The Apple Macintosh was expected to herald a cultural revolution in
publishing. It was going to ’let a hundred flowers bloom ... a hundred
schools of thought contend’ - as Mao Tse-Tung, executive publisher of
the Little Red Book, might have said, had he lived long enough to see it
Magazines, which involve more creative thinking and design than process
management, could be plotted from the back bedroom. Buy yourself a
couple of Macs, get some mates round, pluck some cool ideas from the
ether and just maybe you’ll be in business. In theory, it would be
possible to match the high production values of mainstream glossies
while doing what big publishers can’t even hope to do - run with some
exciting or even dangerous ideas.
The Mac, in short, would usher in a ’small is beautiful’ age. Moribund,
committee-run monoliths with generic names like the International
Publishing Corporation, could start numbering their days.
Well, it hasn’t happened, has it? And the latest blow to the theory came
last week with the news that Wagadon (one of the coolest ’small is
beautiful’ players, with a heritage stretching back even to pre-Mac
times) was effectively pulling out of the glossy women’s magazine
market. Its Frank title will no longer be a monthly - this summer it
will mutate into a quarterly.
And this is the second calamity to strike Wagadon in recent months. Just
before Christmas it announced the closure of Deluxe, its tilt at the
supposed gap between Loaded and GQ.
Wagadon’s editorial director, Nick Logan, stated last week: ’As an
independent, it has been hard to make an impact on the women’s monthly
market.’ Should the demise of Frank be mourned?
Some point out that Wagadon’s problem is that it isn’t really a small
publisher - Conde Nast used to have a stake, remember. And when it comes
to overheads, it acts like a very big publisher - in all areas except
marketing, that is.
For some observers, this is what really sorts the sheep from the
You can match big publishers in other areas, but when it comes to
marketing, you’re competing against their deep pockets, nerve and native
What sets big companies apart, in any sector, is that they are prepared
to buy market share.
Frazer Riddell, the account director on Mollin (another smallish
consumer magazine publisher) at MediaCom TMB, doesn’t believe that has
to be so.
He says: ’If you can command the resource to publish, you can raise the
funds to market it too.’ And, he adds, unlike the newspaper market, wars
of attrition are rare in magazines: ’If you’re a big player, you will
see threats coming from all over the place. You can’t afford to mount a
defence against them all.’
Other agency observers agree that you can’t draw strong conclusions from
Frank’s retreat - the niche Frank was aimed at just wasn’t big enough
and, in any case, the product just didn’t ’have it’.
Tim Kirkman, the press buying director of Carat, says that would be an
unfair analysis. ’Frank had a stronger unique selling proposition than
most magazines from the bigger publishing houses. Economies of scale do
have a bearing - even if it’s in something simple like ensuring you can
buy in the right face for the front cover. And that is vitally
important. There are awful magazines that keep going on the strength of
their covers,’ he says.
Kirkman would like to think that it’s still possible for a small
publisher to flourish in the mainstream. Anything, he states, to stop
the market’s seemingly inexorable slide towards bland conformity and
Many, though, remain sceptical. As one buyer puts it: ’Small outfits
feel they have a duty to be esoteric - and esoteric is by definition the
opposite of mainstream. What many small publishers don’t have is
discipline. It’s still eminently possible to produce a mainstream
magazine from a small publishing house - but they have to really, really
want to do that.’