Former Emap editorial director David Hepworth has described some of the magazine industry’s online video attempts as “cheap telly” and urged editors to concentrate on audio instead.
Speaking at a British Society of Magazine Editors debate in London last night, the man behind the launch of Q, More, Empire, Mojo and Heat predicted that audio more than video was ‘going to be huge”.
‘Magazines doing video – they’ve got to unlearn an incredible amount of TV language. They still produce a lot of video that looks like cheap telly,’he told delegates.
‘Audio is the most flexible, direct way of communicating complicated, subtle things to people.
‘There’s immense talent within magazines that can be turned towards that. There’s a huge opportunity for magazine companies – they’ve got to talk to people, not just write.”
But audio’s strength over video was questioned by Paul Kurjeza, the creative director of customer publisher Redwood.
‘We are moving to a totally screen-based medium and we need to change our skills,’he said. ‘The quicker audiences engage with screen-based interactive media the better.
‘We need to move to screen-based media that’s interactive. As designers and editors, that’s a profound shift.”
The virtues of print
Hepworth – whose company, Development Hell, publishes The Word and Mixmag – said magazines needed to do more to accentuate their differences with the web and tell readers about the benefits of indulging in a printed publication.
‘One of the things that the industry ought to be doing is selling people harder on the actual experience of reading a paper product,’he said.
‘If you draw people’s attention to it, they’ll really like it, but they have to have it drawn to their attention.
‘The magazine industry thinks the virtues of the medium are self-evident.
‘I look at my own children and they don’t read magazines. We need to sell the idea of: wouldn’t you like to be in your kitchen on Saturday reading that thing?”
‘Women don’t like the web’
Magazine creative director and journalism tutor Francine Lawrence, who was in the audience, said she did not believe the web could ever provide the same emotional attachment that women find in a favourite magazine.
‘I don’t think the web will ever be the final destination for women,’she said.
‘I think that women prefer to pick up magazines for an emotional attachment. There’s something women like about printed magazines.”
Some magazines’ attempts to transfer the physical qualities of print titles to the web – using digital e-magazines and page-turning technology – were criticised by Haymarket Network editorial director Simon Kanter.
‘They seem to try to ape the sprit of the magazine without having any particular skills to do it well,’he said. ‘There are a number who aren’t doing it with particular interest.
‘That particular type of title – Dennis is doing some stuff, we’re seeing TalkSport as well – they’re creating magazines which are clearly designed to be commercial.
‘I don’t think deliver the same the same kind of richness. Those are pretty bland.”
All subs marketing to move online
Hepworth predicted a point where magazines would stop carrying subscriptions marketing – such as ads and pull-out cards – with all subscriptions marketing moving online.
‘In the very near future, I think the decision to purchase a monthly magazine will be taken online and we will use our web operation to get people closer to it – to turn the three-issues-a-year buyer into a seven-issues-a-year buyer and turn our seven-issues-a-year buyer into a subscriber,’he said.
Giving his advice to magazine editors and writers making a start on the web, Hepworth said they needed to convey their own personality online and approach online publishing with a sense of humility.
‘When you enter on the web, you ain’t nothing special,’he said.
‘It doesn’t matter how old your magazine is, it doesn’t matter about all your credibility. It absolutely counts for nothing.
‘You are on the same playing field as every buffoon out there. Humility is something magazine publishers could learn a lot.”
He later added: ‘Magazine journalists are traditionally the most egotistical of them all.
‘When you communicate on the web, it’s got to be you – not the brand. I’ve seen magazine journalists struggle to find the way they should be saying something on the web.
‘The way they should be saying it is just the way they would say it in the office or in the pub. A huge re-learning needs to take place in that respect.”
Websites should write themselves
Hepworth said successful magazine websites should, to a large extent, write themselves – with readers contributing the vast majority of the content.
‘If 90 per cent of the website isn’t written by the readers, that’s not a website to me – that’s an advert,’he said.
But that claim was rejected by media strategist Nico Macdonald, who was in the audience.
‘I don’t get very inspired by the vision of user-generated content – it seems a derogation of duty by writers and editors,’he said. ‘Today more than ever we need high brow, high-thinking [content].”