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David Pidgeon 

PPA Festival 2018: How the publishing game changed forever

PPA Festival 2018: How the publishing game changed forever

"Content is king...just not on the page."

There you go; in a nutshell that's what magazine publishing looks like in 2018 and beyond.

Those words were spoken this week by the CEO of Immediate Media, Tom Bureau, who was speaking alongside the bosses of Hearst, Bauer and Shortlist Media at the annual PPA Festival. Bureau's words certainly demonstrate how magazine media has evolved in recent years.

We all know the pressure these folk have been under - print circulations are down, much loved titles have folded and new digital platforms have gate-crashed the party while gobbling up the adspend.

But through all of that, publishers are still publishing and it's the diversification of their revenue streams that is holding it all together. Many magazines these days are merely springboards to the new/real money - and readers are targets to be turned into consumers.

It sounds almost like a snare - and the term 'mousetrap' was actually used during Thursday's event - but if top quality content can lure an audience in and hold it there, then the opportunities to monetise look pretty tantalising.

Look at Immediate: it now owns a TV shopping channel, a jewellery making business, a wedding planning tool and is eyeing up a sewing and quilting market worth - wait for it - a billion quid. It just needs to use its published content to get into these ventures.

Shortlist Media, meanwhile, which publishes freebies in major cities, is now making £10m in revenues from a rapidly growing agency, Family, to supplement the revenues it makes from print and digital advertising. It just made its first TV ad.

Hearst isn't just busy publishing Good Living, Cosmo and Elle; it's offering consultancy and events and even making TV ads for people down in Mexico.

There's a reason publishers now describe themselves, rather exotically to outsiders, as content and experiential business, or intelligence networks.

What the bosses were keen to stress, however, is that their shift in focus will not disintermediate agencies - "we don't want to bite the hand that feeds," said Hearst's James Wildman.

Rather, by offering so much more than just traditional magazine content, the diversification of (branded) products is also helping publishers look more attractive to the media agencies who might have regarded the sector as if it was an elderly patient hooked up to life support.

By offering so much more, and by truly demonstrating that audiences can be converted into willing consumers, there is potentially more to offer than many digital pure-play operators do - whether they're the current star of the ball or not.

Publishers might have to work a bit harder and think further outside the box, but it seems to us they're succeeding for now. The trick will be to prove to the wider world, with evidence, that loyal readers are willing to pay for much more than just the cover price of a magazine. Magnetic, over to you...

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