President of the Czech Publishers Association Jaromír Skopalík looks at trends in the magazine sector…
The 39th FIPP World Congress was held in Rome in September, and was attended by more than 700 delegates from more than thirty countries. This is the largest international meeting of magazine publishers, where future trends and strategies are discussed.
The sunny weather was something of a reflection of the atmosphere and the relaxed air of the speakers. It was all coordinated by pleasant Brits from the secretariat in London, under the auspices of FIPP president and CEO, Chris Llewellyn.
Without any exaggeration, this congress was vastly different to all the other magazine or newspaper conferences I have attended so far. I do not mean only for me, but also for the other foreign delegates, including my colleagues from the Czech Publishers Association and the director of business media, Tomáš Tkačík. This was only confirmed during our discussions between the individual blocks of presentations.
So how exactly was the FIPP global conference different? Primarily it was pleasantly confident in terms of the publication of magazines as a profitable business with a future.
It was as if the individual speakers from all over the world – CEOs and presidents, publishers or editors-in-chiefs – had actually made an agreement and so, in spite of the differences in the content of the presentations, they all had one thing in common: they stopped considering the fastest possible, even precipitous transfer to digital media to be the most important theme. They stopped focusing, as the most important issue of their business activity, on transferring the content of magazines into electronic form and being stressed over the difficulty of the task of completing the whole effort in the black.
The three-day meeting convinced me that the publishers once again realise where the most important part of their business lies, and have begun to think about what is most important –the content and quality of magazines.
However, I would not like to create the erroneous impression that the magazine publishers have decided to confront the unstoppable trend towards electronic media. That, metaphorically speaking, they are barricading their current positions and will not reflect the trends that have already been playing out in the media for some decades.
At the FIPP conference it was clear that they are looking at the whole issue from the right angle: going forward by focusing hard and thoughtfully on the most profitable (the only profitable?) part of their business – magazines. However, they will do this with an eye to the future. This means thoughtfully building other future, electronic business units around the fundamental of the magazine portfolio.
This position was unequivocally expressed in the presentation of, for example, Peter A. Kreisky from the US consultants Kreisky Media Consultancy with reference to Bob Carrigan of IDG through his quotation “We are publishing magazines for their profit and doing digital for future growth”.
In that same lecture we also heard what was a thread running through practically all the other lectures, namely the idea, “Digital first, but not digital only!”
On-line activities as an extension to magazine publishing understandably differ with regard to differing publishers and the focus and the content of the published magazines. For example, with a publisher that has a successful travel magazine this involved the on-line sale of holidays, while a fashion magazine publisher is selling clothes over the internet. One publisher of gaming magazines focuses on on-line sales of games, and so on. There was a clear effort to acquire feedback from on-line users and to use it to improve the magazines. This category includes cooperation with bloggers, designers and other creative people.
A separate path to the consumer in various forms and on various platforms is a combination of electronic and paper subscriptions with significant variability, not only in terms of the way content is delivered, but also the target groups.
Last but not least, cooperation between magazines and searching for synergies with other types of media has been shown to be effective, for example in the joint creation of chats, blogs, designs, videos, concerts, documentaries, etc.
The on-line activities of publishers clearly show that primarily e-commerce is a more and more important path to sales.
On the second day of the conference, focused on publishing, there was practically no presentation that did not include information about e-commerce. This included specific examples of how successfully the publishers are working with e-commerce. Some did not hesitate to publish the type of information about their digital efforts that is published only very rarely. Fabrizio D’Angelo, CEO of Hubert Burda Media Holding and the new FIPP chairman said in a discussion that the Burda group generates over 50 per cent of its total revenues from electronic media, 27 per cent of which from e-commerce.
At the end of my thoughts about the value of the 39th FIPP conference for the whole sector, I would like to return once again from the digital future of the publishers to their paper-based present.
The trend in magazine sales is not, even though it might appear so, only downwards. The reality is the opposite on some markets, including large and developed ones.
One such example is the Italian publisher Cairo Group. Just like other publishers it is working on its on-line future, but is currently developing primarily magazines. From the mouth of President Urban Cairo we heard and, in the graphs used in the presentation, saw for ourselves growth in issue sales and company profits that engendered respect. The owner has succeeded in turning a local media agency into a company with a turnover of €300m. It is the fastest-growing media company in Italy, and one that has succeeded to practically continuously increase the sold print runs of its magazines from 2004 up to the present.
Another example of the potential for growth in magazine sales from another part of the world is the women’s magazine Femina, published by Worldwide Media in India. This magazine has now reached its highest-ever readership figures, around five million readers per issue.
I will close my thoughts about the value of the FIPP conference in the same spirit as that so clearly present throughout the whole meeting. With the results of an opinion poll about experts’ ideas of the future of the sector. 51 per cent of them are optimistic about the future of magazines and 21 per cent very optimistic.