The past 12 months have seen former distribution kingpin Comag posting nearly £4m (€4.5m) in losses, resulting in publishers Hearst UK and Condé Nast pulling out of the business. With the climate for distributors so gloomy, what’s the forecast? Smaller independent players may have the answer.
“There are a lot of changes, with major distribution companies going down or out of business,” says New York-based Didier Lerebours, founder of New Distribution House, which sells and distributes indie magazines and art publications. But he’s broadly positive about his own venture, believing that remaining small-scale and nimble will help in terms of finding new business in the indie segment, as well as adapting to a rapidly changing industry.
“One of the things our publishers value about us is that they can have a more personal service that suits their needs,” says Bryony Lloyd, managing director of Antenne Books, a distributor of independent art books and magazines founded in London in 2010. Their model is to work on a commission basis, rather than having a straightforward fee structure, which places greater importance on finding the right places for products to be stocked. To survive in the distribution game then, from their business models to the emphasis they put on offering a personal service, take some cues from the smaller players.
Bobby Bloomfield and Chris Howard first met in the English town of Reading as producer and musician respectively. Decades later they have joined forces to launch The Rattle, a co-working space kitted out specifically for music purposes. “The rattle is the first instrument you play as a baby,” says Bloomfield. “We’re also about rattling the music industry – and making a lot of noise.”
The duo are putting the finishing touches to the space in a former warehouse in London’s historic Tobacco Dock, set to open in February. The aim is to establish a sustainable music scene by hosting artists, music technologists and producers under one roof. Members pay £250 (€280) a month and gain access to The Rattle’s mentors, including Grammy-award-winning Imogen Heap and Steve Lewis, former MD of Virgin Music. “The industry is crashing and burning,” says Bloomfield. “We’re here to make a change.”
The power of print continues to defy the doomsayers. The following are ranked by their annual publishing revenue in billions of dollars; the US remains in the lead and sales are on the rise globally.
(In billion euros)
Swiss journalist Constantin Seibt and a team of 20 have launched Republik, an online news format designed to invest in the hard-hitting stories that traditional publishers no longer finance. “The journalism industry as we know it is on the verge of collapse; you can moan or you can do something about it,” says Seibt, who left prominent Swiss daily Tagesanzeiger to start his business, which is ad-free, independent and essentially owned by its readers as part of a co-operative called Project R.
“We’ve made our readers our boss – we want to win their trust,” says Seibt. He is convinced that projects like his are critical for the survival of journalism and a functional democracy. “We want to rebuild mainstream media. That’s our most ambitious task.”
Q. What would you spend €5,000 on?
Answer: “I’d buy family packs of vitamins and, most importantly, 80 cartons of cigarettes. That will keep up morale and, should we be a success, keep our pension spend low.”