Book review: How To Launch A Magazine In This Digital Age

How To Launch A Magazine How to Launch a Magazine in this Digital Age
By Mary Hogarth. Edited by John Jenkins.
Bloomsbury, 2014

Disclaimer: I am a contributor to this book.

Falling share prices, magazines folding and journalist redundancies – these are the symptoms of an industry attempting to grapple with the decline of print media and the rise of digital. The much-heralded success of free print publications Shortlist and Stylist have been rare highlights in the last bleak few years. Is the consumer magazine industry in the UK in terminal decline or will publishers ever truly embrace the digital age?

 

Thankfully, How to Launch A Magazine in this Digital Age spends little time reminiscing about the ‘golden age’ of the glossies, when magazine giants such as EMAP entered the FTSE 100 and lad’s mags had monthly circulations of over half a million.

 

As the title suggests, this is a modern book which discusses the workings of the Apple Store and Zinio, alongside essential traditional skills like working out paper costs and ad revenues.

 

It is curious how relatively few books there are about the magazine industry compared to those analysing newspaper production. Perhaps it is the case that the latter are seen as having a much greater role in the fourth estate and therefore deserving of more study by default. Although surely Private Eye, The Economist and New Statesman magazines also play a key role in the public sphere? When you drill down into books on the business side of magazine publishing, you find even fewer texts on the virtual bookshelf. Although the excellent Magazine Editing: In Print and Online by John Morrish and Paul Bradshaw, now in its third edition, is a rare exception and remains both a classic and modern textbook. So How to Launch A Magazine is a much needed practical contribution to the discussion.

 

It looks at the magazine biz in all its various forms, including the often overlooked areas of B2B and contract publishing. This is a book that certainly does what it says on the tin. In its 12 chapters it takes the reader from initial planning and finding a gap in the market right through to a successful magazine launch. I would have perhaps liked to have seen the interactive nature of audiences highlighted more in chapter 3. I prefer the term ‘users’ as this highlights how they actually interact with content. But there is plenty of advise about harnessing the interactive, participatory, non-linear and on-demand nature of digital media.

 

The rise of mobile is also discussed. The use of social media apps, particularly among the young, has cut into traditional magazine reading time. We can blame this for the demise of teen magazines, such as the once massive selling Sugar and More.

 

There is a tendency for those of us with a background in print publishing to fixate on modes of distribution (print, website, smartphone and tablet). However, the secret of publishing is all about creating a product that enriches the lives of the user. The better the publication serves the user the more successful it should be – it is as easy and as difficult as that!

 

Tutors and students on magazine journalism courses, particularly those courses that are accredited by the PPA, will find this to be essential reading. But it will also suit a general audience of anyone looking to start their own publication on any media platform. The writing style is particularly clear and engaging – a short glossary will appeal to those who wish to know their ABC from their UGC.

 

Interviews are dotted throughout with an impressive list of experts from Emap, Dennis, Future and many more. There are plenty of stories of success, although they are probably best when they reveal the lessons they have learned from their magazine launch mistakes.

 

The interview with Sara Cremer of Redwood is a particular highlight, where she proposes a genuine form of interactivity which allows users to ‘reorder’, ‘remix’ and ‘play’ with content. This is very different to the rather basic ‘interactivity’ of many sites today – here is the copy ‘and some video to go with it’. This interview alone provides much food for thought and new avenues for academic research.

 

Mike Goldsmith of Future Publishing talks circulation figures and revenue for digital magazines. It is rather rare from my experience to get publishers to admit their digital download revenue – the information is usually deemed ‘commercially sensitive’ (in other words we don’t want to tell you how bad things really are) – so this information is like gold dust.

 

Critics may say the text could be more international in its approach – this is a book that looks almost exclusively at the UK market. The Internet provides new opportunities in emerging nations and research even suggests that overseas users are more willing to pay for online digital content than those in the UK. However, there is only so much you can fit into a rather compact, well-ordered and designed 221 pages.

 

Despite the ongoing changes in distribution and technology, the author remains optimistic about the future and, indeed, is highly enthusiastic about the UK magazine industry in general.

 

It is clear that great magazine launches, that are well-researched and serve their users, will thrive. Those that don’t do these things will almost certainly fail (and perhaps rightly so). The Apple Store allows publishers to reach an audience in 155 countries at a push of a button. As one contributor writes “such a big opportunity needs an equally big shift in strategy”. Magazine publishers and students will find How to Launch A Magazine invaluable in this regard.

 

How to Launch a Magazine in this Digital Age By Mary Hogarth (Edited By John Jenkins)

Other books on the magazine business:

Magazine Editing: In Print and Online By John Morrish and Paul Bradshaw

The Magazines Handbook (Media Practice) By Jenny McKay

The Modern Magazine: Visual Journalism in the Digital Age By Jeremy Leslie

 

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