Magazines are great (again)

Immediate Media’s revenue strategy proves the sector is once more a great place to be – but only for those who adapt and diversify, writes Meg Carter.

By Meg Carter

Magazines are great (again)
The sourdough webinar was particularly popular during lockdown…

Many publishers have been pushed to the limits by Covid-19. But the pandemic crisis has also been a catalyst for innovation. Which is why for Duncan Tickell, chief revenue officer at Immediate Media, the future looks bright.

“Free and unencumbered by normal constraints, everyone’s realised you’ve got to double down and try new stuff as we’re in extraordinary times. And at Immediate, we’ve been seeing some exciting growth in direct to consumer (DTC) revenues,” he observes.

“We’re fortunate we have brands that have played out well in the pandemic – gardening, cooking and entertainment titles covering all things people have been doing at home – so we’ve seen incredible growth, and we’ve worked hard to find new ways to serve our consumers.”

Duncan Tickell: “You can never stand still.”

Webinars, such as on gardening advice, and how to perfect homemade sourdough, have proven a particular success since the first lockdown – so much so, in fact, that they will now be part of Immediate’s ongoing commercial strategy long term.

“We’ve been surprised – webinars increased our commercial footprint and provided our consumers with added value in return,” Tickell continues. “It’s been a real win-win.”

Tickell returned to Immediate full-time to take up his current role last October having played an early role in its growth. He was part of the business’s leadership from its launch back in 2011, then left – though just for 18 months – to launch a consultancy advising businesses how to transform through digital growth.

How best to secure future growth at a time of declining newsstand sales when, at the same time, pressures on digital revenue from the likes of Google and Facebook have made some baulk at the investment needed to secure a strong digital presence is a particular area of interest.

The answer, he says, lies in effectively connecting buying and sellers. In turn, this means understanding your audiences and deep-serving them effectively – something publishers are ideally positioned to do.

In his new role, Tickell is responsible for Immediate’s non-circulation revenues. This means advertising and DTC revenues from maximising the monetisation and commercialisation of both its digital properties and also its more traditional channels.

“Though not part of my remit, newsstand and subscriptions remain very important – subscriptions especially during the pandemic,” he notes.

You’ve got to double down and try new stuff as we’re in extraordinary times.

Direct to consumer

“But now, as the revenue mix tips towards digital, we are looking at diversifying our digital businesses and accelerating our digital growth. Part of that means the traditional ad-funded model. Increasingly, it means DTC – revenue streams that are now gaining real traction.”

At its highest level, Tickell continues, DTC means leveraging Immediate’s deep consumer relationships to unlock transactions and interactions direct with its consumers.

“Digital advertising was the key revenue engine and is still growing at a good pace this year. But new revenue streams coming on board include affiliate revenues, where we are seeing strong growth,” he says.

“Also, bespoke content around purchasing products; and facilitating direct consumer transactions with retailers – we’ve recently launched a deals business presenting consumers with greater offers and introducing them to retailers to transact with.

“On top of this, there’s virtual events,” Tickell adds. “It’s all about making the business more resilient.”

Realising this potential depends on being sensitive to consumers’ wants and needs – capitalising on the relationship without exploiting it in a way that ends up compromising it. And here again, Tickell believes, publishers are ideally positioned.

The most valuable members of a publisher’s audience are those with the deepest relationships with its brands. This makes subscribers “the absolute peak” – an incredibly valuable audience to commercialise but also, at the same time, to protect.

It is therefore essential to ensure your consumers’ experience of consuming and interacting with your brands is a good one, he says.

A lot has changed since Tickell started his career – and for the better.

“Ten to 20 years ago, publishers were fearfully independent and competitive as part of their DNA. But the world has moved on. Today, the competition is no long other publishers but other media channels. Meanwhile, publishers are more closely aligned,” he observes.

“What excites me most about the future of publishing is how diverse it is now and how quickly it changes – you can never stand still. Our brands have diversified in ways we never thought possible. The pace of change is so fast, and that’s exciting.

“You don’t know what’s around the corner. But as we are proving, opportunity is there – it’s just more complex.”

Today, the competition is no long other publishers but other media channels.

You can hear Duncan Tickell being interviewed by Ciar Byrne on a recent episode of The InPublishing Podcast, which was sponsored by Acorn Web Offset, the Yorkshire-based specialist A5 and A4 magazine printer.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.