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Independent and print first - the Monocle strategy

Contrary to what most magazine brands are trying to achieve, deliberately not developing a dedicated digital format for the iconic Monocle magazine remains part of the Monocle brand strategy, delegates to the 42nd FIPP World Media Congress in Las Vegas learnt. 


Tyler Brule ()


Since its inception almost 13 years ago, the Monocle brand has grown into a rare global media entity focussed on quality print products combined with podcasts, short video, retail and some web elements. Being fiercely independent, explained Tyler Brûlé, Editor-in-Chief at Monocle, UK, on the first day of the 42nd FIPP World Media Congress in Las Vegas, has made it possible to decide how they wanted to develop their brand. Even more importantly, independance made it possible to decide what they not wanted to do, like deliberately not developing a dedicated digital format for their magazine.  

The London based Monocle, a family business, started almost 13 years ago with nine staff members. This has now grown to a team of 150 spread across other locations such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, Zurich, Milan, Los Angeles and Toronto. The magazine was launched to provide a briefing on global affairs, business, culture and design with the belief that there was a globally minded audience of readers who were hungry for opportunities and experiences beyond their national borders. Published 10 times a year out of Midori House in London the magazine has seen its sales grow to more than 84,000 copies in over 80 countries per issue with over 20,000 subscribers. 


Doing things the traditional way

Brûlé said as independent publishers they have had the freedom to decide what they do, and especially what they don’t do, such as not running any form of programmatic advertising on their digital products or producing a tablet friendly versions of their magazine. Their digital advertising is confined to “special collaborations” with brands. “Everything you see is done in a traditional way. We are not tablet friendly. It is just a series of PDFs.” This is because they believe the quality of a magazine printed on good stock paper with great design and photography “cannot be replicated in a digital format”.

As far as revenue streams are concerned, said Brûlé, their main income is still derived from advertising, largely driven by print. However, after experimenting with podcasts for nine years, they are seeing a significant growth in podcast income with growth in the last year being “probably” around 150 per cent. “This is really the engine for growth right now.”

Other sources of income include four special editions a year geared towards deep dives into readers’ interests attracting specialised advertising, 35 radio shows a week, most of which are sponsored, special edition newspapers, hardback books, travel guides and events such as sponsored conferences and summits. Newsletters now also provide income through clearly identified native advertising content.




Countering the demise of the news stand

Brûlé showed the audience a slide of a rundown and “unloved” news stand in an upmarket store in Honolulu in Hawaii, “stuck in a sad corner”. He said this reflects the fact that there are huge opportunities to improve the quality of retail for those interested in purchasing printed news and magazine products.

“If we look at the major places where we sell magazines, it is at international airports and major train stations. And what we have seen is an incredible evolution of retail spaces featuring great quality of design.” But, said Brûlé, this evolution did not happen for magazine and book retail. In fact, these days the outlets where you need to buy a magazine or book has nothing to do with magazines or books. “You have to fight your way through neck pillows and sippy cups… We (as publishers) don’t have an offering that is as compelling as some of the other (retail) sectors.”

One of the things Monocle has done to counter this trend was to, in collaboration with Hong Kong Airport, open a 1600-square-feet shop for magazines and books. “This is a proper bookstore. It is not only serving Monocle brands. You can buy the New Yorker and you can buy Der Spiegel and Paris Match…an array of titles (from all over the world) and then also a complete lineup of printed books in Chinese, English and other languages...”

He said this is the kind of initiative that should be replicated around the world. It will be of benefit to all publishers because it will improve the retail experience.


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