A view from Bob Wootton

Spark 2016: Younger audiences read more mags than the population at large

Bob Wootton reports back with some of the highlights from Spark 2016, Magnetic's annual magazine media conference.

UK magazine marketing body Magnetic held an excellent and well-attended second annual event – Spark 2016 – with a diverse spread of speakers and some great content in central London this week.

There was new research from Magnetic, CV Research and Carat, developing and adding weight to the long-standing notion of the trusted, influential relationship that magazines, notably printed ones, have with their readers through their passions. Involvement and dwell time trumps even their own digital incarnations and shames other online channels.

The notion of "shaker" and "mover" influencer groups seemed to get good traction among speakers and audience alike, though it was my first exposure to what I found to be a useful categorisation. Emma Presley of Starcount's interesting presentation on the influencer ecosystem could have done with a bit more time to convey both a new concept and some detailed findings. But I was curious to find out more and will be doing some further reading, so a result nonetheless.

Speaking from the floor, Pamco's chief executive Simon Redican helpfully reminded delegates that talk of younger audiences forsaking classic media formats was overblown, and that they read more magazines than the population at large.

Campaign editor in chief Claire Beale's interview with Elle editor Lianne Candy found two of the industry's most engaging and formidable players in round agreement.

"The editor is the algorithm" drew considerable sympathy, and it was clear that editorial is now both more commercial and indeed more joined up with commercial than it once was.

Candy also suggested that different standards were both necessary and acceptable within a single media brand – blog and vlog posts don't need to, can't and probably shouldn't have front cover production values.

As is often the case these days, regardless of the time of day an event is held, there was some delegate attrition at the break, so the earlier speakers spoke to the fullest house. But whatever their reason for cutting out, it was their loss as the best was kept for last and shame on you if you missed it. 

There was the inevitable – and quite justified – sniping at online channels that are hoovering up marketing budgets. This tack has always been dogged by some internal contradictions, especially for print publishers, most of whom have now diversified, if not migrated entirely, into online. Until today.

We don't see people of the nature and calibre of forensic cyberpsychologist (not a typo) Dr Mary Aiken at industry events often enough. She's a frequently-published academic working with Interpol and Europol and is a member of the advisory board of the Hague Justice Portal, a foundation for international peace, justice and security.

She's also the subject and co-author of the CSICyber TV series – in which she is played by a well-cast Patricia Arquette – and is an expert on how we are adapting and behaving in an internet-intermediated world and calls for a radical rethinking of our relationship with the Internet and a new digital age of consent for children.

So she was always going to be interesting, but what gave her standout was that she gave us – or me at least – a welcome and really useful new line in the sand.

She views the online search model as an ad-driven model, its algorithms designed to reap ad dollars. Just as it facilitates the pursuit of myriad interests and passions, so its filtering can also lead viewers into the extreme, unregulated and scary corners of the internet that increasingly concern society. 

Meanwhile, it's clearer and clearer that prime media will somehow need to be nurtured and protected, lest their revenues continue to divert to online channels that create little original high-quality, professionally-curated content of their own.

Overlay this thought on one of the consistent themes of the day –  the proven trust and influence that such safe, professionally-curated content like magazines enjoy – and publishers have something with which to clearly and confidently differentiate their growing digital offerings from the sometimes darker and always open waters online.

Professional publishers should make much of this and advertisers too should take note. All media are not the same.

Bob Wootton is the principal at Deconstruction.