Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Economist as a Collective

It could be like The Borg, it could be like an anarcho-syndicate but it's not.

The Economist has an astonishing track record of success and in an interview on the magazine's Matthew Bishop (New York Bureau Chief) gives some insight into how it works. For example, on the no-byline policy:

Because we don't have our name on the article, we all stand and fall by all of the content.

This changes completely the internal dynamics. When you think about the extent to which debate is what we do, the other part of that is that we all stand together as a collective as to all the material that appears. Which means we are much more consistently high quality. Having this group of people here, and having this long record of debating, means we see things going on differently then our competitors. It's not just one individual, it's a group narrative. If you put bylines on it, it will make much harder to maintain that.

Read the whole thing at

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Posh magazines get the once over from posh consultants

Condé Nast Building, seen from Empire State Bu...The Condé Nast building seen from Empire State building. Image via Wikipedia

The New York Observer has a bit of a laugh over McKinsey's scrutiny of Conde Nast. Given CN's stereotyping, the humour is only to be expected, but let's face it, if all magazines were as beautifully made as Vogue, GQ, Wired, etc, the newsstands would be much more pleasant to look at.

However, with ads pages down drastically, the flower and limo budgets may need to be trimmed.

"When the Publishers Information Bureau gets its hands on the total numbers, this is what the percentages will look like:

Allure: down 51 percent
Arch Digest: down 44 percent
Bon Appetit: down 40 percent
Bride’s (Sept/Oct): down 19 percent
Traveler: down 44 percent
Cookie: down 19 percent
Details: down 34 percent
Glamour: down 41 percent
Golf Digest: up 0.2 percent
Gourmet: down 51 percent
GQ: down 31 percent
Lucky: down 36 percent
Self: down 50 percent
Teen Vogue: down 31 percent
Vanity Fair: down 36 percent
Vogue: down 36 percent
W: down 53 percent
Wired: down 41 percent"

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Readers Digest USA: private equity lets the deal go down

Did you follow the takeover of Readers Digest by a US private equity firm a couple of years back? Here are a couple of experts opining on the wisdom of that investment (with the benefit of hindsight). According to Jim Cramer (second video) not only is the magazine business kaput, no media stock is worth investing in at the moment.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Newspapers – the new magazines

Simon Jenkins has been on a run of good form with his recent Guardian columns (ie I agree with him) and today's is an interesting addition.

His thesis is, basically, that newspapers
should be staging everything from commercial fairs to sporting events and arts and book festivals. There is money in all of them. Newspapers should not be investing in fancy printing presses but in the "long-tail" economics of live enterprise, with the printed word as a mere core activity.
That is, they should look to brand extension for new revenue streams. He takes as his model the music industry but surely, surely, this kind of brand extension is exactly what magazines have been doing for the last, what, 10, 15, 20 years?

Felix Dennis managed to parlay Maxim into just about everything, including the gambling industry (as reported in USA Today), before the bottom started falling out of ladmags; many magazine brands have their own shows and exhibitions (consumer titles as well as B2B) and most of those generate healthy profits. Online sites offer numerous opportunities for commercial tie-ins.

If Jenkins's idea is taken up, what lies ahead? The Daily Me with added festivals? Or a daily news magazine that supports the brand in the physical print world while the real business shifts to the National Exhibition Centre and assorted giant marquees around the country?

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AOL prepares magazine niches for life after Time Warner

[AOL's] plan would be to build and buy scores of new brands in every monetizable niche possible. If you see a magazine at the newsstand covering a topic, AOL will have their own online brand for that topic, in blog or other format. They’ve already got the publishing platform with MediaGlow. New brands can be inserted or built at little marginal operating cost. And the talent is out there for the taking right now.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Bidding war on horizon for real life magazine stories

Rupert Murdoch's plan to charge for content in his newspapers has taken a more solid form. The Sunday Times will be News International's stalking horse and Rupert has refined his "people will pay" dictum:
He claimed consumers were willing to pay for celebrity scoops and exclusive stories including revelations about MPs' expenses (from the Guardian's story)
This indicates (to me, anyway) that the NI chequebook will be out for the big celeb and scandal stories and also helps to explain Nicola Jeal's move from her position as head of the (possibly doomed) Observer's magazine division to the Times, as weekend editor. (See previous post)

The women's weekly market already pays big money for the best stories, so my guess is that Rupert has OK!, Hello and the other big players in his sights. Celebrity stories are fairly easy to spot, although getting the right ones for your specific readership is still an art, but didn't NI pass up the MP expenses disc?

If I am right, what does this mean for the Sunday Times brand? Andrew Neil has already said:
Murdoch's websites will have to change dramatically if the initiative is to succeed. "If you are going to charge you have to build a site that is different and has a distinct character. General news has become a commodity in a sense. You have to recreate the paper online." (Guardian story, as above)
Will there be sub-sites with different target readerships?
Will the overall effect be seen as devaluing the once mighty investigative organ?
Murdoch has never been afraid of reinvention, and perhaps it is this unsentimental streak that will actually allow him to succeed in imposing payments.


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Thursday, August 06, 2009

iPhone vs Android in China: mobile magazine heaven?

According to Anita Davis on the Brand Republic site, Google and Apple are shaping up for a fight to capture market share in China, with the iPhone in one corner and Android in the other.

The iPhone has already encouraged some innovative magazine apps (see previous posts) and if developers adopt Android in China's potentially massive, and rapidly developing, market for online media products, the results could be very interesting indeed.

The way that China's publishing approval system copes with any new developments will also be instructive to observe. As things stand at present, globally-branded magazines that want to launch in China either license the title to a local publisher or form a joint venture, but there has to be a local, already licensed, title involved or incorporated. How will this translate to the digital world?


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More Observer magazine news

My thanks to Alex Burrows for bringing my attention to the news that Nicola Jeal, who has headed up the Observer's magnificent magazine section (Food, Woman, Sport, Music and the eponymous Magazine magazine), is leaving Kings Place and joining the Times as weekend editor.

Adopting a Kremlinologistic analysis, this development combines with the mooted changes to the Observer (see previous post) to suggest that its life as a newspaper is drawing to a close. Or at the very least, it will only be a shadow of its former, multi-sectioned, multi-magazined self.

Nicola Jeal has won BSME awards twice and edited Elle, among many other magazine jobs.

Let's hope that her new role allows her to bring the Times Saturday magazine back to its former glory.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Goodbye Observer newspaper, hello Observer magazine?

A report in the Sunday Times suggests that the Scott Trust, ultimate owners of the Guardian and Observer newspapers among other assets, has been shown a dummy of the Observer in magazine form. Publication day for the proposed news magazine would be Thursday.

The immediate conclusion to jump to is that the new title might be a UK version of Time or Newsweek, but it is worth remembering that the Spectator has been doing well recently while the New Statesman seems unable to manoeuvre its way out of an unstoppable tailspin. This might leave room for a current affairs magazine of the left, which would fit with the Guardian/Observer political axis.

Alternatively, The Week provides a model that could make good use of the Guardian group's news resources – if they could hire people with the necessary rewrite skills.

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