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Opportunities & Threats: Consumer Media

David Hepworth's article in the Publishing Partners Guide 2016

David Hepworth

Posted on: 04 February 2016

When the living was easy and the cotton was high, all kinds of titles flourished. And when those consumer magazines scored big circulation numbers, they could attract advertising on the back of those numbers. This had the inevitable consequence of tempting those titles to become all things to all people. These are now the very titles that seem most exposed now the tide appears to be going out. Maybe 2016 could be the year publishers summon up the nerve to jump one way or the other.

If the advertising is part of the message, if it’s one of the reasons that people buy your title, then you should look at any way of delivering that advertising short of that which loses money. If it isn’t, why bother chasing the advertising at all? All you end up doing is diluting the appeal of the title at the very moment when it should be becoming more concentrated. It’s no coincidence that the weekly news and opinion magazines are still doing well. That’s because they offer the unsugared pill and advertising is not in their bloodstream.

I’m sure there are some opportunities in taking on some of those formerly profitable household name titles that corporate owners no longer appear to have faith in. I’m sure something can be done with FHM short of relentlessly driving it downmarket. Forget all the history, forget what the advertisers might think, and just think what the title could mean now that when’s men’s interest has become so marginalised, it could almost be on the verge of acquiring a kind of rebel glamour. Now could be the time to regroup around a core and start again. The same thing might apply to Cosmopolitan, which has, let’s not forget, been re-invented before. But projects like these need leaders who are true believers, not budget-whipped corporate placemen.

Obviously, the second-worst possible reaction to the news that the best seller of the Christmas book trade was a series of vintage Ladybird books with sardonic captions aimed at the adult market would be to go scurrying into your own archive, looking for some time-honoured old magazine cliché which might be ripe for the same treatment. The very worst reaction would be to think ingenious repackaging projects like these have nothing to teach us.

There must be an opportunity to reverse the remorseless deterioration of the retail environment which has happened over the last ten years. Fashionable London has retail outlets celebrating every consumer product from luxury chocolates to expensive paint and yet there’s nowhere that does that for magazines, showcasing their values, giving them a place to promote their content and meet their readers. Why not?

“Projects like these need leaders who are true believers, not budget-whipped corporate placemen.”

About David Hepworth
(Details last updated: 23 September 2016)

David Hepworth has worked in consumer magazines for over thirty years. As editorial director of Emap Consumer Magazines, he was involved with titles such as Smash Hits, Heat, Q, Mojo, FHM and Empire. He is a director of Mixmag Media, writes and broadcasts on media issues and is the author of 1971: Never A Dull Moment.

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