Publishers take on the pressing issue

By Jo Francis, Wednesday 28 March 2012

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The familiar look of a crowded newsstand belies the fact that magazine publishing is going through a period of enormous change, and that means equally big changes for printers and other suppliers to the sector.

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Newsstands may be full, but the magazine industry is experiencing enormous changes

The recent ABC consumer magazine results showed what a torrid time some publishers are having. Although overall circulation rose by 1.4%, within the figures there are wild fluctuations across different brands and sectors. The once-booming lads’ mags sector, for example, is now in freefall, with double-digit falls for Nuts, Zoo, FHM and Loaded.

Other titles are proving more robust. The top three TV listings titles – TV Choice, What’s On TV and Radio Times – still sell almost 3.5m copies combined every week.

Business-to-business publishing has been particularly challenged, with a host of titles abandoning print altogether and moving to online-only editions. Recent speculation that Emap is poised to sell off its trade magazines wing could mean a significant chunk of print spend coming under a new owner, too.

What the ABC figures don’t calculate, of course, is the pagination of the magazines being published. In a tough advertising climate, publishers dropping sections across hundreds of magazines has had an enormous knock-on effect for magazine printers’ production boards. All this in a print supply market already blighted by overcapacity, despite consolidation and closures in recent years.

Overall, there are notable success stories, including the venerable Private Eye posting record circulation figures fresh from celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Another of the positives to emerge from these tough times in magazine publishing is that it has also driven innovation.

Recent examples include IPC Media’s new spin-off biannual fashion title Marie Claire Runway, printed sheetfed in an unusual oversized format to give the title stronger presence on newsstands as well as providing plenty of space to show off luxurious fashion imagery. IPC also produced a piece of proactive, fast-turnaround publishing after the sudden death of singer Whitney Houston, and had a special one-off tribute issue of Now magazine on sale within days.

And some brands that started off as online-only products have become so successful that they have spawned magazines of their own, such as Egmont’s children’s mag Bin Weevils.

As part of our magazines special, PrintWeek spoke to two very different publishers to get their views on current and future print requirements.


BUSINESS TO BUSINESS PUBLISHER:  William Reed Business Media

 Fifth-generation family-owned media company William Reed Business Media is celebrating its
150th birthday this year – eponymous founder William Reed published the very first issue of The Grocer in 1862. Nowadays, the group operates in a wide variety of markets, which includes grocery and retail, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics and drinks and hospitality

Christopher Reed
Production editor

What do you think demand for print from your point of view will look like for the next five years?
Christopher Reed Demand is decreasing. Postal prices are going up, advertising is struggling and I can see titles changing. One of the things that has happened quite a lot recently is small publishers establishing niches with titles that aren’t economical for larger publishers. There’s a shift in the dynamics of some titles.

What about prices?
Prices are going up and we must look at our costs. If paper and print suppliers want to increase prices, fine. But if they do, we must negate that increase by reducing pagination, or copies, or switching from perfect-bound to stitched, or by changing paper grade.

Do you think some titles will switch from print to online products?
Yes. We’ve got at least a couple of titles that could go digital.

How can print be more attractive?
We must improve binding to speed up time to reader and we have got to be innovative about using things like personalisation.

The biggest thing is to realise that the magazine is not the kingpin anymore. We used to have a magazine, a conference, an awards and all sorts of other brand extensions, all with the magazine at the centre. Now they can all be independent of the magazine. The magazine is alongside it.

Do you expect further consolidation in the supplier landscape?
Maybe not just consolidation – perhaps even closures. Saying that, it’s fascinating that Wyndeham announced the closure of Plymouth last August and it’s still running.

What sort of processes are interesting to you. Do you use digital printing?
Yes – where we can use it, we do. For example, we are still selling hard copy directories – we print them digitally at Polestar Wheatons.

How can print suppliers improve their offering to you?
I’d love to say they could offer better customer service, better paper management and better prices, but in truth they are working their backsides off and doing their best. It’s very hard for them.


CONSUMER PUBLISHER

Immediate Media is the new giant in consumer publishing. Formed last year after the sale of BBC Magazines, it incorporates the former Origin Publishing and Magicalia businesses. It publishes 50 magazines, including Radio Times and Good Food, and has over a million subscribers. Print suppliers include Polestar and Wyndeham Group.

Mal Skelton
Production director

What do you think demand for print from Immediate Media’s point of view will look like for the next five years?
In the magazine sector, it’s difficult to see anything other than a continuation in the general downward trend in demand for print. People are finding other ways to access content and changing their purchasing habits. This is partly to do with the perceived high cost of print, compared to digital formats, and the transformational nature of technological advancement.

Immediate Media Co is a cross-media business, so we’re working in all formats and firmly believe in the long-term value of print alongside exciting developments and opportunities in digital publishing.

This view has been recently reinforced by the recent ABCs (for July-December 2011), which reported that Immediate Media was the only major publisher to show growth in the last six months (we were up 0.02% year-on-year).

We’ve had some successful new launches over recent months, including new pre-school title Octonauts, and we’re investing in print – as demonstrated by our acquisition last month of Hearst titles Prima Baby & Pregnancy and You and Your Wedding.

Do you envisage some of your titles will switch from print to digital/online only?
As a cross-media publisher, we intend to make both formats work. Different formats offer different experiences, and they needn’t be mutually exclusive.

Look at Good Food magazine. The print version and the iPad version complement each other, offering users a different experience. And this applies to many of our brands.

How can printed products be made more attractive in the face of competition from online media?
I think publishers do a great job already. We need, as an industry, to get our cost-base right. Print and physical media is being increasingly seen as cost prohibitive, whereas online/virtual media is viewed as low-cost, if not free. Of course, the reality is not so clear-cut, but we can’t get away from the fact that print will need a wholly different cost model in the coming years. Better control over the key cost drivers – paper, equipment, labour, energy, etc – is called for. So we need to ensure that we look at how to get these costs down.

And our printed products need to offer added value to the customer. This is very important to us at Immediate Media – for example, Radio Times published TV Walks supplements [walking guides around parts of the country in which popular TV shows were shot] with two recent issues; and Good Food magazine’s special Christmas gift-wrapped issue last year was very popular and made it stand out from competitors.

This is particularly important for our subscribers (we have over a million subscriptions); we build strong relationships with customers this way, and special offers like free gifts with subscriptions, or subscriber-only covers, help to strengthen that.

What’s your view of the supplier landscape in print, do you expect further consolidation?
The industry has been over-supplied for many years. Many suppliers have had a tough time, making do on very tight margins. We’ve now reached the point where major suppliers are seeking to change the dynamics of the market, through mergers and acquisitions, factory closures and a general reduction in capacity. I concur with the widely held view that we will see further consolidation activity in the magazine print sector.

Print suppliers endure huge peaks and troughs in demand and struggle to utilise their equipment effectively, due to publishers all wanting their magazines at the same time. Do you think there’s scope for some more flexibility in on-sale dates?

We have wrestled with this in the past. It would be good if things could be improved. Quite clearly some categories don’t need to be on-shelf at the same time, such as motoring and gardening. We could better utilise all resources – publishers, distributors, and printers – and smooth the whole workflow. The challenge is persuading retailers and publishers to change their patterns. It would need an industry initiative from someone like the PPA. I don’t think any publisher could do it on their own.

What sort of processes are of interest to you? Are you using digital printing, for example, and do you envisage using it more in future?
We’re currently using web offset and will continue to do so for some time. We also do some sheet work for covers and have in the past used gravure, but it’s unlikely we’d use this on any scale going forward.

We may have cause to use digital, but as it’s more suited to smaller runs and tightly targeted personalisation projects, we would only be likely to consider this for particular projects. It’s not a routine need at the moment.

How can print suppliers improve their offering to you?
We have good working relationships with our suppliers and really value the development of a strong and healthy print industry. So my tips would be to encourage suppliers to continue to invest in high calibre people and be more proactive in their engagement with customers, suggesting and developing new ideas. Immediate Media has a broad portfolio of consumer brands, so we’d be keen to hear from suppliers that can offer something of interest to our new business.

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