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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Right though you are, Tim, Herr Bauer and his daughter Saskia will not be among those decrying their absence from the list. They are fiercely private and have always shunned press attention.

You are right, too, to mention John Dale as a magazine editor who merits inclusion, as does his colleague Jon Peake, who is editor-in-chief of the UK's biggest selling magazine (TV Choice). I'd be surprised, however, if anyone on the MediaGuardian panel has heard of either of them.
So how about compiling a top ten / twenty of your own? Would love to read it.
Anonymous: Many thanks for naming John Dale, which I failed to do.

Andrew: Good idea, though perhaps I could crowdsource a list too?

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