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Barry McIlheney 

Professional Publishers Association: Another 100 years

Professional Publishers Association: Another 100 years

As it celebrated its centenary last month, Peter Houston laid down some serious challenges for the Professional Publishers Association. Here, writing exclusively for Newsline, CEO Barry McIlheney, responds...

Now what?, asks Peter Houston in his article of 20 November. After the candle is blown out on 2013's celebrations of 100 years of the PPA, what can we expect to see in the future? What will the magazine industry - and the PPA - look like in 2113?

Good questions, and I am happy straight off to reassure Peter that these are questions never far from our own minds here at the PPA.

This year the centenary has provided an extra, retrospective layer to the PPA cake, but it has very much been in addition to the day-to-day work of the association and its many forums, working groups and committees whose remit it is to drive the industry forward on numerous fronts.

From the outset of this year, we were clear that a celebration of our heritage should not encourage the misguided notion that the industry can in any way rest on the laurels of its past. It is absolutely clear that we now inhabit a world where consumer reading habits are becoming ever more fragmented on the back of digital technology, and that our members are still operating in the face of huge disruptive change.

But how you view that change in 2013 is clearly a matter of perspective: discomforting for the magazine industry of old, yes, but exhilarating for the modern multi-platform media companies that have redefined their operations in recent years, and are now focused very firmly on their futures.

Among a large proportion of our members, that shift, while nowhere near complete, is absolutely in full flow. Publishers are undeniably still facing difficult decisions regarding their structure and the make-up of skills within their organisations but, as evidenced by our recent Publishing Futures survey, it is clear that they are drawing on a menu of diverse opportunities to forge their new strategic direction.

And, yes, e-commerce, digital discoverability and demonstrating multi-platform reach are all important elements to be addressed by both the PPA and its members going forward.

So, what will the future look like? Well, our members in 2023 or beyond are unlikely to be united exclusively by a common platform, such as printed magazines, in the way that the PPA's founders once were.

But then it has been nearly three years since we replaced the word "periodical" in our name with "professional" to acknowledge the changing nature of our members' businesses and their multi-platform futures - and this is several steps on again from our original incarnation as the Society of Weekly Newspaper and Periodical Proprietors back in 1913.

Adapting to change in this way, while no guarantee of success or longevity, is a vital marker for progress. But the crucial ingredient, the element that really spawns innovation and defines future success, is creativity, and you only have to browse through the "100 Magazine Moments" within the PPA 100 magazine (and there are comfortably 100 or even 1,000 more of these "chest-swelling" moments that could justify their inclusion in the list) to see that creativity is something our industry has - and has always had - in spades.

Keep the faith, Peter, together we can do this.

Barry McIlheney is CEO of the PPA and the ex-editor of Smash Hits and Empire.

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