Publisher pressure

As one of the longest-serving editors of People Magazine and now a partner/consultant with 10Ten Media, an editorial creation agency in Manhattan, Larry Hackett is perfectly placed to address some of the issues publishers are facing today. He tells FIPP how contraction in the market has created an interesting new trend for outsourcing – and why publishers’ issues around distribution are set to run.

***Join us at the FIPP World Media Congress, taking place from 12-14 November 2019 in Las Vegas, to hear Larry Hackett present his session on bookazines. Register before 25 September for discounted delegate rates. View the full agenda here.***

Tell us about the business and how you work with publishers…

So, we’re a kind of content agency for other media players to outsource work to when they need high quality, expert content that we are better equipped to produce for them than their in-house teams. We do a lot of our work primarily right now for publishers. We put out tennis magazine on behalf of Robert Miller, the big US publisher, for example. We have put out a lot of bookazines – single issue, in-depth and high-quality publications put out primarily by publishers under their existing branding, such as Time Magazine or Country Living. And we also do a fair amount of native advertising content for advertisers who need content to go into magazines.

Why are companies looking to use smaller outsource agencies to deliver certain content?

I think it’s a variety of things. I still think companies want editorial professionals putting together their proposition and their main products. It was never a reader’s job in my mind to explain why they like People Magazine more than they like magazine X. It’s the publisher’s job to know the difference, to make that happen – the readers just know it when they see it. So, I think that core offering will stay inside the publishers. But because of the vagaries of the business – and nothing to do with the editorial itself – it’s getting harder and harder to do the additional stuff – supplements, bookazines, special features. So, whether it’s speed of turnaround, the ability to dig deep into a topic quickly and authoritatively – and with the kind of deep understanding that only a specialist can bring – publishers are seeing the benefits of passing some of their requirements on to smaller niche agencies. I think it’s particularly the case where a publisher is trying to respond to something quickly – like a sports team having a surprise victory, the birth of a royal baby or the death of a major celebrity. They struggle to turn that stuff around quickly in-house because they are juggling it with everything else. We do that every day, so we can help.

Where will this trend go from here? Will we see more outsourcing?

What’s interesting is that as publishing here in the US becomes more and more fragile and publishers are increasingly breaking up, I think a lot of this stuff will migrate back to either publishers themselves, who will see these products as glorified catalogues, or people we haven’t thought of yet. For decades, the relationship between publishers and advertisers was that publishers put out editorial and advertisers cosied up next to it because that’s where the eyeballs were. Now it seems to me that there’s nothing to prohibit the marketers from saying ‘why don’t we go to the editorial people and have them put stuff next to us?’ Is that going to work everywhere? Will it work in newspapers and things like politics? Probably not. But with things like lifestyle, travel, food and sports, it feels like that relationship can work. What we have is the editorial chops to do that. People want stories, they still want strong editorial and they can sniff out bad advertorials from independent editorial. I just think it’s going to be housed differently because of what’s happening in the publishing world.

Which is the hottest area for this right now? Where do businesses like yours get the bulk of their work?

I think where it’s becoming a real trend is around bookazines – where publishers are looking to do a one-off special on a set topic, such as a major celebrity death or the anniversary of the moon landing, for example. That’s where there is an increasing move to bring in outside specialist help. Publishers are shrinking and they don’t have people sitting around waiting to work. So, if something big comes up and they can move it, they will.

What does this tell us about wider trends in the North American publishing market right now?

A lot of the trends we are seeing around magazine publishing in the US right now are around the mechanics of the industry, such as distribution. That’s been a trying issue for publishers for a long time. It’s fair to say that the greatest minds coming out of American schools right now are probably not looking to go into the magazine distribution industry. It’s already having a tough time and it’s hard to see how it’s going to get easier any time soon. Connected to that, and another major issue for magazine publishers right now, is that in some major stores like Walmart the magazine stands are no longer in the prominent positions they once were. They have in some places been moved to the back of the store and that’s a problem for publishers. The other issue, which we’ve already touched on, of course, is that magazine publishers are contracting because they are moving more to digital – and digital doesn’t pay the bills like print once did.

Written by Jon Watkins.

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