Yes, magazines 'work', but show us the data

Last week's PPA conference covered a lot of old ground, yet there is an appetite for more insight, Louise Ridley writes.

Publishing+…that 78 per cent of consumer publishers’ revenues come from print was a reality check
Publishing+…that 78 per cent of consumer publishers’ revenues come from print was a reality check

There were few surprises at the Professional Publishers Association’s Pub­lishing+ conference, although one came 24 hours later when Easy Living said it was going digital-only. Had the news come a day earlier, it would have held a mirror up to the event’s proceedings.

Aptly, the programme focused on innovation and the digital future of the sector, with the PPA chairman, Kevin Hand, saying it should "never become an industry dominated by its rich heritage". The Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey (pictured below), noted that "the digital revolution is well and truly upon us". Salient words, but perhaps well-worn.

Points of difference over the past 12 months were rightfully showcased, such as Condé Nast’s college with Vogue-branded courses and Dennis’ investment in the multiplatform publishing company Contentment.

The reality check was the PPA’s Publishing Futures survey, which found that 78 per cent of consumer publishers’ revenue still comes from print products. In other words, innovations might be plentiful, but they are not yet cash cows.

This revelation underpinned the differing views throughout the day. As Haymarket’s Simon Kanter pointed out, print must be understood as "part of the media mix". The fact is, in financial terms, print remains the heartbeat of the operation for most consumer titles. However, amid the recognition of digital achievement, promoting this mainstay of the magazine business to agencies and consumers has not always been the priority of late.

An "Advertising+" session did address the issue head-on, with panellists including Charlie Meredith, the managing director of IPC Advertising, and Eve Samuel-Camps, a managing partner at Universal McCann. The moderator, Mark Palmer, the founder of Maverick Planet, championed the cause to promote magazines to the outside world, occasionally bristling with frustration when speakers stated with finality that "magazines work".

"I don’t think anyone dis­agrees with that," Palmer argued, "but we need the data to show how they work." A discussion on the limitations of ABC circulation figures followed. This unearthed a refreshing call to action for the industry to develop quicker reporting systems, to support its confident claims for the engaging power of print.

Nick Suckley, the managing director of Agenda21, added: "If we’ve proven that magazines work, then why are people not using them more? For digital, we are working with real-time data that tracks every­thing 24/7. For magazines, we are looking back at econometric dips from three months ago. Whether that data is correct or not isn’t the point – it isn’t coming out quickly enough. We’re going to get into a situation where there are media channels that are ignored because they are bereft of any data."

Samuel-Camps noted that young planners in media agencies were less likely to read magazines, and Mark Fiddes, the executive creative director at Yourbrand2, revealed a decline in skills for writing print ads among the newbies at creative shops.

There are no easy answers to the questions raised by the publishing industry’s transition, but if the PPA can focus on creating more research, honest debate and shared experiences like Publishing+, the challenges can at least be met head-on.