THE PPA FESTIVAL 2016

We’ve always had great connections to the publishing industry, with many of its luminaries like Dennis, Bauer Media and Immediate Media among our long-term clients. As such we’re proud associate members of the PPA (Professional Publishers Association), and yesterday we went along to the PPA’s biggest event of the year, the annual PPA Festival.

There were so many intriguing sessions across its four stages that it was hard to choose between them, but we managed to get to talks at all four. Here’s a run-down of who and what we saw…

Meet the boss: Tom Bureau

After a delayed arrival (train problems, don’t ask…) the first spot we caught was Tom Bureau, CEO of our clients Immediate Media, giving a quick ‘state of the nation’ overview on the Big Picture stage.

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As a special interest publisher, Immediate’s job, said Tom, is simple: to help their audiences get the most out of the things they love. Reviewing every detail of thousands of bikes, for example, or watching hours of quality television with highly respected journalists.

Except they’re no longer simply a ‘publisher’. The company positions itself as ‘the special interest content and platform company’. Magazines are still an important part of their business, but going beyond them is crucial to its future.

Vogue 100: Lily Cole in conversation with Alexandra Shulman

We stayed at the Big Picture stage for one of the most highly anticipated sessions of the day. Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman, chatting to Lily Cole about the fashion bible’s centenary year and her 24 years in its hot-seat.

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The two of them covered so much in a fascinating 45 minutes that it’s difficult to condense, but here are the key points:

  • Print is still the ultimate medium for Vogue. It makes around 12x more in revenue than their best-performing digital channel
  • To close the gap, Alexandra suspects they’ll soon start charging for digital content. Ad revenue isn’t sufficient, even with the wide audience that free content brings in
  • Contrary to what most might think, they don’t use much data to inform their content. Alexandra said she’s involved in more or less every aspect, and it “usually comes down to do I like it, don’t I like it”
  • Advice for young fashion writers: create your own magazine, get diverse work experience, and read as many different writers’ work as possible – not just one or two blogs

The kids are alright

Next up, a session on the Detail stage from DC Thomson‘s Laura Brown and Maria Welch. They talked about how to get children reading magazines in an iPad world full of distractions.

Magazines like Thunderbirds and WWE excite their readers by providing extra content and information that supplement kids’ knowledge. With WWE for example, kids love reading about how many fights their favourite wrestlers have won, or when they started out.

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So why should kids pick magazines over Minecraft? According to Maria, it’s all about storytelling. Computer games tell stories as the game develops, and Maria is convinced that once kids get into the stories and characters in, for instance, the Beano, they’ll love it just as much as Minecraft.

Newsstand!

After a quick lunch and catch-up with old friends, we headed to the Bottom Line stage for a session about the newsstand – still a vital channel for magazine sales, as the PPA’s Nicola Rowe and Frank Straetmans of distribution company Frontline told us.

Nicola shared some findings from the PPA that showed how print is still way ahead of digital when it comes to consumption of content. Interestingly, magazine readers spend 34% more in-store than non-readers. Fantastic ammunition in conversation with retailers about the importance of the newsstand.

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This importance really hit home when Frank asked us to consider how many brands in other sectors could get their first product into 20,000 stores. This is where the magazine industry is truly unique.

The average Briton buys 10 magazines per year. But if that were just one more, the industry would grow by 10%. To do this, publishers must know where their titles sell best, make sure they (along with the newsstand itself) look visually appealing, and use promotions better (less of them, but make them more impactful).

Getting it done

Our move over to the Independents stage made us wish we’d spent more time there. Its bar-stool stage and decor of articles from a plethora of indie titles made for a perfectly casual setting.

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We listened intently to Rob Orchard (Delayed Gratification), Char Roberts and Bertie Brandes (Mushpit) and Simon Tapscott (The Eighty-Eight) talk about some of the pitfalls they’ve faced in launching and running their magazines. Char and Bertie were particularly brilliant, speaking animatedly about basic early errors like getting the specs wrong, and centrefolds with the fold cutting out a crucial part of the shot.

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Rob admitted they “didn’t have a business plan beyond issue 1”, but actually this allowed them the freedom to grow organically. Not only do they now count around 60% of their readers as subscribers, but their subscription is more of a membership club, with classes, workshops and events available.

Char and Bertie’s marketing is all done through social, but they do have a political party, New Labia – launched to “get the pricks out of Parliament”. Go Mushpit!

Podcasts: The Sequel

Our last session was back on the Detail stage. The accessibility of podcasts means they’re becoming increasingly mainstream, and Terri White, editor-in-chief of Empire (owned by another of our clients, Bauer Media) spoke along with Monocle‘s Steve Bloomfield about how magazines are tapping into this.

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Terri gave some great advice for any publishers looking to launch a podcast. Promoting them through existing channels is crucial, as is making sure the content is compelling and inclusive to the audience. The nature of their guests thus far (Robert de Niro, Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds) means they don’t have to worry too much about this.

Terri also said editing is vital (though some of Ready’s favourite podcasts are uncut), as is monetisation, whether it’s sponsorship, adverts, events or any other method.

As Steve outlined, Monocle take a rather different route, launching a radio show that turned into a 24 hour radio station! Monocle’s print product prides itself on quality original content, and Steve said it was important for their audio product to reflect this. So they invest in proper studios and engineers, funded by carefully selected advertisers whose content is custom-created to fit in with the ethos of the whole thing.

So that was that, and back we went to a warm and sunny Bath. Congratulations to all at the PPA on a wonderful event. Our PPA partnership is set to continue at the breakfast session we host later in the summer.  PPA members will soon get some info on that.