Which magazine publishers will dare to be brave?
It was somehow appropriate that I found myself interviewing Guardian News & Media managing director Tim Brooks and ShortList Media chief executive Mike Soutar as the latest magazine ABC figures were released. But at Publishing Expo last week, the former Emap and IPC executives displayed distinctly different attitudes to the future of print media.
Brooks reiterated his view espoused in Media Week recently that he couldn’t see himself launching any more print products. Soutar, on the other hand, still sees print as an opportunity. Soutar’s views merit respect, but fly in the face of popular opinion. From his early days editing Smash Hits to the editorship of FHM and becoming editor-in-chief of Maxim USA, he gained the experience that stood him in good stead as editorial director of IPC, where he led the development of Nuts, Pick Me Up, TV Easy and, two years ago, women’s weekly Look. A year ago, he took a step into the unknown by launching ShortList, the ad-funded free magazine that has defied sceptics and now distributes more than 500,000 copies in 11 cities across the UK.
ShortList, Sport and Look are the only significant consumer magazine launches of recent years. Condé Nast is keeping the flag flying in the coming months with its biannual Love offering and a UK edition of Wired – but these could hardly be described as being in the mainstream. The rest of the magazine industry has pulled in its horns.
As Soutar pointed out at Olympia, the days of nurturing a launch carefully and gradually impinging it on the public’s consciousness, as Emap did with Heat and Bauer had a habit of doing in the past, are gone. For a launch to be successful now, a title has to make an immediate impact from day one. Otherwise, like Chelsea football managers, they quickly find themselves on the scrapheap.
Soutar recalled the first issue of ShortList as the lowest point of his career, as bundles of copies of his beloved new magazine reappeared at the depot after the first day of distribution. The target audience just wasn’t familiar enough with the concept of a free magazine. But Soutar persevered and has seemingly established the title as an attractive proposition for advertisers. How many other publishers will have the courage to make the same leap into uncertainty over the next 12 months?