providing means for individuals to create and convey
information on their own. All of these factors are making traditional journalistic practice
less valuable in economic terms.
Picard has hedged his bets here by relying on the word "traditional". For one thing, it can be construed in so many ways that it is meaningless – how traditional do we want to get? Hot metal? Steam presses? Hand setting? Quill pens? All of these things have been "traditional".

It is clear that journalists do not want to be in the contemporary labour market,
much less the highly competitive information market. They prefer to justify the value
they create in the moral philosophy terms of instrumental value. Most believe that what
they do is so intrinsically good and that they should be compensated to do it even if it
doesn’t produce revenue.

This view is embodied in professionalism of journalism, especially in efforts to
improve practice and separate business and editorial activities that developed
throughout the 20th century and were designed to protect the creation of moral value.
However, journalists also used professionalism to create relatively comfortable
employment and economic conditions for themselves, to avoid any responsibility for
performance of their enterprises, and to shield themselves from changes in the market.
Actually, I think he has a number of very good points here, but only because he clearly states that he is talking about "news" journalism of the Fourth Estate variety ("the creation of moral value") and the type of journalist who believes advertorial or any other commercially-focused scheme to be the work of the devil ("to avoid any responsibility for performance of their enterprises, and to shield themselves from changes in the market").

In short, journalists will have to develop entrepreneurial awareness and skills. This is something that magazine journalists have, generally speaking, been better at than journalists working on other "traditional" platforms. There tend to be shorter chains between editorial and advertising, and the firewalls tend to be lower and more penetrable (which is not always a good thing, of course). Advertorial is a widely accepted concept, and spin-offs in the form of special issues, bookazines or associated titles published at greater intervals are all commonplace.

Journalism must innovate and create new means of gathering, processing, and
distributing information so it provides content and services that readers, listeners, and
viewers cannot receive elsewhere. And these must provide sufficient value so audiences
and users are willing to pay a reasonable price.

If value is to be created, journalists cannot continue to report merely in the
traditional ways or merely re‐report the news that has appeared elsewhere. They must
add something novel that creates value. They will have to start providing information
and knowledge that is not readily available elsewhere, in forms that are not available
elsewhere, or in forms that are more useable by and relevant to their audiences.

Here I have to admit that Picard is unarguably right – and this where the excitement starts. Journalists, particularly young journalists, those undergoing journalism education (or training, if you must) and those teaching them should be, must be, encouraged to experiment, to try, to fail, to fail better.

Finding the right means to create and protect value will require collaboration
throughout news enterprises. It is not something that journalists can leave to
management. Everyone, journalists and managers alike, will need to develop
collaboration skills and create social relations that make it possible. Journalists will also
need to acquire entrepreneurial and innovation skills that makes it possible for them to
lead change rather than merely respond to it.
I couldn't have put it better myself.

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