Media Forum: Can newspaper people do magazines?

Do newspaper publishers make good magazine publishers? Are there transferable skill-sets? You can accuse newspaper publishers of many things, but modesty isn't normally one of them. That's why, for ad agencies, they are, notoriously, the clients from hell - they're convinced they can turn out better creative work than anything their agencies could ever come up with and, what's more, they can do it in a fraction of the time.

Likewise in the field of consumer magazine publishing. Ask most senior newspaper executives about life's natural pecking order and they'll argue that while an experienced newspaper man or woman could comfortably make their way in the magazine world, the reverse is hardly ever true. Newspapers are a far more grown-up proposition, a tougher world where dilettantes are mercilessly exposed.

Sly Bailey, a former chief executive of IPC and now the chief executive of Trinity Mirror, might have something to say about that. She has, many times now, advanced the proposition that publishing is publishing however and wherever it manifests itself. Now, though, we might have a new way of testing the theory. Last week, Guardian Media Group took a 27 per cent stake in Seven Publishing, the company behind the foodie title Delicious.

Carolyn McCall, the managing director of Guardian Newspapers, points out that we will be able to draw limited conclusions from this move - Guardian Group is hardly taking control of Seven; and even though it may extend its portfolio of magazine investments in the future, it has no plan to impose its ideas on its publishing partners.

But the question is an interesting one, she says - and she reckons the most potent cross-over is to be found on the commercial side. She explains: "The prospect of using a newspaper audience to drive their subscriptions is an attractive one for a magazine business. There are mutual benefits and they will be leveraged for as long as both parties want it but we do not envisage it taking up much in the way of our management time."

Having said that, McCall says you can always learn from good products from publishers in any sector - and that magazine publications in some popular culture areas such as, for instance, music can teach newspaper journalists a thing or two, particularly about tone. "It's not easy to be witty and informative without being snotty," she adds.

GMG has advanced the theory that, as newspapers cede their primacy as news sources to digital media, their skill-sets must become more features-led and inspired by magazine content. And we know this can work because Richard Desmond, the proprietor of the Express titles, has driven it the other way. He has brought his magazine skills (the celebrity magazine skills at any rate) into newspaper publishing, with no small success.

Paul Thomas, the press director of MindShare, says the biggest gap in culture between magazines and newspapers lies in the area of advertising sales. He comments: "With magazines, it's a slower, softer business. Not in terms of rates, necessarily, but just in the tone they use. In comparison, many newspaper groups are far more aggressive in approach - they generally work in a market with a far higher level of competitiveness than you'll ever find in the magazine market."

Tim McCloskey, a managing partner of OMD UK, says that GMG can be relied upon to approach this area in an innovative manner. "It normally does," he states. "GMG will certainly learn from the experience. It has built successful website and radio businesses alongside its newspaper and Trader group interests and this venture, if successful, could well lead to more magazine launches with or without Seven."

He feels the theory about the two disciplines being different is widely believed by publishers themselves and, in the past, newspapers have generally steered clear of consumer magazine publishing.

But Ian Locks, the chief executive of the Periodical Publishers Association, doesn't quite see it that way. He concludes: "If we look at the two media over the past decade, the newspaper medium has not exactly been expanding.

In contrast, magazines have been doing rather better, so it is not surprising to see newspapers becoming more like magazines. I don't think that anyone was surprised when Trinity Mirror appointed someone with a consumer magazine background as the chief executive. News has become a commodity - while analysis and interpretation is print's great strength. It's probably only vested interests that seek to maintain the idea of different sectors in their silos. Look at what happens as publishers move into the online space - which part of the business they've come from is irrelevant."

- "We already publish magazines, from Weekend Guardian to Money Observer. There is a cross-over in skills on the editorial side and that can continue to be developed, but there is even more scope for development on the commercial side." - Carolyn McCall managing director, Guardian Newspapers

- "When magazine advertisers come into contact with newspapers for the first time, they sometimes can't believe how aggressive and arrogant they can be. Some are shocked when newspaper sales people take the 'our brand is bigger than yours' approach with them." - Paul Thomas press director, MindShare

- "Some suggest that newspaper proprietors can only concentrate on one day at a time. However, the Express titles have proved you can get more than a little synergy between the two sectors, with newspapers exploiting the resources of the group's magazines and vice versa." - Tim McCloskey managing partner, OMD UK

- "The newspaper industry now uses more magazine paper than magazines do. Newspapers are increasingly looking to magazines to build their businesses, whether it's in terms of borrowing ideas or investing in them as businesses." - Ian Locks chief executive, PPA.

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