Neil Thackray’s Business Media Blog

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The Future of Magazines. The PPA wants a debate with you.

The PPA  has launched a new intiative to explore the future of magazines.  You can see their suite of video cameos of views from the great and good of the magazine industry here.

According to  the PPA, they want to engage in a debate about this.  Our audience stretches from the publishers to the agencies so lets see if we can help to get the debate started.

It is perhaps not surprising that those working in magazines want to argue that magazines are an important part of the media mix.  As Alex Read of Conde Nast argues in his video cameo, the magazine has a place between the ephemeral enagagement that readers have with web sites and the deep engagement readers get from a book. 

Peter Phippen says that the concept of a magazine is not restricted to a particular platform.  The web, the tablet and the dead tree are all legitimate means through which to articulate the concept of a magazine.

My own view is that the notion of a magazine as a singularity – a printed singularity is unlikely to be a growth model.  FIPP reported last week that there are 319 fewer magazines in the UK than there were a year ago.  My guess is that this trend will continue.  Between the business sector and the consumer sector there are still around 8000 or more titles in production today.   That is too many to be sustainable.

“All publishers have to be brave.  If you just defend what you are currently doing you will fail” says PC Pro Editor Nick Denton in his interview for the PPA.   

Of course it is possible to make an intellectual argument that magazines are ” a lean back expereince”, that magazines can be a powerful call to purchase and effective for advertisers in branding.  It is possible to argue that some magazine brands engender trust in readers in a way that web content can’t. In the US publishers have started to market magazines with just that message.  It is not uncontroversial.  One commentator calls this approach “Sneering at the Internet”

But all clever people can make an intellectual argument.  Machiavelli said “might is right” whilst “the greatest good for the greatest number” was the Mill mantra.  Both can’t be true, but each was argued by two of the greatest human minds.  Sometimes being able to make an argument is not enough.  The empirical truth is, that for most titles magazine circulations have been falling for a long time.   The biggest media company in the world is Google, the fastest growth in media usage is social, the biggest growth in format  consumption is mobile. 

Clever people can argue there is a great future for printed magazines and other clever people can argue the opposite – but both can’t be true can they? 

If we really want a debate about the future of magazines we might need to define our terms – or possible redefine from first principles.  My dicitionary (on paper, on a bookshelf with a hard cover) says that a magazine is “a periodic paperback publication containing articles,fiction,photographs etc”. That doesn’t seem very useful in the 21st Century. 

David Rowan, editor of Wired is on the right track when he says, ““I see Wired not so much as a magazine, but as a community of people who want smart information and design led thinking. It is about the brand.”   I think he is right when he says it is about community, but whilst the brand helps, it is not, in my view, “about” the brand.

So if we are really are going to debate the future of magazines with the PPA lets ask some ourselves some preliminary questions so we can agree what we are talking about,

1) What is the definition of “magazine”?  Do readers, advertisers and publishers agree it is the same thing?

2) Is the future of magazines about content or is it about community?

3) If there is a future for printed magazines; given the explosion of media choice, how must they change in the future?

4) The PPA in its piece about publishing in 2050 says,

” The future might be hard to predict but there’s a growing consensus that no matter how plugged in we are to technology we will still find time to switch off and curl up with a sheaf of exquisitely printed paper”

 Is that true?

We would love to hear your answers to these questions What other questions should be posed about the future of magazines?   So if you are a publisher, or an advertiser or just a media wonk with a view, log in and join the conversation here on Twitter or our LinkedIn group.


December 3, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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