Archive for the ‘customer publishing’ Category

£10 to New York and the inflight magazine

March 17, 2015
Freddie Laker's Skylines magazine cover from 1981

Freddie Laker’s Skylines magazine cover from 1981

One of the most popular online stories yesterday morning was Jane Wild’s story about Ryanair working towards £10 transatlantic flights.

Such cheap flights from Europe to the Americas have long been a dream – most famously espoused by Freddie Laker with Skytrain in the 1980s. So popular were Laker’s flights that the US embassy in London had processed 300,000 non-immigrant visas by April 1981 – and was expecting a total of 1m for the year. This meant there would be as many Britons going to the US as US citizens holidaying in Britain – and the rise was attributed to Laker by the US consul. Yet, as Wild points out, no airline has managed to run a transatlantic service offering rock-bottom fares and turn a profit. Some went bust trying, including Sir Freddie’s Skytrain in 1982.

And for every airline, there is usually an airline magazine. The 1981 Skylines cover shown here summarises the typical contents for such magazines, then and now:

  • Dustin Hoffman – a dust of celebrity sparkle;
  • Wine without tears – encouraging readers to dip into the duty free and buy more drinks;
  • The Laker story (and the cover) – it’s marketing material after all;
  • Money wars – business and finance for the executive travellers they are keen to attract;
  • About your flight – answering the questions and pushing other services;
  • Short story – for those who want to switch off.

But the 1980s was the era of deregulation, and by 1985, the US airline People Express and Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic were following Laker in taking the transatlantic fight to British Airways. And just as BA has been the airline to beat on that route, for the past 40 years BA’s High Life has been the inflight magazine – and for much of that time the contract magazine – to beat (I remember ‘whoops’ in the office when the InterCity magazine I was editing for British Rail beat High Life in the National Readership Survey).

Cover of BOAC's inflight magazine Welcome Aboard in 1970

Cover of BOAC’s inflight magazine Welcome Aboard in 1970

Before BA and High Life, there was BOAC and its Welcome Aboard, where the covers focused on encouraging exotic international travel and used relaxing poster covers devoid of cover lines. These days, High Life magazine ‘gets in front of over three million people every year, who spend an average of 36 minutes reading it’, says its customer publisher, Cedar. And it has spun off lots of add-ons, becoming more than a magazine, with a travel website, iPad app, social media content and inflight entertainment package.

High Life inflight magazine cover from November 2012

High Life inflight magazine cover from November 2012

Cedar also boasts that High Life uses ‘some of the best editors, writers and photographers in the world, including Michael Palin, John Simpson and Rankin’. And that’s certainly true of many customer magazines. InterCity was launched by former Nova and Observer Magazine editor Peter Crookston and former GQ editor Paul Keers took over when I left.

Magazines such as High Life and InterCity were key to the development of the customer magazine industry in the early 1980s, led by contract publishers such as BBC/Redwood and Cedar.

The first issue cover for Carlos, an inflight magazine for Virgin in 2003

The first issue cover for Carlos, an inflight magazine for Virgin in 2003

These days, inflight magazines for the budget airlines tend to be functional, with tit-bitty city profiles and short lifestyle features for their short-haul flights.

One magazine that set out to break the mould was the illustration-led  Carlos for Virgin Airlines. This thought of itself as more of a fanzine than an inflight magazine. It was loved by other editors and designers and won awards for its launch and design from the BSME for publisher John Brown. However, like earlier creative titles such as Town and Nova, it failed to make commercial sense for the airline, lasting just three years and six issues. It was replaced by Travel Notes in 2006. The Atelier Tally blog has a post of covers and details.

To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design


Marie O’Riordan, loyalty and magazines

July 20, 2009

Former Marie Claire editor Marie O’Riordan has popped up again, heading up the launch of a contract title for John Lewis at John Brown with a focus on fashion, beauty and the home (with Vanessa Thompson as editor).

In an interview for In Publishing with Meg Carter, O’Riordan questions whether mainstream publishers have caused disloyalty among their readers with free cover gifts such as flip flops. She also makes some comparisons between consumer and consumer sectors:

‘Magazine teams within the contract sector tend to be leaner and more agile. I have found people at John Brown move quickly and easily between different sectors … You just don’t get that in consumer publishing where people are very much tied to individual titles and, over time, people and thinking can become institutionalised.’

It seems O’Riordan wants to have her cake and eat it. Women’s magazines, particularly weeklies, have long relied on their readers’ loyalty to keep them coming back to buy the same title issue after issue – and where’s the line here between loyalty and being institutionalised?

Staff on magazines get to know their readers well and it takes time to build up an understanding.  Of course, that loyalty can become a drag when change is needed, but it can also be a strength. (Editors can see loyalty as a strength when it’s backing them up and ‘reluctance to change’ when the tide is running against them.)

Some questions to ponder:

  1. Did Harri Peccinotti become institutionalised on Nova? After all, he was art editor for the first issue in 1964 and was still taking photographs for it in 1975. Did he help keep Nova going or drag it down?
  2. IPC blamed the closure of Honey on the lack of co-operation from the staff with new editor, Glenda Bailey. Who was right?
  3. The contract publishing industry was built on the fact that readers trusted magazines. Are readers showing any sign of loyalty to contract titles?
  4. The big women’s magazine publishers in Spain ran an experiment in thte early 1990s. They banned cover mounts for a month. The result? Sales for the sector fell about 30%. It was deemed to be monopolistic behaviour by the EU so no-one’s been able to try it again. So, are cover mount a good thing?

Customer publishing profiles at

So much for the great magazine divide

May 19, 2008

‘Sara Cremer, the former editor of such consumer titles as New Woman and Eve,’ writes Ian Burrell in the Independent, ‘has been lured across the great magazine divide to become editorial director of Redwood Publishing.’

‘Great magazine divide?’ What divide?

Redwood was started 25 years ago by former Daily Express editor Christopher Ward and Campaign publisher MIke Potter.  Its editors in the 1980s included Peter Crookston (Nova and the Observer Magazine), Paul Keers (GQ), Tony Hilton (Times Washington correspondent) and Richard Barber (Woman’s Own and TV Times).

These editors and many others bounced between the two sectors – Keers worked on Cosmo, later Redwood,  then newspapers before GQ and then back to Redwood before founding contract publisher Axon with Redwood production director Ellen Brush.

Redwood wasn’t unique in this respect then and the phenomena hasn’t gone away. Cremer is just one example among many.

Customer publishers profiled
Consumer publishers profiled

Magazine for customer at Dennis

March 2, 2008

Press Gazette reports that Dennis is launching a customer magazines division: ‘Dennis said its digital magazines will use online tracking tools which will allow the client to monitor its customer’s consumption of the title.’ Let’s hope its clients have more than the one customer.

Haymarket sidesteps criticism

January 10, 2008
Camoflague magazine cover
Haymarket’s contract arm has refused to comment on accusations that its title  Camouflage glamourises warfare, saying it is a customer title published for the army.

The attack comes from the influential Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, whose researcher told Press Gazette that describing a tank as ‘reeking of power’ and war as ‘raining down lead on the bad guys’ was unethical.

If the publisher is happy to send the title out to schools, it seems odd that it won’t defend it. After all, Haymarket Network commissions the work – and would land in court in any libel case. But there’s no doubt a lot of politics involved – something Michael Heseltine, the company’s founder, knows all about, having been Margaret Thatcher’s defence minister.

You can see him below as a whistling cherub at Thatcher’s feet on the famous Sunday Times Magazine cover (21 April 1980) below

sunday times

The rise of customer magazines

December 10, 2007

Four of Sweden’s top 10 magazines by circulation are now customer titles. In the UK, the figure is eight and in the Netherlands, five, according to a feature in FT Deutschland. The paper’s website has the article in English with German translations that pop up for tricky words such as ‘mushroomed’ (wie Pilze aus dem Boden schießen). And as long as it uses phrases such as ‘heavy-handed encomium’ it’s going to need that glossary.

Agency or publisher?

July 8, 2007

There’s been some debate around about whether a contract publisher is an agency (as in advertising) or a publisher with editorial credibility (see Folio). For Mike Potter, one of the founders of Redwood, the answer was definitely ‘agency’ (he came from ad sales at Haymarket) but the company had editorial credibility in Chris Ward – former editor of the Daily Express (whose big splash was ‘Intruder at the Queen’s bedside). The company also hired big names such as Peter Crookston (former editor of both Nova and the Observer Magazine) and Tony Hilton (Times Washington correspondent).

Being owned by the BBC for several years and launching most of the BBC titles didn’t do any harm either. It was Potter who drove the establishment of the Association of Publishing Agencies and Redwood is now owned by an advertising agency.

But a piece on the APA website really marks the divide: ‘Proof that Redwood is an agency rather than a traditional publisher, lies in employee benefits that include a company yoga teacher and reflexologist, birthdays off and a Christmas shopping half-day.’