BBC boss urges revolution in magazine reader insight

A revolution is needed in the UK magazine industry if titles are to retain readers, according to the managing director of BBC Magazines.

Peter Phippen also told BBC Magazines’ annual conference that the industry needed a world-class database to keep up to date with the personalised needs of readers.

He said: “The magazine industry, and it’s equally true of all the traditional media industries, is innocent when it comes to customer insight in comparison with other industries. Tesco knows much more about our customers, their spending patterns, inner thoughts and aspirations, than we do. We need nothing short of a revolution in our industry if we are to be among the shakers of the future, not the bystanders.”

Phippen added that BBC Magazines would continue to seek growth in the UK through launches at its London and Bristol offices, but that the curtailing of its remit in the wake of 2004’s White Paper meant the company must look abroad for future expansion.

He said: “We need powerful sub brands with international recognition.

Currently we only have one [Top Gear].

Get this right and the profits are massive.

“Global magazine brands like Cosmo, Vogue, Glamour, FHM, Reader’s Digest, The Economist and now Top Gear – any one global brand can be a global business in its own right, creating a community across national boundaries.”

Phippen said that the division would look to replicate its move into India, where in a joint venture with The Times of India, called Worldwide Media, it launched Top Gear magazine in the last year and said that the company was looking into equity ventures in South Africa, Australia and possibly the US.

He said that the BBC niche titles may fit the international brief best, citing publications such as BBC Wildlife, History, Music, Focus and Olive.

He added that Reader’s Digest “as a trusted digest of media content” would act as a good template from which to work, saying: “I’m intrigued about how the Reader’s Digest idea has worked globally and whether there are aspects of that idea, brought bang up to date in the digital world, which we might be able to replicate.”

BBC Worldwide’s profits have doubled in two years, despite coming in the period where the corporation’s White Paper clipped its commercial wings. A number of titles were sold to Origin that weren’t linked to BBC TV programmes, its women’s monthly Eve was sold to Haymarket, an editorial advisory board was set up and BBC channels stopped trailing its magazines.

Opening the conference, John Smith, chief executive of BBC Worldwide, reiterated the desire to move into the global market and confirmed that the division would be moving from its base at Woodlands, on Wood Lane, into the BBC media village at White City within the next 12 months.

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