Observation - Issue 78 - Magazine | Monocle

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Every autumn at about this time (the very back end of September) the main players in the world of print media converge on a city that is well equipped to host hundreds of people responsible for getting your favourite newspapers and magazines onto shelves and into your tote bag on a daily basis. Distripress might not have the same kind of trade-fair brand recognition as the Frankfurt Book Fair, Mipim or ces. But if you’re a fan of going down to the newsstand to pick up your Sunday newspaper, your weekly must-reads and obscure journals with even more obscure publishing schedules, then Distripress is the most important game in town. And this year that town happened to be Cannes. One part of the fair is devoted to frenetic rounds of meetings (speed-dating for distributors and major purveyors of print) and the balance is focused on forums aimed at solving some of the industry’s issues. As such, it’s no surprise that Distripress doesn’t have the heady buzz that a digital developers’ conference might have or the optimism one might encounter at a summit devoted to electric-vehicle mobility, perhaps. Plus, many publishing groups are struggling to make the numbers work because they’ve been saddled with unsustainable business plans (killing off opportunities to make money in print while blindly investing in digital solutions that offer little user/advertiser upside) and lots of retailers (bookshops and newsagents) complaining that people are no longer reading off of the printed page. That meant that despite the sunny setting in the south of France and the chilled bottles of rosé from Provence, there were plenty of long faces from various parts of the industry. For sure, it’s far from easy being a magazine (or newspaper) publisher when every analyst is working against you and is declaring your industry dead. It’s even more tricky when many of your partners in the supply chain have started to look for other ways of generating revenue and no longer resemble places interested in news distribution. Despite the challenging climate, plenty of publishers continue to flourish on paper – even in the newspaper business. It takes a little more work than it used to but we believe that if the industry would follow a few simple steps, it could be in much better shape than it currently is. Below is a little manifesto we recently distributed to the sector:

  1. Decision time: Too many magazines and newspapers don’t know what they want to be. Should they be shop windows for websites? Are they platforms for pushing readers to digital outlets? Or are they cash cows that should be squeezed to finance other media ventures that never stand a chance of turning a profit? If they don’t know what they are, readers won’t know what they stand for either.
  2. Misguided approach: Readers haven’t lost interest in paper and ink. Instead, they’ve been pushed away by newspapers that take every opportunity to drive them online and continue to downgrade their formats and paper quality.
  3. Squeezed out: Despite cutbacks and downgrades by big publishers and retailers, there has been a surge in launches by small-scale publishers and a revival in magazine start-ups. Unfortunately, big retailers have painted themselves into a corner where they will only stock magazines that can pay to display.
  4. Watered down: The news retail trade is also confused. Shops that once offered a unique and diverse range of titles have started stocking sure bets (making them less interesting places to browse) and more general merchandise (making them less interesting as destinations to purchase in).
  5. Making a stand: However, there is good news from big publishers, who have discovered that investing in journalism and better-quality production values translates into a growth in circulation.
  6. Creative spaces: Equally, retailers who innovate, add to their ranges and create environments where readers want to spend time and buy things are growing. No surprise that tired outlets that fail to reinvent themselves are not only losing trade but are also the voices that say there is no future in print.
  7. Planning ahead: Dips in circulation and poor sales at kiosks have little to do with the surge of digital media and much more to do with short-sighted strategies that drive consumers away: poor journalism, shoddy print quality, self-service check-outs and confused merchandise ranges.
  8. You are what you read: Publishers need to offer a clear message to readers –we produce newspapers and magazines with which readers are proud to be associated. Just as consumers define themselves by owning the right accessories (think sunglasses, luggage, handbags and footwear), favourite titles serve the same function – something a tablet simply cannot manage.
  9. Print with purpose: Retailers need to be places of discovery, good service and strong design. More importantly, they need to be clear about their mission: being outstanding places to purchase fine print.
  10. In it together: The market is full of great journals offering excellent journalism and arresting imagery. However, they need distributors and retailers committed to delivering a diverse range of titles to stimulate curiosity, encourage regular (daily) visits and create a climate for discovery and loyalty.

If you find that your newsstand and bookshop are a little lacklustre then you might want to share our mini manifesto. If you’re in one of the pockets of the world where your newsstand has gone out of business then we encourage you to subscribe. Should you have an interest in this subject, professional or otherwise, you might also want to tune into editions 109 and 110 of The Stack: our weekly radio show on the print industry. As ever, questions, comments and requests can be sent along to me at tb@monocle.com. Thank you for your support.

For more from our editor in chief, read his column in the ‘FT Weekend’.

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