FIPP Congress: You think it’s tough now?

Forty years ago, the magazine world was dealing with an oil crisis and the collapse of a title that once sold 13.5 million copies monthly. Mike Nicks reports…

They arrived with inspiring stories of magazine launches that reflected the turbulent era in which they lived, those delegates to the 19th FIPP World Magazine Congress in Stockholm, 1973.

A typewritten volume of the speeches made at the 1973 Congress creates a fascinating scenario of the successes, failures and challenges that faced the magazine media business 40 years ago.

There were certainly plenty of successes.

Albert Bonnier Jr, president of Sweden’s Bonnier Group, reported that half of the 30 home and family magazines in France had been launched in the last decade, while the sailing and motor-boating market in his home country was now served by seven titles, rather than the one of 20 years ago.

John H Johnson, the founder of Ebony magazine in 1945, reported that his monthly for the African American market in the USA was now selling 1,300,000 copies per issue. Patricia Carbine, a founding editor of the liberal feminist magazine Ms in 1971, reported that the first year’s circulation figure of 250,000 copies per issue had already soared to 500,000.

But there were towering clouds, on the horizon.

America’s Life magazine, whose photo-journalism had revolutionized the magazine world, had once sold 13.5 million copies per week, but had closed in 1972, a victim of a bizarre tangle of economics and changing tastes.

Television (and before that, radio) had needed only 20 years to acquire as large an audience as it had taken newspapers and magazines 300 years to reach, Hakon Stangerup, vice-president of Denmark’s radio network, pointed out.

And already, the possibility of the complete death of magazines was surfacing. “Will there be room at all for magazines in the future mass communications system?” Mr Stangerup asked. “Within recent months, some men have concluded…that magazines are doomed,” John H Johnson himself intoned.

“We have already discovered such a peculiar phenomenon as information overkill,” observed Sweden’s minister of education Ingvar Carlsson, referring to “information overload”, the term popularized by Alvin Toffler in his bestselling 1970 book Future Shock.

And the FIPP delegates had more than just the internal affairs of the magazine business to fret about.

Outside the conference hall, the world was being shaken by the 1973 oil crisis and the Arab-Israeli war, while on the last day of the year the British government, in an energy shortage provoked by a conflict with the nation’s miners, announced the infamous Three-Day Week. Just as well that typewriters were still in abundance, for you can’t power a MacBook Air by a candle flame.

So there were great similarities and great differences to our world today. A stuttering world economy and the challenge of the digital revolution is inclined to make us feel that the magazine business is going through the worst of times.

But publishers have been there before and survived.

And if there is one guideline contained in those 1973 conference speeches that might help the magazine media world today, it was probably the one contained in Albert Bonnier’s speech entitled The Recipe is No Secret.

“It is a deep love of people, a deep involvement in their lives and feelings and interests,” he counselled.

Whether the magazine media world communicates by magazine, book, website, social media, exhibition or any other means, the content has to demonstrate that love of the people.

The more things change:
“How to make money from the exploding technology of communications? That question should worry publishers of journals and magazines day and night.”
Rein van Rooij, editor-in-chief of Televizier in the Netherlands at the World Magazine Congress in London in 1971

‘Your basic competition is not from TV, cassettes or other mass media, but from people who would like to produce themselves’
Johan Galtung, professor in conflict and peace research at Oslo University, presaging blogging, You Tube and Twitter at the World Magazine Congress in Stockholm in 1973

“Broaden horizons, exchange information and do deals – that’s what Congresses help publishers do.”
Robin Wharmby, FIPP president 1973 to 1989 on the role of the World Magazine Congress through the years.

 “(Referring to international publishing) Competitors started to collaborate. They thought, ‘Why should I spend a lot of money to establish myself in a market where you are already established?’ FIPP has been a hub for everyone during these changes.”
Per Mortensen, former FIPP president through much of the 1990s to 2001 on the role of FIPP through the years

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