The newly redesigned Hotline, Virgin Trains' in-carriage magazine,
invites immediate comparisons with Hot Air, the Virgin Atlantic
in-flight title, which was itself redesigned this year under the former
Arena editor, Ekow Eshun.
It's not just the Virgin connection, the "Hot" prefix or the timing of
the two revamps. The fact is that Hotline's new look seems designed to
move the railways' custom publishing closer to that of airlines - a move
that seems designed to bring in more ad revenue as well as to help buff
the image of Virgin's west coast rail service.
In many respects, Hotline has pulled this off admirably. The look is
clear, modern and stylish and seems to owe much to Eshun's work on Hot
Air. In fact, the editorial environment is so good that a couple of very
nicely shot photo pieces - an essay on tower blocks and a spread on
modern architecture - don't appear out of place.
There's much to be said too for some of the editorial content,
particularly at the front of the magazine. Sharp paragraphs on the state
of cod fishing in Britain, the importance of whispering sweet nothings
into your beloved's left ear and research that suggests we need to think
less all proved fairly stimulating once I'd decided to dip in.
But that's where the first problem comes for Hotline. The editorial mix
covers so many bases that it struggles to persuade a passenger that it's
worth trying out. This isn't really a fault in the redesign, rather a
problem with rail publishing in general, and one that Virgin and John
Brown Publishing haven't quite managed to overcome. From the range of
articles at the front, it's hard to know whether we are entering a
would-be Wallpaper, a Time Out-style listings title or a health and
Another generic problem persists in Hotline's inability to tear itself
away from train-related content. The introductory letter (from Virgin
Trains' chief executive, Chris Green) seems mostly interested in tilting
carriages. The first three pages then deal with Virgin Trains news
before shooting, with no introduction, to the cod piece.
Virgin, like GNER, persists with a destinations listing service,
highlighting what to do at the various cities enroute. I've often
wondered about the wisdom of this, since passengers rarely catch a train
without having plans for what they'll do at the other end.
That said, there's still enough room for a substantial features well,
and Hotline gets a good mix together here too. There's surprisingly
accessible coverage of business, fashion (the centrepiece, a Stella
McCartney profile), sport and art and the variety makes up for another
one of my train magazine moans - the lack of any truly provocative
Publisher: John Brown Publishing
Print run: 200,000
Full-page ad rate: £3,500
Advertisers include: Bose, Admiral Insurance, Neville Johnson