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Bauer's Munro-Hall: 'Stop bemoaning the decline of print'

10 May 2019  |  Michaela Jefferson 
Bauer's Munro-Hall: 'Stop bemoaning the decline of print'

Publishers have to stop mourning the good old days and instead invest in producing quality content if they are going to successfully change the conversation about magazine media, Bauer Media Group's co-head of global publishing and CEO of UK publishing said this week.

"If we're struggling to bring younger audiences on, or advertisers feel they need to go elsewhere to get their messages out, rather than feeling sorry for ourselves we've got to be more proactive about what we're going to do to make our products more sexy and more exciting," Rob Munro-Hall said, speaking at the PPA Festival 2019.

"The products we're creating today find an audience naturally. The challenge is therefore to make sure that the quality of what we're producing is good enough to bring those people back.

"We've got to get more on the front foot of actually believing that we can do that."

Speaking to Mediatel, Munro-Hall said that has to include finding new ways to provide content and experiences that "excite" audiences using alternative platforms.

"And we've got to do that in a positive, pro-active way, rather than bemoaning the decline of print. There's no point or value in that," he said.

For Bauer, publisher of magazines including Grazia, Empire and Take a Break, that currently means creating and acquiring digital businesses "that our audiences can talk to", as well as investing in more events to operate as "brand extensions" to its magazines and newspapers.

Motorcycle News, for example, continues to sell as a weekly magazine, but also has a "very successful" website through which second-hand bikes can be bought and sold direct, hosts shows and events, and also sells insurance.

"Having a way to talk to that audience across lots of different platforms means there's lots of different opportunities to monetise, and that makes a really interesting business model," he said.

"We're not selling print products on a weekly or monthly basis. We're selling [consumers] lots of different products and services - and actually, the transaction value that we charge on those products and services is far higher than the price of a magazine."

Munro-Hall also expressed interest in expanding the business's podcast offering - though he admitted that scaling the proposition would be a challenge, and said Bauer would be looking to aggregate its podcasts' audiences to sell collectively to commercial partners.

However, he added that print still remains the core of Bauer's publishing business. Though the publisher is tight-lipped when it comes to exact revenue figures, he confirmed that the majority of its revenues are "circulation-based", including newsstand sales and subscriptions.

At a time when other magazine publishers are rapidly closing titles as circulations plummet and advertising budgets move elsewhere, Munro-Hall said Bauer is therefore committed to "doing whatever we need to do" to grow its print portfolio further.

The past six months alone have seen three new print magazine launches from the publisher - Crime Monthly, Take a Break Makes, and Pilot TV.

Meanwhile - following Bauer Media Group's restructure last month, which saw him move into the newly-created CEO of UK publishing position whilst continuing to co-lead the global business - Munro-Hall said he is also focused on streamlining communication throughout the business on an international level.

"My challenge is to make sure that we do actually understand what the opportunities and benefits are of working across international territories," he said, adding that by having more formal communication, the business is able to share interesting concepts that have worked in one territory and use them elsewhere.

Despite the ongoing challenges magazines face in an increasingly digital-focused marketplace, Munro-Hall is confident in the long term success of both Bauer and the magazine industry as a whole.

"We've clearly got, like our competitors, brands that are going to be around a very long time. Some of those brands have already really successfully diversified. We need to do more of that," he said.

"And maybe [publishers are] going to have potentially smaller print portfolios, but bigger businesses on digital platforms or as experiential businesses. Our businesses should change."

"But there's no point bemoaning the fact that print is in decline. It's our responsibility to put print on the map for being famous and special for all the reasons we know it can be."

Asked whether he sees a future without print, Munro-Hall said: "No, absolutely not."

"I think it will change quite a lot from where it is now, and there’s a lot of factors for that. Selling magazines at retail is going to get harder, so where we sell magazines we’re going to have to be more selective.

"But print magazines will be around [for] a very, very long time."

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