MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON: PUBLISHING ON THE INTERNET; Should magazine publishers be rushing on to the Internet?

Print publishers want to stay ahead of the online game, Alasdair Reid says

Print publishers want to stay ahead of the online game, Alasdair Reid


Lots of publishers have been dabbling with the Internet in the last year

or so - everyone from technical business magazines to the Conde Nast

glossies and the major national newspapers. It’s all desperately

fashionable but there’s always been a feeling that most of the players

are there merely because everyone else is.

Do they really believe that online publishing will be a mainstream part

of their businesses?

They may be about to find out sooner than they’d anticipated. The

Internet is great in theory, but its emergence as a mass medium is still

seen as a rather distant prospect. It needs someone to come along and do

what Alan Sugar and Rupert Murdoch did for satellite broadcasting.

Someone, or something, like British Telecom, in fact. Last week, BT

announced that it was preparing to launch an easy access system for the

Internet aimed at residential and small business users. It won’t be

cheaper than existing systems but that, argues BT, isn’t the point. BT

hopes that it will begin to generate mass interest because it is a

trusted big-name company and its arrival will help to ‘legitimise’ the

market - in other words, convince people that it should be taken


It can also put its considerable marketing expertise behind the venture

and is planning a significant campaign to launch BT Net, with direct

response press ads through O&M Direct.

It’s not going to spark an overnight revolution - you already have to

own a powerful personal computer - but it could be a big stride in the

right direction. Is this good news for publishers? Or should it fill

them with alarm? Is their bluff about to be called?

IPC Magazines has been an enthusiastic adopter of the new technologies.

It participated in the initial stages of the BT Colchester interactive

trial and then transferred its loyalties to the rival Videotron

Cambridge test. Many of its titles are available online and others, like

the New Musical Express, are due to follow suit. Mike Matthew, chief

executive of IPC Magazines, admits that there’s some truth in the notion

of publishers getting involved because they are ‘scared to miss the bus’

altogether. But he argues that, for publishers, the opportunities

outweigh the threats.

‘We like BT’s initiative and it’s good that things are moving forward

quicker than anyone could have predicted even six months ago,’ he

states. ‘The real knack will be to be truly aware of how quickly it’s

moving on the consumer front. Yes, you can miss the bus, but it would be

equally dangerous to get too far ahead of yourself. There is still the

potential to lose your shirt on this. We are well placed. Much of what

we do on the New Scientist is commercially viable and though it is tiny

in revenue terms compared with the rest of our business we continue to

take it very seriously indeed.’

Another company which does have undoubted commitment - both from a

content and a commercial point of view - is Conde Nast. Colin Lansley,

the company’s director of special projects, says that BT’s aim of taking

the Internet mass-market will bring its own problems. ‘Capacity will be

an issue and content providers will have to decide whether to have one

site or a number located around the world. But the important thing

remains content. It has to be superb because that is what will separate

you from the rest.’

Lansley concurs that BT’s commercial nous could add a fresh impetus to

the Internet, and says Conde Nast is ready to capitalise on that. ‘We’ve

developed a lot of expertise on the commercial side. We look forward to

a day when everyone has access - and it will not be as far off as you

think. As far as we are concerned, the commercial opportunities are