Video: FIPP meets…Zed Zawada

Zawada is now CEO of Media Service Zawada (MSZ), a thriving Eastern European media owner that specialises in children’s magazines. As if catering to a niche demographic in a multi-language region wasn’t enough, Media Service Zawada also sits in the rather unique position in the media industry today of providing physical world toys alongside media content. 

In a colourful interview here exclusively for FIPP, Zed talks to us about licensing, brand partnerships, the nuances of European publishing, and why it’s important to (not) spot a niche in the marketplace.

Given your journey from EMAP, to Bauer, to MSZ, is it fair to say that you spotted a niche in the marketplace and went for it? (1:20)

“It would be lovely to claim to have spotted a niche like everybody does, but I don’t think anybody does, I think the niche spots you more than anything. I became the kind of go to guy in the emerging market of Poland, and Eastern Europe generally, for people who knew me in the British media industry (particularly the publishing industry). I set up the company originally as this kind of ‘ad-space broker’ for Bauer. We then became a publisher of Partworks, and then we started to experiment with launching our own titles in the Eastern European market.”  

We have of course seen a migration towards digital by younger adults over the past two decades. Is this true of children as well? (3:25)

“Absolutely. Children are consuming on both mobile particularly and on tablet. But they still buy magazines, because essentially of the cover-mounted gifts. And also there is a very strong parental approval. The parents don’t really approve of the tablet and mobile delivered material, whereas they approve of stuff that has got words and picture in it. Of course the mobile stuff has got words and pictures in it, but the parents seem to be more positively disposed to magazines.” 

How does publishing in the Eastern European market differ from Western Europe? (4:15)

“It’s interesting that in Eastern Europe we put much more educational content into our magazines as well as entertainment content, than in the West. We license most of our properties – things like Scooby Doo in Polish and Romanian – or Ben10 (one of our big sellers) – but we have to put educational pages in it, spelling and so on, because parents won’t buy it otherwise.” 

Will there ever come a time when print magazines no longer serve a purpose, even in the children’s market? (4:58)

“It’s only a matter of time really, more than anything else, when the generation that we currently sell to, which is 3-12 year olds, when they get older they will not have the nostalgic feel for magazines and newspapers that we currently have. That’s not to say that they won’t exist, but I think the business has and will change in that area. Except of course for this big issue of the three-dimensional item [the cover toy], which is why our niche exists at the moment and is growing and is very successful.” 

If that is the case what then is the future of successful children’s magazine publishing? (5:52)

“Most of our content is licensed from big content producers (the likes of Warner Bros and so on). So we’re linked in with a whole wide range of brands: it goes through the toy, the publication, the film, etc. and we currently for example have three publications that are linked with Lego (the Danish toy manufacturer), which has just recently even overtaken Apple as one of the best known brands in the world. And that has been a fantastically successful collaboration, so that is the direction its going.” 

And finally, could you just give us a brief overview of the current state of the Eastern European magazine market? (6:40)

“Eastern Europe is still growing very strongly and hasn’t had the kind of recession that the UK felt. It’s still from a low base but it’s going very strongly so it’s extremely good place to do business. You have this situation where everybody’s buying into the latest ‘stuff’, even if they have lower income levels they still buy the latest stuff so it will have an impact, and we have a very large amount of product that is available on screen and we will continue to develop that.”

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