Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

At last, a history of magazines

May 28, 2014
grub_street_book_cover

The jacket of ‘Grub Street’ shows George Newnes’ ‘Strand’, with its long-lived George Haité cover design, on an iPad

There has long been a gap when it comes to books about magazines in that there has been no substantial history of the industry. That is not to say there are no books that include elements of that history, but the academics Howard Cox and Simon Mowatt are the first authors to take on the complete story, at least for consumer magazines, with Revolutions from Grub Street.

The book takes as its starting point the days of Grub Street – once a real street in London’s Moorfields that by 1630 had given its name to an area where hack writers lived. Grub Street was ‘much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems’, according to Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary of 1775, and is today Milton Street.

Dr Johnson and his fellow hacks aspired to move closer to the publishers that employed them, in the centre of the printing and publishing industry around St Paul’s Cathedral. By 1882, Fleet Street had taken over as a shorthand for the ‘whole spirit of the English Press’. Johnson himself moved to Gough Square at the north end of Wine Office Court, an alley that runs from Fleet Street up the side of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub (rebuilt in 1667, having been burnt down the year before in the Great Fire of London).

Fleet Street came to embody the publishing industry because it led to where printing had been established. Wynkyn de Worde had moved Caxton’s printing press to set up a print shop in Shoe Lane after the latter’s death in about 1500. The site is marked by a plaque at the livery hall of the Worshipful Company of Stationers (itself rebuilt after the Great Fire) on Ave Maria Lane, near St Paul’s.

Cox and Mowatt have written a densly-referenced but brisk summary of almost 400 years of magazine-making, of clear interest to academics and researchers in business and strategy. Both authors specialise in business history and Cox wrote The Global Cigarette for OUP. They collaborated on a  paper, ‘Networks, Relational Assets and the Internationalisation of Consumer Magazine Publishing‘, the theme of which contributes to this book. They describe how magazine publishing companies developed from the Grub St era by exploiting developments, first in letterpress printing on exemplars such as the Family Herald, and then powered machinery, to meet the demand for popular reading matter from an expanding, and more literate, population.

Penny weeklies and sixpenny monthlies leapt at the opportunity provided by illustrations, famously by Punch and Illustrated London News with their upmarket fare for the middle classes. In 1881, came the publishing sensation of George Newnes’ Tit-Bits, which used innovative journalistic and marketing techniques to help establish strategies for the million-selling popular weekly. Alongside Arthur Pearson and Alfred Harmsworth, these magazine publishers evolved into the massive press baronies of the 20th century that made Fleet Street famous across the world. Grub Street concludes by charting events since the mid-20th century three-way merger that created the giant IPC, and the factors through to the present day that saw it lose its near-monopoly position – but it and its rivals run into the challenge of today’s digital competition.

The book bases its story on events in company structures and the development of the unions, as well as technology. It is weaker on the influence of specific titles and individuals; for example, Stefan Lorant (Pictorial Weekly, Lilliput and Picture Post) is barely mentioned (and his name is mis-spelt). Also, it has a limited scope, focusing on mainstream consumer publishers and rarely touching on trade magazines, newspaper supplements and contract magazines.

However, Grub Street will  at last enable course leaders on magazine journalism and publishing courses to address a gaping hole in their syllabuses.

Revolutions from Grub Street: A history of magazine publishing in Britain by Howard Cox and Simon Mowatt, Oxford University Press, 288 pages, £35

More mobile phones in India than toilets

October 3, 2012

That’s my fact of the day. It comes at the end of a summary of a presentation by Enders analyst Benedict Evans about mobile media strategies. It includes contributions from Immediate Media (BBC Magazines), the Financial Times and Informa.

Digital magazine developments

Is the digital Daily Mail really in profit?

July 26, 2012

Media Week reports that the Daily Mail’s website has gone into profit and Roy Greenslade has run a comment. But how exactly has it happened? MW reports:

The site’s unparallelled growth in vistors over the past five years has been achieved by fewer than 30 people in the UK, a team of 20 in New York, and 10 in Los Angeles.

But 60 is far too low a headcount for be writing all that copy, which suggests only journalists working directly on the site are costed. All the content of the Daily Mail – and journalism does not come cheap – must come across for free. The website is spiced up with totty frothy stories but the paper’s content gives it the coverage to be an online force. To give an idea of the size of the operation, DMGT, the parent company, cut 105 jobs in the quarter – but still employs 3,809 people across the Mail, its Euromoney financial division and other operations.

The paper’s turnover was £435m – MailOnline is set to generate just £30m this year. It may be in profit but it is still a pimple on the print empire – and wholly dependent on it.

Industry profile: UK newspapers