Archive for the ‘strategy’ Category

Reed, Pearson and Future: lessons in media strategy

January 8, 2020
12 magazine logos: Some of the magazine brands Future in buying from TI Media

Fifteen of the 41 magazine brands Future is buying from TI Media

In my days as a media academic, I developed a case study comparing the corporate strategies of Reed International and Pearson. Their progress has been brought back to mind as I ponder what Future is planning for the 41 media brands it is buying from TI Media. These are the remnants of what used to be IPC – Britain’s ‘Ministry of Magazines’ as it was called for its massive size and bureaucracy – and one of the biggest divisions of Reed back in 1980.

At a basic level, it’s a nice little project to map TI’s list of iconic brands, against Future’s justification for the £140m purchase. What divisions would you put the purchased magazines into? And why? Notice that Future lists Country Life in both the Lifestyle and Home Interest ‘verticals’; so where should that venerable title – founded in 1897 – belong? I argued two years ago that it was one of brands being neglected under TI:

[Moving Country Life out of London into a business park] suggests a lack of investment by its owners. However, even if this penny-pinching strategy leads to a decline in Country Life‘s fortunes, its history and contacts should enable it to attract a better owner – and its history can never be taken away. If I were the editor, I’d be trying to do a management buy-out.

And what will Future do with all the yachting and boating titles – sport or lifestyle? Do the hunting and shooting titles fit Future’s skills and company ethos? Where does CelebsNow belong? That’s the digital stump of Now, all that’s left since the magazine, which had a reputation for upsetting celebrities, closed in March last year. Is it worth pushing further into the celebrity sector?

Future’s managers will no doubt be running the Boston matrix over their purchases, deciding which ones are a good fit, which stars to fund for their growth potential, and which dogs to close or sell on to companies where they are a better fit. The UK periodical publishing industry is nothing if not dynamic.

200 years of Reed and Pearson history

More at the business degree end of things, Reed and Pearson are fascinating companies and between them encompass the fortunes of a huge part of British magazine and book publishing for much of the past 175 years. They are among only 28 survivors of the original companies in the FTSE 100 when the index was created in 1984; Future did not yet exist. Yet Reed and Pearson both have their roots outside publishing.

Reed started out as a papermaker in 1895, growing quickly alongside the boom in magazines and newspaper publishing that created a massive demand for newsprint made from wood pulp. This was a time when Fleet Street was the centre of the global media world and Reed’s business brought it into contact with printers, publishers and the building trade. Being a well run and profitable company, it had the cash to buy up companies in these sectors, so by 1980 Reed Group controlled IPC Magazines, Mirror Group newspapers, Odhams printers, Crown wallpapers and paints, and Polycell, among others.

Financial Times eggcup photo: Pearson owned the FT from 1957 to 2015

Pearson owned the FT from 1957 to 2015

Pearson was founded in 1844 as a building contractor and evolved into an international group working for governments across the world. If you’ve ever been to Malta, some of those Valetta harbours and fortifications are of its making, as are chunks of infrastructure in New York, London, Cairo and Mexico. It was also big in oil services. In the 1950s, Pearson became a conglomerate running a portfolio of companies in five sectors: financial services, publishing, oil, manufacturing, and investment trusts. The assets included Lazard bank, the Financial Times, the Economist, Penguin, Longman, Westminster Press, Yorkshire TV, Château Latour, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton and Madame Tussaud’s. The only common factor was that each one was regarded as being the best in its field.

Future was founded in 1985 by Chris Anderson (now better known for heading up the TED talks). Future’s first title was Amstrad Action, a games magazine for owners of Alan ‘Your Fired’ Sugar’s Amstrad computers. It was produced cheaply using computer technology outside London and the company then expanded into hobbies such as cross-stitch as a self-professed ‘anorak publisher’. Pearson actually owned Future for four year from 1984 as it pursued growth in multimedia.

Reed and Pearson were both massive and successful companies, with market capitalisations of £2.4bn and £1.7bn respectively in 1988. However, conglomerates were out of fashion and found it hard to justify their strategies to the financial markets. They were regarded as takeover targets that were more valuable by being split up; and Pearson was described as a ‘collection of rich man’s baubles’. They decided to change their strategies and concentrate on media – both were founder investors in British Satellite Broadcasting in 1989. However, they met with very different results.

All change in 1990s media

The May 1994 first issue of Loaded - a landmark title under James Brown

The May 1994 first issue of Loaded – a landmark title under James Brown

Reed sold its building divisions, newspapers and print plants; out went book publishing and IPC, publisher of iconic magazines such as Country Life, NME, Woman’s Own and Loaded. By 1990, it had changed analysts’ views – they regarded its share price of 443p as undervaluing the company compared with other international publishing businesses. It then merged with Elsevier, a Dutch professional publishing group, and concentrated on information and data that could be sold internationally over digital networks at high prices.  It moved up the ‘value pyramid’ in marketing jargon, away from high volume, low value fiction paperbacks and weekly magazines into expensive, global professional information and data. The nearest it kept to a consumer magazine was Reed Business Media and New Scientist – and that went in 2017. The strategy was a great success and Relx, as the company is now known, has a market capitalisation of £37bn and employs 30,000 people. Its share price is 1,905p and it is ranked 15 in the FTSE 100.

Penguin logo: Penguin was controlled by Pearson from 1970 to 2013

Penguin was controlled by Pearson from 1970 to 2013

Pearson sold Penguin and its other consumer imprints to concentrate on academic and educational publishing, student testing, and the FT and Economist. The strategy worked and by 1990 its shares were at 777p. The share price shot through the roof in the ‘dotcom boom‘ of 2000 – peaking at about £24 – because the company was seen as a ‘digital play’ for investors. But that bubble popped. The company’s valuation recovered to about £14 under former Economist publisher Marjorie Scardino as she pursued a ‘learning company’ strategy, but has since bombed under her successor John Fallon. He sold the FT and Economist to focus even more on education and testing, but exposed the company to falling sales as students and schools in the US cut back on buying books, its digital distribution did not take off and the share price dropped like a stone. Today, Pearson has a market capitalisation of £5bn and employs 24,000 people. Its share price is 634p, and it has dropped to 96th in the FTSE 100.

So, in 1980 Reed had a market capitalisation half as big again as Pearson’s; 30 years later it is seven times as big. Two conglomerates tried to focus on digital media, Reed executed the strategy far better.

So, what about Future?

Amstrad Action magazine first issue cover: Future's first title magazine in 1985

Amstrad Action was Future’s first magazine in 1985

Bath-based Future is a minnow compared with Reed and Pearson, just 35 years old with a market capitalisation of £1.4bn and 1,200 employees. It is ranked at about 240 on the FTSE. Future went through the dotcom bubble – publishing Business 2.0, which mapped the hopes for the ‘new economy’ – and nearly became a cropper through over-expansion and reliance on the US economy.

Now, Future plc has a similar level of turnover per employee as the enviable Reed. However, does it really have the skills and resources to exploit the historic shift being forced on periodical publishing by digital media? Investors think so. Future’s share price tripled in 2019 because they reckon it can buy up moribund print magazines and turn them into digital goldmines. That’s what Future says it will do with the 35 magazines and six websites it has bought from TI Media. What do you think?

 

Magazine titles: what’s in a name?

February 20, 2018
Title from the first issue of men's monthly Loaded-in 1994: for men who should know better

Title from the first issue of men’s monthly Loaded in 1994: for men who should know better

My mention of Private Eye editor Ian Hislop included his editorial philosophy on the satirical magazine. He sees his job as to:

Make jokes about what people know and then tell them things they don’t know.

Simplifying an editorial strategy to a few words is a great skill. Today, companies have their ‘mission statements’ but magazines have been coining these for centuries. What is the magazine about? What is it about a magazine that is different from its rivals?

A Tit-Bits cover from 1955

A Tit-Bits cover from 1955

For James Brown’s Loaded, it was ‘For men who should know better’; for the science fiction weekly Scoops in 1934, ‘Stories of the wonder-world of tomorrow’; FHM‘s mantra coined by Mike Soutar was ‘Funny, sexy useful’.

George Newnes came up with the not-so-pithy title Tit-Bits from all the Most Interesting Books, Periodicals and Contributors in the World for his pioneering weekly magazine in 1881, which was soon shortened to Tit-Bits.

Sometimes, the title goes a long way to saying it all: Answers to Correspondents, Men Only, Motor, Woman, Razzle. But even in these cases, differentiation is needed from rivals.

Alfred Harmsworth's Home Chat from 1895

Harmsworth’s Home Chat from 1895

Think of the woman’s weekly Home Chat. The name dates back to an Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) launch in 1895.  Would House Chat have been as good? Or Home Talk? Or Fireside Chat?

Probably not, and certainly Home Chat lasted until 1959, when it became a victim of new technology in the form of television. The word ‘chat’ was resurrected for the weekly Chat by ITV/IPC in 1985, though by that time the word ‘home’ was a no-no for a woman’s magazine.

A rival to Home Chat was Home Notes (1895-1958) from C. Arthur Pearson. This carried a line of poetry on its cover: ‘The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,’ by the US poet William Ross Wallace. This summed up the influence of the mother, but today it has sinister connotations.

Charing Cross magazine took its name from a famous place in London -1900-first-issue-magazine-cover

Charing Cross magazine took its name from a famous place in London in 1900

Many Victorian publishers took their titles from fashionable places in the world’s greatest city. Examples include Cornhill, Pall Mall, The Strand, Charing Cross.

In doing so, they spread the fame of these thoroughfares and places even farther around the world, in a way that song lyrics would do in the 20th century (Ferry Across the Mersey, Wichita Lineman, Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa) and TV does today (Jersey Shore, The Only Way is Essex).

Many magazine titles have changed the meaning of words, or at least influenced our perception of them, such Punch, Eagle and Delayed Gratification.


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


 

What’s a magazine worth? Country Life

January 1, 2017
Country Life magazine front cover of Prince Charles, 12 November 2014

Country Life magazine front cover of Prince Charles, 12 November 2014

Two people have emailed me asking about Country Life. The first writes:

I have a number of editions of Country Life magazine dating from 1976 to 2015; BBC Gardener’s World most of 1992-95; about 20 editions of the Royal Horticultural Society journal Garden from 1994-95 and Gardens Illustrated from 1994 and 1995.  Most are in good condition.

And the second:

My friend has every single issue of Country Life from the mid-1960s to the present date. Are these of interest to you? If not, then any ideas? They are all in perfect condition. Located in Central London

Selling magazines on eBay

Ebay has become a massive place to sell magazines, with 700,000 on sale at the moment. Narrowing things down to Country Life, there are 2,617 copies for sale. But will they sell? In the past six months, 2,082 lots have been listed (some of these will have been listed more than once). Of these, 261 lots have sold – a rate of 13%, or about one in eight.

How much does a copy of Country Life sell for?

In terms of price, the biggest listing sold was a lot of 1,400 copies from 1989 to the present day, which fetched £100 (7p a copy). A lot of 280 issues from the 1970s fetched £75 (27p a copy). A 1927 quarterly bound volume sold for £19.99, plus £10 postage.

Country Life magazine front cover 1963 January 10

Country Life magazine front cover, 1963, January 10

In terms of single issues, the highest price was a best offer accepted against £65 on what appeared to be a copy of the first issue. I say ‘appeared to be’ because I have seen facsimile copies of the first issue – and there was nothing in the listing that would convince me it was a real first issue. This is where the expertise of the seller comes in and any buyer at such a price should ask some searching questions. Next highest price was £25 for eight separate lots.

Of the 246 copies that sold, 98 (about 40%) went for £5-10 (including postage). This would suggest that unless you are selling pre-1980s copies, and are keen to sell, £9.99 including postage should be your top offer price. Only 71 of the 246 listings (about 30%) were auctions, most were buy-it-nows.

Single issue price (inc post) No. sold
less than £3 11
£3-5 79
£5-10 98
£10-15 38
£15-20 9
£20-30 11
246

Is there a pattern in what sells well on eBay?

Yes. Pre-1955 issues achieved the best prices and are the rarest. The eight copies that sold at £25 were all published during the First World War. However, these copies appear to have been bought by the same person – it may have been a collector or it may have been someone buying for a one-off reason, for example a museum preparing for an exhibition. There is no guarantee that someone else selling the same issues would get the same price.

A 1955 three-month bound volume sold for £20 and a 1903 volume for £25 (2 bids). All the single issues that sold for £15-£20 were dated before 1946. They were all on a buy-it-now listing.

What else can the eBay data tell us?

EBay listings can have a lot of data attached to them, though some of it can be incomplete or contradictory. In the case of magazines, the year and month can be added for example, though most people do not do it. So, of the 2,082 sold listings I’m analysing, only 347 gave the year of publication. This, however, leads to an interesting finding, as we’ll see in a moment. First, the overall figures.

Country Life sales based on eBay data for 347 lots
No. listed No. sold Sold (%)
2010s 67 18 27
2000s 7 1 14
1990s 71 8 11
1980s 17 3 18
1970s 35 19 54
1960s 78 26 33
1950s 44 18 41
1940s 28 4 14
1930s 1
1900s 7
347 105 30%
All lots sold 2082 253 12%

The most popular decade in terms of number listed was the 1960s, with a third of these sold. However, the 1970s (54% sold) and 1950s (41% sold) had a better success rate. Note the figures for the 1990s – 71 listed but only an 11% success rate.

The really interesting figure comes when you compare the selling success rate – 30% – for the people who filled in the year data with the 12% success rate for all the 2082 copies sold. It seems that people who fill in the year field are three times as likely to sell their copy of Country Life! Why should this be so? It can’t be just down to a factor such as buyers searching on a year, because most sellers put that in their listing title. It is probably because these are more expert sellers. The fact that they go to the trouble of filling in the extra data points to their doing everything well.

What about the gardening titles?

First, Gardener’s World. Not a great seller simply because there are so many around – it’s been the best-seller almost since its first issue; it is well produced so lasts well; and is a comparatively new title (early 1990s launch). The most a single issue has fetched recently is £3.99 (inclusive). It’s a similar story in terms of price for the RHS’s Garden (£3.50) and Gardens Illustrated (£4.99). However, bundles of these titles do seem to be selling, for example a dozen copies for £20 plus postage (£5.50). This is better for buyers and spreads the postage cost (which can be as much as is being asked for the magazine!).

First issues of Country Life

As either a seller or buyer, be careful of first issues of Country Life – is it the real thing or a modern reproduction? The giveaway is the printing technique. Most magazines before 1950 will have been printed letterpress, with gravure for big run titles between about 1930 and 1990. The first issue of Country Life was letterpress, so should show signs of the impression of the type on the pages. Modern copies using offset lithography will be smooth.

Is Country Life worth collecting?

Country Life magazine front cover from 2009, December

Country Life magazine front cover from 2009, December

Yes. It has a long, distinguished history and is of interest to scholars in many areas as well as collectors of many goods besides magazines. The target market has always been the upper classes with grand houses, scholarly tastes and an interest in rural affairs. The advertising is of particular interest to upmarket estate agents. It is a weekly, has always had a strong element of news and so has documented changing tastes in high society. The size of this market is limited and so sales have never been substantial – today it sells about 40,000 copies a week.

Country Life was one of the titles that expanded the fortune of George Newnes, who had founded both Tit-Bits and The Strand, when he teamed up with the printer Edward Hudson in the 1897. Gertrude Jekyll wrote the gardening column. The early issues are also of interest to architectural historians, with some excellent writers, reflecting Hudson’s own passions and love of civilised English life. Hudson was key in establishing the career of Edward Lutyens and commissioned the architect to restore Lindisfarne Castle.

The Newnes publishing company became part of IPC in the 1960s and Country Life was later published by the UK arm of the US publisher Time Inc. The company’s offices at 110 Southwark Street in Borough, London, were a stone’s throw from where Hudson had his family printing business, Hudson and Kearns, at number 83, and in nearby Hatfields. The company dates back to 1831 but was subsumed into Keliher, Hudson and Kearns, though that company no longer exists.

The early editorial offices for Country Life were in Southampton Street, Covent Garden. In the early 2000s, Time Inc UK seemed to be dismantling the company and sold off many titles. It also sold the Southwark Street office and moved some magazines out to reduce costs. Country Life now has an address in a business park in Farnborough, Hants, suggesting a lack of investment in the title. However, even if this penny-pinching strategy leads to a decline in Country Life‘s fortunes, its history and contacts should enable it to attract a better owner – and its history can never be taken away. If I were the editor, I’d be trying to do a management buy-out.

To sum up

Country Life is a magazine worth selling on eBay. Pre-1990 issues can fetch a good price (£15 and upwards), but more recent copies are likely to sell for £5-10. I haven’t noticed any particular issue selling well. There are some copies of a 2014 Prince Charles issue being offered for £30+, but I think these sellers are going to have to wait a long time.

Gardening titles are not worth spending time on and are probably better off being sold in bundles – check the weight and offer as many as you can while staying in the cheapest postal band.

The finding that people who fill out date fields for a listing are three times as likely to sell their magazine suggests that building up eBay expertise pays off.

>>Hints & tips for buying and selling magazines on eBay


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


 

MagCulture’s Jeremy Leslie on BBC Radio 4

November 30, 2016
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Jeremy Leslie runs the MagCulture blog and shop

Jeremy Leslie is on BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought tonight, giving a 15-minute explanation of why reports about the death of magazines are so exaggerated. Anyone interested in magazines will have noticed all the niche print titles that have opened up even as the behemoths close down.

The state of the mainstream men’s sector is a classic example – with the likes of Loaded, FHM, Maxim, Nuts and Zoo going to the wall, while a thriving independent sector has ensured there are more titles around than for decades.

The designer and  MagCulture founder will address the questions of why this has happened even in the face of the digital onslaught that’s at the top of the media agenda and whether the trend will continue (of course it will!).

I was at the MagCulture shop  when the recording was made this month – with a certain level of irony because I’d just just come from the Printers Unite conference at the Karl Marx Library where I was delivering a paper on how magazines and newspapers responded to print disputes.

A happy end to a magazine

February 3, 2016
Last issue of Amalgamated Press's War Illustrated on 8 February 1919

No sad ending: the last issue of Amalgamated Press’s War Illustrated on 8 February 1919. Allies from the Empire (to the left) and Europe are portrayed with a statue of Victory

The demise of a magazine is normally a sad time but note the cover line below this image on the front of War Illustrated from 1919: ‘The Happy End’. The cheery angle came about because this issue marked the end of the Great War after more than four years of slaughter. Also, the magazine was about to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of closure with a different name – New Illustrated – the next week. In essence, it was being relaunched with a different name and editorial strategy under its editor JA Hammerton.

Alfred Harmsworth’s Amalgamated Press had a winning team on its hands under Hammerton and the back cover ran his editorial ‘An end and a beginning’, along with an order coupon for the next issue. Yet, relaunching a magazine is always a challenge – keeping the established readership while attracting new buyers is very difficult.

John Hammerton was one of the most successful editors of his generation. He is best known for his work with Arthur Mee producing magazines and partworks that were then republished as some of the best selling books of the day. These included the Harmsworth Self-Educator, Harmsworth’s Universal Encyclopædia and the Children’s Encyclopaedia. In 1933, his Popular History of the Great War was published in six volumes. So, Hammerton set about the task of changing the editorial philosophy of War Illustrated from one of recording a war’s progress to creating New Illustrated as ‘a fascinating pageant of the living history of our own times’.

First, the changes were announced several weeks in advance with a competition to come up with a name for the relaunched magazine – and a tempting £100 prize. This was at a time when a soldier’s pay was about £1 a week, so such a fortune was great publicity. For a month, the back page ran its editorial focusing on the idea with introductions such as: ‘Some of my readers have asked me to help them think of a title for the successor to the War Illustrated … I am yielding to the requests that have reached me by giving a very brief outline of my scheme.’ (By ‘very brief’ Hammerton means the whole of the back page.)

The War Illustrated was launched to record the progress of the war in photographs and illustrations and was designed to be bound into annual volumes. The format was an A4-ish page size on newsprint. Each issue was 32 sides plus the covers (wrappers in the language of the day) and they were numbered sequentially: issue one, 1-32; issue two, 33-64, and so on. Later issues added a four-page centre section printed gravure, which gave a much better reproduction for photographs and raised the pagination to 36 plus 4.

New Illustrated kept to this format and initially looked little different. The volume strategy was still in place with the new title being seen as a ‘continuous sequel’ to War Illustrated. However, as the issues went on, the martial content was slowly decreased. In April, a marked shift took place with a switch to gravure covers. Hammerton announced:

there is nothing quite so costly as the photogravure process which the New Illustrated is introducing for the first time to popular British journalism

Very good artists were always used, such as Harry Rodmell and Francisco Sancha, and the photographs would have looked amazing at the time. May saw a woman on a cover – Lady Diana Manners dressed as Britannia. Manners was one of the leading socialites of the day, and is better remembered today under her married name of Lady Diana Cooper (or as the great aunt of Tory prime minister David Cameron).

From June, the covers always showed women and colour was introduced with dazzling designs befitting the start of the Jazz Age and illustrations by artists such as Billy Bunter illustrator Leonard Shields and photographs by Lallie Charles – who, with her sister Rita, was one of the most successful portraitists of the early 1900s. The women portrayed were shown in the latest fashions, or at parties or at play in the snow, or using the latest technology in the form of the telephone.

New Illustrated starts to change its name to Record Weekly in 1920 (January 17 issue)

New Illustrated starts to change its name to Record Weekly in 1920 (January 17 issue)

However, depression set in as the economy struggled to switch from wartime to peacetime thinking with millions of demobbed troops looking for work. So the start of 1920 saw another relaunch in progress. The masthead became ‘The Record New Illustrated Weekly’, though with the emphasis still on ‘New Illustrated’. With each issue, the emphasis changed until Record Weekly fully emerged from its chrysalis in March. However, the strategy failed and 20 March saw the last issue.

This might finally have been the end of War Illustrated, had not an Austrian painter called Adolph Hitler come along to give rise to World War II. Hammerton – by then Sir John Hammerton – dusted off the War Illustrated strategy and the magazine rose again to record that conflict in a similar way.

EF Skinner's signature on the War Illustrated illustration (8 February 1919)

EF Skinner’s signature on War Illustrated (8 February 1919)

The illustration for the last issue of War Illustrated is by Edward Frederick Skinner, whose works are held by both the Science Museum and the Imperial War Museum. These paintings all depict industry and factories harnessed to the needs of war, but Skinner was a varied and sought-after artist, as the Father Christmas image and the lengthily titled ‘High Priest Coifi riding up Goodmanham Lane to smash the Idols‘ from Little Treasure Island by Arthur Mee (Hodder & Stoughton, 1920) show. The much-enlarged signature here also highlights the crude tones produced by letterpress printing as compared with modern colour lithography.

New media the old way

September 11, 2015
Marie Claire magazine 'native' cover - online term for advertorial

Marie Claire ‘native’ cover – online term for advertorial

It’s a familiar story: a new media entrepreneur comes up with a way to generate free content, markets the idea like billy-o, scales it up into a mass-market product and then sells advertising around it to earn a fortune.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, you may be thinking. But no, I’m talking 1880s Britain and the products are the world’s first mass market media in the shape of Tit-Bits and Answers to Correspondents on Every Subject Under the Sun. They found sources of cheap content from their readers (today’s term: user-generated content) or by summarising other published sources (aggregation). Like Google is doing now, the founders of these magazines, George Newnes and Alfred Harmsworth (later Lord Northcliffe), expanded into related areas, with daily newspapers, map books, novels, puzzles, part works and educational products among their output. Founder Alfred Harmsworth regarded Answers as ‘a sort of Universal Information Provider’ – today it would no doubt be shortened to a UIP.

These Victorian new media companies moved into the new century spreading their products across the globe. They became vertically integrated by owning forests, paper mills and print plants, and grew to dominate both Fleet Street – the world’s media hub – and the London stock market. They segmented their readerships – Newnes kept Tit-Bits for the mass market and launched the Strand and Review of Reviews for richer, more educated readers. Harmsworth launched the Daily Mail for a greatly expanding reading public that wanted a simpler, more entertaining presentation and the Daily Mirror for a new type of reader, women office workers, and then to exploit the potential for photographs.

Buying newspapers such as the Times brought press barons such as Harmsworth into the establishment, today’s media magnates sponsor oxbridge colleges or join government advisory committees.

Branding, social media, niche marketing – these modern-day terms would be immediately obvious to the Victorian pioneers. Are there lessons for today’s start-ups and entrepreneurs, as well as intriguing parallels in their work? Well, yes. The first is that readers/viewers/users – people – become more discerning. They want niche products more closely aimed at them: for Tit-Bits/Strand/Review of Reviews swap YouTube/Facebook and LinkedIn (and it won’t stop there); in terms of hardware, see Marshall with its ‘loudest mobile phone on earth‘ as a niche for those bored with iPhones. And, yes, these modern-day products will soon be commodities for many buyers.

Furthermore, social marketing was a vital tool for the Edwardians, in their case as postcards delivered locally on the day and real word-of-mouth. Entrants to competitions would have to have their postal entries signed by five friends; exhortations at the head or foot of magazine pages would encourage readers to tell their friends about articles. Today, they pass it along on Twitter and blogs.

Building the ‘brand‘ with imagery and colour was vital – Tit-Bits used green for a century, Answers yellow, and another weekly rival, Pearson’s Weekly, a pinkish red (the colour of the British empire on world maps – hence the pun on the masthead, ‘read wherever the world’s red’). That Answers yellow can be seen to this day on the Coffee Time Chat pastimes page in the Daily Mail.

Yellow colour and logo date back to a Victorian magazine from Alfred Harmsworth that was the foundation of the Daily Mail empire

Yellow colour and logo date back to Answers to Correspondents, a Victorian magazine from Alfred Harmsworth that was the foundation of the Daily Mail empire

‘Native advertising’ is a recent term used online for what was an advertorial a few years ago, as in Marie Claire‘s Luisa Via Roma cover. It’s part of a ‘cross platform initiative encompassing print, digital, social media and events. Compare the Marie Claire cover above with the Popular Flying cover below, under Biggles author WE Johns. The pilot illustration has been commissioned to work as a cover image and integrate with the ‘You Can be Sure of Shell’ advertising campaign.

This Popular Flying cover from 1934 integrates the Shell advertising

This Popular Flying magazine cover from 1934 integrates the Shell advertising

As the Roman writer Terence may have said: There’s nothing new under the sun.

Time turns NME into a freesheet

July 7, 2015

The image used to head the NME freeesheet  announcement The image used to head the NME freeesheet announcement

The message from Time Inc UK, the US-based  owner of what was IPC, came out as gobbledegook:

Iconic brand NME today announces the latest stage in its evolution as an audience-first global media business. As well as a new nme.com and digital products, in September NME will become a free weekly magazine. With music firmly at the heart of the brand, NME’s authority will be the gateway into a wider conversation around film, fashion, television, politics, gaming and technology.

According to Marcus Rich, chief executive:

This famous 63 year-old brand was an early leader in digital and has been growing its global audience successfully for the best part of 20 years. It has been able to do so because music is such an important passion and now is the right time to invest in bringing NME to an even bigger community for our commercial partners

NME was a digital pioneer for IPC, as both a driver of the Unzip CD-Rom and one of the company’s first websites, alongside New Scientist and Uploaded.com (who remembers that?). It is the last survivor of the ‘inkies’ – the tabloid weekly music papers that once numbered Melody Maker (which dated back to the 1920s and put a toilet roll on its last cover), Melody Maker, Disc, Record Mirror and Sounds – and sold in their hundreds of thousands.

Has such a freesheet strategy ever gone well for the magazine that started it all?

 

Self-referential covers at Christmas

April 20, 2015
A 1929 Tit-Bits Christmas extra issue with Santa delivering the issue on which he is depicted

A 1929 Tit-Bits Christmas extra issue with Santa delivering the very issue on which he is depicted

Two cheery Christmas covers from the 1920s and 1930s with the magazine in question being part of Santa’s Christmas Day delivery. Tit-Bits from George Newnes favours the cover referencing itself while the Amalgamated Press magazine Popular Wireless uses a different recent issue.

Christmas special issues in the form of colour supplements, issues covering two weeks or extra issues were popularised by titles such as the Illustrated London News in the Victorian era. The strategy is still followed today by magazines as varied as New Scientist, The Economist, Private Eye and Radio Times.

Popular Wireless has Santa dropping off a standard issue of the magazine from his sack while an expectant-looking boy watches from behind the door in 1933

Popular Wireless has Santa dropping off a standard issue of the magazine from his sack while an expectant-looking boy watches from the door in 1933

In computer coding circles, the act of a routine calling itself is known as ‘recursion’ and was popularised in home computing by BBC Basic in 1980. A similar ‘recursive’ illustration approach as Tit-Bits on a different title can be seen on a 1946 issue from John Bull.

The Science Museum has digitised the first issue of Popular Wireless.

 

 

 

 

 

What was the first teen magazine?

April 18, 2015
A colour cover for Crusoe magazine of January 1925

A colour cover for Crusoe magazine of January 1925

Received wisdom has it that teen magazines are an invention of the 1940s in the US with Seventeen (1944) or Honey in 1960 in the UK.

Of course, launching a new magazine – and, in this case, setting out to create a new sector in response to an expanding section of the population – is all about strategic thinking, editorial leadership, great presentation and marketing. You know the sort of thing:

1924 Crusoe advert

1924 Crusoe advert

A magazine for the rising generationIf you are still in your teens you will like this great new magazines, for it is published especially for you. It is unique of its kind and everything from the thrilling stories of adventure, sport and mystery to the illustrations and special section devoted to all hobbies and recreations, strikes a new note.

Yet this is not the language of 1944 or 1960. Instead, it is the copy for an advert on the inside back cover of a supplement to Tit-Bits from 1924. And the magazine being promoted is Crusoe. No doubt you’ve never heard of it. Possibly because it came out 90 years ago and did not last very long, just 12 monthly issues from June 1924 to May 1926.

At 7d (seven pennies in the days when 12 made a shilling and 20 shillings a pound) it wasn’t cheap – the weekly Tit-Bits itself cost 2d and the monthly Strand a shilling.

The publisher was the great George Newnes Ltd, which had built its fortune on creating genres, with the likes of the mass market weekly Tit-Bits (1881), the Sherlock-Holmes-led monthly Strand (1891) and country house weekly Country Life (1897).

A spread from Crusoe with an illustration by Glossop

A spread from Crusoe with an illustration by Glossop

John Cassell, Quiver and the Aldeburgh lifeboat

April 8, 2015
Lifeboatman in 1908 on the cover of Quiver magazine from a photograph by Swinburne, Aldeburgh

Lifeboatman on the cover of a 1908 Quiver magazine from a photograph by Swinburne, Aldeburgh

Take a trip to the seaside town of Aldeburgh in Suffolk and one of the sights, alongside the Adnams in the White Hart, the fish and chips and the Moot Hall, is a modern-day lifeboat station. The photograph of this lifeboatman with his bulky cork lifejacket on the cover of a 1908 copy of Quiver magazine is credited to ‘Swinburne, Aldeburgh’. I thought it was James Cable, who was associated with the lifeboat for 50 years, 30 of them as coxswain, from 1888 to 1917. However, Catherine Howard-Dobson, a volunteer curator at Aldeburgh Museum, which is in the Moot Hall, tells me it is probably of another lifeboatman, Charlie Mann, who took over as coxswain and then did this legendary job until 1929. In fact, Charlie’s father, William Mann, was awarded a Silver Medal with Cable in 1891 for their heroism in rescuing the crew of a Norwegian barque, Winnifred of Laurvig. William Mann was then assistant coxswain, and Charlie took over from him in the post in 1903 when his father died.

The original photograph of lifeboatman Charlie Mann used for the Quivermagazine  cover is held by Aldeburgh Museum

The original photograph of lifeboatman Charlie Mann used for the Quiver magazine cover is not on display but can be seen at Aldeburgh Museum

Incredibly, the museum actually has the same photograph of Charlie Mann, and she sent me the image seen here. Note that the background has been removed on the Quiver cover and replaced so the flat colour can be extended up under the magazine’s masthead. Also, Mann’s shoulder on the cover is wider to the right than the photograph. This would certainly have been possible for the magazine’s in-house touch-up artists (and so many people today think image manipulation only came in with  Photoshop!).

Catherine has tried to find out about the photographer, but nothing precise has turned up. However, she has a theory: ‘There was a family living in Snape with the name Swinburne in 1911. The father was a retired inspector of schools and the son a priest. I imagine these to be the kind of people who would have the time and equipment to take photographs in 1908; this is only conjecture.’ Without jumping to conclusions, Catherine’s idea rings true because the religious leanings of the family chime with the religious bent of Quiver.

Quiver carried appeals to raise funds for various good causes – and a particular favourite appears to have been the lifeboats. John Cassell, in his history of the company, mentions that by 1922 its readers had contributed £15,000 to various funds, including the biggest sum, £2,662, to the Lifeboat Institution.

Quiver was a fiction-focused monthly from book publisher Cassell, which was based at La Belle Sauvage on Ludgate Hill, just down from St Paul’s Cathedral. Cassell had moved into the 15th-century building during the 1850s, but the former inn was demolished in 1873 to make way for a railway viaduct, with the company building new premises behind.

John Cassell, the company’s founder, came up with the magazine’s concept and strategy in 1861:

I have got the title, the Quiver — a case for arrows, and we can have long arrows and short arrows — arrows, however, which shall wing their flight and tell their tale, all coming from this quiver of ours.

It was described as:

John Cassell’s New Weekly Journal, designed for the Defence and Promotion of Biblical Truth and the Advance of Religion in the Homes of the People. [The Quiver] will be evangelical and unsectarian in its character, having for its grand aim the intellectual, moral, and spiritual improvement of its readers. Its staff of contributors will include some of the ablest writers in the sphere of religious literature, irrespective of denominational differences.

The magazine changed its format several times over the years and fewer of the contents had a religious theme, though the magazine never forgot its roots. Quiver closed in 1926.

The Story of the House of Cassell by John Cassell (1922)