Thursday, 17 May 2007

Why new titles are facing a tough ride

Recently there have been a number of high profile magazine launches that have been followed by swift closure of the title. Media Week wrote an article on this and asked me to comment. I am of the belief that the publishing environment has changed significantly in recent years and publishers have a much shorter time span within which to demonstrate potential for any new launch.

There are so many areas competing for budget that magazines are given less time to work. Traditionally magazines were given time to find their feet. Heat was launched as a weekly entertainment / listings magazine and didn't find an audience. It was allowed to continue and mutated into the highly successly title it is now. I think it is unlikely that we will see this sort of thing allowed to happen in today's market. If the magazine doesn't find an audience quickly it will be axed. My comment is included in the full article (below) and reflects this view.

by Robin Parker Media Week 15-May-07

The past 12 months have witnessed the rise and subsequent rapid fall of a range of magazine titles, often following well-publicised debuts. Robin Parker investigates the reasons for these failures.

Despite calling it a day after just eight months on the news-stand, Bauer's In The Know was something of a veteran in today's magazine market.
Over the past year, a host of magazines have folded within months - or even weeks - of glitzy launches and big promises (see box). Launching a title has never looked more risky.

With Emap struggling to find an audience above 100,000 for First, arguably only IPC has got it right in the past year, with the mass-market high street shopping weekly Look - though it has yet to record an ABC figure. Little wonder News Magazines and Northern & Shell have canned their proposed women's weeklies.

Mike Soutar, the former IPC editorial director who has set up Crash Test Media, a consultancy specialising in magazine launches, says publishers cannot afford to make their mistakes in public any more. "In The Know was a confusing proposition that lacked the single-minded clarity that marks out a successful launch," he says. "Publishers used to start with modest beginnings and effectively do their research and development live, but readers have more media choice than ever and no longer have the patience to stick with a sub-standard magazine."
With Popworld Pulp, publisher Brooklands misjudged its audience despite a year's market research. The audience just wasn't there: the debut issue sold 9,000 and would likely only head down.

Risk factor

Damian Butt, managing director of Imagine Publishing, whose portfolio targets 25 to 34-year-old men, says he would rather put out a handful of launches, knowing some of them will fail, than pour everything into one high-profile risk. "Publishing now is as difficult as it's ever been and you shouldn't be spending vast sums up front. I expect a title to underperform at the start and then to build," he says.

Jerry Perkins, co-founder of independent publisher Development Hell, says that while there will always be a "hard core" of readers and advertisers, publishers have to see that outside of a handful of interchangeable women's weeklies, the days of picking up impulse readers are gone. "Specialist magazine sales are returning to their natural levels and you have to make the business work for this core reader, which means giving a title time to develop its own personality," he says. He acknowledges that the market has got tougher in the five years since he left Emap.
Matt Bielby, who has just launched science fiction monthly Death Ray, says Perkins' approach inspired his low-cost start-up and is realistic about his ambitions.
"We expect sales to tail off after the first issue, but keeping the costs down - including realistic print runs - hopefully means we can work on growing sales again after a year."

However, Mark Lonergan, who previously launched Real Homes and Front and is now managing director of customer publisher August Media, says increasing pressure from retailers can compromise this approach and lead publishers to risk all their money up front. "The biggest challenge is getting on the news-stand in enough numbers," he says. "The supermarket range review process, kicked off by WHSmith in 2004, has made it much harder for new titles."

Fundamental errors

Yet for some, mistakes made on recent launches are more fundamental. Brooklands arguably got the medium wrong and could have ploughed the money behind Popworld Pulp into the web. So London in particular proved that investors are getting itchy feet over funding traditional media projects.

Nick Burcher, board buying director at Zed Media, cites Associated Newspapers' re-routing of money ploughed into the ill-fated news-stand launch of You, into digital ventures.

"When management invests a chunk of the marketing budget in print, there's a doubting voice in the back of their head because they hear that ad revenues are going online," he says. "As a result, they're looking for a short-term return."

While strong mass-market general lifestyle magazines can thrive because they are hard to replicate online, specialist magazines will need to offer a point of difference across print and the web to fend off the threat of community websites.

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