How specialist magazines can drive value from brand community

Brand extensions are a new revenue stream for magazines

Brand extensions are a new revenue stream for magazines

It was interesting to be a visitor at the Specialist Media Show.

On the journey to the show I swiped through the quotations on my iPhone to find this one: “No man is really happy or safe without a hobby, and precious little difference the outside interest may be – botany, beetles or butterflies; roses, tulips or irises; fishing, mountaineering or antiques – anything will do as long as he straddles a hobby and rides it hard.” I made a note of this quotation which resonated with me when I first saw it carved in wood in the reception of Krause Publications, Inc in the US.

From the moment I arrived at the show in Peterborough, I recognised the ossification I’ve experienced before when viewing production in the special interest publishing sector. Somehow the sector seems to suffer more than others and seems blinkered to the opportunities of digital innovation and partnership. Yet, with community at its heart, the special interest publishing sector ought to be reinventing itself and embracing digital. Why isn’t it?

As Joseph Schumpeter said when he observed the arrival of the railways in the UK in 1936, “it upsets all conditions of location, all cost calculations, all production functions within its radius of influence; and hardly any “ways of doing things” which have been optimal before remain so afterward”.

That’s how I feel about old media categories like special interest magazines, for which the business models, labels and cloistered culture no longer make sense. To think like the stereotypical specialist magazine is tantamount to suicide. It must be reinvented.

As I looked at the magazines in the racks, I thought of my boys. At 15 and 19 respectively, they’ve already consumed more media than I have in my lifetime. Yet they’ve achieved that without a single magazine subscription and despite growing up in France, where magazine readers are only second in number to the US!

What we’re seeing with digital media is a shift away from medium to content and audience.

Therefore, I question whether publishers of special interest magazines can any longer afford to believe that they work in an industry or a sector? Would it not be wiser for them to think of themselves as the doyens of community and to serve their community in every which way they can?

After all aren’t the new entrants and start ups already wooing the brand account managers and media planners who look after the advertising and sponsorship decisions for brands? Will savvy app developers not soon command larger communities of special interest than the magazines and aren’t the interactive advertising techniques available on mobile devices more appealing and more relevant to their audiences?

Let’s be frank, magazines are now competing with the brands they once hosted on their pages.

Rather than be protective of their audiences, publishers need to realise that future value lies in their brand communities, and that they need to experiment with new ways, marketing models and partnerships that leverage community.

Clever publishers in the special interest sector will reinvent themselves and see that their business is community not product and this new way of defining themselves will inform their investment decisions.

In the long run the winners in publishing will be those who understand they can build stronger, more dynamic communities by broadening the media experiences of their members beyond an approach that is cloistered and outmoded. To do this publishers must move fast to build savvy and exciting partnerships with digital innovators who share a passion for their communities but who have invented new models to align with changing times. Only by embracing a more collaborative approach to serving communities will publishers be able to hang on to their title of “doyen” of community. And only by retaining this title will they retain the sympathies of account managers, media planners and buyers.


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