Magfest 2014: Balancing tradition with innovation

Last week YUDU made the trip to Edinburgh, along with 200 other publishing professionals, to attend Magfest, one of the UK’s best-known magazine exhibitions. Central to this year’s event was the concept of “innovation” in the magazine industry and how magazine publishers are responding to changing content consumption patterns.

There was the usual mix of emphasis on the value of traditional methods, attention to the growth that can be generated from effective digital strategies, as well as more experimental methods, we’ve summarized some of what we feel are the key take-aways below:

“Innovation is about taking what you’ve got and doing something sexy with it…”

The first speaker of the day was Ellis Watson, Chief Executive of DC Thomson, one of the world’s largest, family owned media groups. According to Watson, in 2008 there were 1.21 billion magazines sold. This went down to below 1 billion three years later and only 781,000 sold last year. A drop of 219 million is somewhat dramatic, making it understandable that a number of magazine publishers feel a little uncertain of the future. In the past, digital innovation has been misunderstood. Watson said on the shock of the digital revolution at News Corp, “idiots like me thought the sky was falling in”, but believes we now need to recognise opportunities and not just threats. Currently the digital income is £1 for every £13 analogue income, this is the time that publishers need to take calculated risks because “hope is not a strategy”, publishers need to be brave and “drive it like you stole it”, when it comes to digital.

The antonym for innovation is tradition.

It’s not surprising then, why many magazine publishers can find themselves in a stalemate. Balancing the pressures that come with tradition and the need to modernize isn’t easy. How can you sympathetically make changes that aren’t going to dent the respect gained from years of staying true to your values, yet still give you that all important additional revenue?

“If we didn’t have fun, there would be no fun in reading it”

Diane Kenwood, editor of Woman’s Weekly, shared a few ideas that they have introduced, in her very well received talk at Magfest.

Firstly, keen to increase their online presence and generate more revenue, they recently launched a retail site. Results are expected soon, but it’s highly likely they will reap the rewards from this very smart move. Woman’s Weekly is the most popular magazine in the mature mainstream women’s market. They are proud of the fact that their readers are very much on-trend with new technologies, with many of them highly engaged on Facebook and owning smartphones and tablets.

“People are also becoming more interested in experimental stuff. We launched a show two years ago and it’s been a phenomenal success, making a profit in our first year.”

It’s not only the shows that are proving popular. In an effort to further interact with their audience, Woman’s Weekly now run regular classes and workshops, from cake decorating to knitting, which have so far been sell-out events this year. In fact, knitting classes (bunting in particular) became so popular that they decided to go for a world record; “There was nothing in it for the readers, except to take part, and over 900 of them knitted a record-breaking 13,500 triangles of bunting”.

This huge achievement is due to be repeated at Christmas, showing how valuable to your brand relationships with your readers are, and that success is possible outside of your magazine.

“I got death threats”

Tim Arthur, Time Out Group CEO and his team could be considered masters of innovation. The brave decision to take Time Out London from a paid for to a free magazine could have been suicidal, but thankfully it was a huge success for the brand. Circulation has gone from 50,000 to 305,000 and readership is now around 500,000. Despite the fact that Arthur received three death threats when taking Time Out free, in an effort to revolutionise the brand, his commitment to re-engineer their products and digital platforms is admirable.

Today, they have gone from magazine to global mobile inspiration platform, now available in 67 cities with 32 million global users – 80 million predicted by the end of 2016 – 99% of people hear Time Out and think ‘magazine’. Our challenge is making people see us as platform agnostic.”

Huge successes aside, Arthur believes that trust is what’s important and encourages publishers to remain humble and stay connected with your readers; “we must make sure that as we evolve we don’t leave the core values that we have always held dear”. In doing this you can be confident that you are heading in the right direction.

DC Thomson, Woman’s Weekly, Time Out and many more are leading the way in the future of the magazine publishing industry, proving that it is possible to innovate, to adapt to the times and to influence your traditions with modern techniques. If you take one thing away from this, let it be that you need to be brave, bring your brand to life and take the leap.

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