OPINION: The times they are a changing

Robin Parkes
By Robin Parkes | 17 October 2013
Robin Parkes.

The magazine industry is undergoing the most fundamental change it has ever seen. Faced with new, unfamiliar digital competitors competing for audience and ad revenues, industry leaders have been forced to embrace new business models and adopt new paradigms for leadership.

This was a key theme to emerge from the 2013 FIPP World Magazine Congress, held in Rome last month. Hosted by world magazine association FIPP every two years, the congress has always provided the perfect environment to be inspired, intrigued and educated and today in our ever changing landscape it remains more relevant than ever.

Rome attracted 702 delegates and 60 speakers from 54 countries. Attended by CEOs and senior magazine executives from around the world, we heard not only about how their companies are addressing the issues and challenges that the magazine industry finds itself facing, but how they are seizing opportunities.  

The recurring theme from all speakers was that magazine publishers need to transform their organisations for innovation to occur. Incremental change is no longer enough.

How do we shape our businesses to survive? The classic model is no longer enough to sustain profitability. We have just come through the perfect storm - declining circulation, changing consumer behaviour and a drastic reduction in advertising.

The pace of change in media today is unprecedented and innovation requires transformation. As Peter Kreisky, chairman of Kreisky Media Consultancy said at the congress: “In media today, accept that you don’t know exactly where things are going and act accordingly.”

The key outtake at FIPP from all senior panellists involved was the importance of openness to change, swift thinking, optimism and a philosophy of ‘don’t be afraid to fail’. In addition, look after what you already have, constantly search for efficiency, do as much as possible with your assets, and pivot towards a more digital future.

Globally the magazine industry is worth $US82 billion, and digital revenues currently only account for 10% but are growing.  Digital is no longer seen as a threat but a major opportunity, and the future is where media and technology intersect.

Duncan Edwards, the president and CEO of Hearst Media Corporation said at the congress: "There's no doubt consumer habits are changing. For us to be relevant in their lives, we have to be where they are, when they're there and in a format they want”.

Today, we are in the business of magazine brands - not magazine platforms - digital and print are just the delivery mechanisms.  A ‘digital first’ strategy is the future and the power of the brand will be the driving force.  Moving from print to digital is no longer the focus as much as building brand awareness across all channels.

Historically, magazines’ strengths – their depth of engagement with audiences and a sense of community - have proved to be the winning formula and this will not change in a digital environment, as these two key criteria translate to a ‘new media’ world.  

While no one is saying this is an easy process, magazines are now well on the way to transforming themselves into brands available across a range of platforms, leading to even deeper engagement with audiences and advertisers.   

For now advertising will continue to be the ‘engine’ for magazine revenue, however new revenue models will develop exponentially. Magazine brands and consumers must be the number one focus for growth.  

We also need to value talent and reconsider what skills you require in the publishing business.  We now need to fill our businesses with brand experts, content creators and integrated marketing specialists.  

According to the FIPP speakers, there are three keys to success for magazines: Understand what readers expect and desire from each brand; ensure innovative marketing; use brands more skilfully by taking the value of the brand and the ability to personalise due to an in depth knowledge of the reader; and get the right user, right content, right time and on the right device without changing the essence of the brand and magazines will continue to thrive.

Robin Parkes
Executive Director
Magazine Publishers of Australia

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