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Learning from the magazine market sectors that pay

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Why is it that some areas of magazine publishing are thriving, while in others publishers are fighting to keep their magazines on the newsstands? Mary Hogarth examines those markets where titles are flourishing.

While there is much to be learned from analysing magazines in those stronger sectors such as B2B and specialist, value and accessibility should form the core of any value proposition.

Here I explore those sectors where magazines are thriving and the secrets of their success.

Opportunities in local publishing

Local magazines seem to be having something of a resurgence, with numerous aesthetically-pleasing titles being launched across the UK.

Despite social media and other marketing opportunities, there is still a need for print local advertising. A well-produced, local magazine, which has coffee table appeal, is far more likely to have greater longevity than internet advertising.

But it’s not only those titles with coffee-table appeal that are succeeding. When researching Business Strategies for Magazine Publishing I came across a unique example of a local magazine, which was also part of a successful franchise.

The Home Handbook, launched in 2010 by regional journalist Peter Ward, is an inspiring story proving that where there is a need, magazines can be launched on a shoestring.

After taking redundancy from the Blackpool Gazette, Peter ploughed his savings into launching this annual directory, which is distributed door-to-door around his hometown of Preston in Lancashire. The content – a combination of editorial and photographs presented in carefully categorised trade listings/advertisements – fills the gap between those old-style free, local papers and the ever-diminishing Yellow Pages.

But how did the concept evolve? Peter says his idea for Home Handbooks was a result of a combination of three factors.

“First there was a tourism booklet whose design features I liked, then a chance conversation with a landscape gardener friend who complained of having nowhere decent to advertise and at the time I needed to find a decent roofer.

“These events set me thinking about starting a booklet which came out annually and would be a helpful reference book for householders,” revealed Peter.

His idea was to produce something of journalistic quality – in contrast to the plethora of competing A5 booklets done by amateurs without any journalistic background. Peter admits his approach to research was simple but effective.

Having collated a dummy issue, he took a couple of days off work to research the market, visiting tradespeople and retailers to gauge their reaction, which he recalls was very positive.

His initial set-up expenditure was minimal as the cost of the first issue was covered with pre-paid advertising revenue.

“I used my existing InDesign software and computer to compile the booklet, a bit of petrol and shoe leather, and that was it. The only sizeable cost was a £600 legal bill for terms and conditions which I have never actually needed – beware lawyers.”

Local independent magazines are again becoming popular. If done well, such publications not only fill a gap in the market, but can also be an asset to the community.

The value in B2B magazines

This is one of the most sustainable sectors. B2B publications share a strong ethos – to provide an essential commodity (in this case information), while also aiming to educate and inform the audience.

Many B2B titles have had to adapt their approach for the digital age to make sure their content reaches the reader on the most appropriate platform.

For some, particularly those in the IT sector, this has meant ditching the traditional print format to move into digital and online. But for others print still forms a core part of their provision, alongside brand extensions such as mobile, digital and online as a strategy to widen reach as well as increase revenue streams.

The Grocer, owned by William Reed Business Media, is one such example. Established in 1862, the weekly title targets every aspect of the industry, from directors of large multiples to independent retailers.

Despite a significant decrease in print circulation from more than 50,000 to around 30,000 in the past 20 years The Grocer is still viable.

According to BRAD, the magazine’s 2016 to 2018 combined print and digital average circulation was 30,262 (source publisher’s statement), while page impressions for were 526,768.

Like many titles, it has had to adapt its business strategy. A significant strategic change has been to promote membership as opposed to subscriptions, offering readers a scale of membership from Gold (£224.10 +VAT) to Platinum £422.10 +VAT).

Both options enable members to view The Grocer in print, digital and of course online. However, the Platinum tier includes exclusive content such as analysis, Grocer Price Index as well as unlimited access to the magazine’s archives.

Aside from the added value, there is another point at play here. By changing subscription into a membership model, the perception focuses more on building a community. A smart move – by a team that clearly understands what their readers want and need.

Case study – the specialist sector

Gregor Rankin, Managing Director of Green Pea Publishing launched Food and Travel magazine back in the 90s. He reveals why he chose the food and drink sector and admits that, as with all new start-ups, the magazine has taken a lot of investment.

Food and Travel took everything we had and then some, more than once. . .  Securing funding is never easy, but I was lucky enough to have developed some good relationships with similarly-minded people in the industry over the years who were incredibly supportive and continue to be as sounding boards for our plans. 

Why did I opt for the food and drink sector? It’s about doing what you know and love – having a passion is essential. Also, this was an area I had prior knowledge of, having launched BBC Good Food and BBC Holidays, but the most important factor was my passion for food, drink and travel.

More than 20 years after the launch, the magazine is profitable and those profits are growing, although it hasn’t been an easy journey especially having to navigate our way through the digital age. But for me the key to profitable magazines lies in understanding your consumer and delivering the right products to them in the format they are willing to pay for. Growing an audience is hard, especially at the beginning and our brand extensions have been critical in terms of widening audience participation and generating meaningful profit.

Is Food and Travel magazine sustainable in the long term?  Yes, we all need, want and use the internet relentlessly, searching for everything from train journeys to bed and breakfasts. But you have to know what you are looking for. And if there’s one thing that Food and Travel magazine provides to our readers it’s ideas.

People want to know inside information such as great places to eat, where to visit as well as what to cook and drink. They will always buy quality and hopefully still appreciate well-written, well-designed magazines.

Lessons to be drawn

Value, trusted content and accessibility are key components of successful titles.

To succeed, publishers must produce high-quality editorial, delivered in a way that offers readers/users flexibility in how and where they consume the content. Get this right and no matter what the sector, those magazines are more likely to thrive.

But remember, individuality is key. We are no longer a culture where one size fits all, consumers like quality, flexibility and easy access.

This article is based on the fifth chapter of my latest book, Business Strategies for Magazine Publishing published by Routledge and available from Amazon.