Futurologist: publishers must embrace digital age

A futurologist has warned the magazine industry that it needs to personalise content, embrace technology and tackle competition from non-traditional publishers to survive in the digital world.

Ian Pearson, from BT, told the BBC Magazines conference: "The magazine — a few pieces of paper glued together — isn't going to be what you're doing in a few years time."

He said that publishers will have to look at ways to embrace new technologies as faster download speeds and unlimited memory will allow magazines to link to websites, real-time video and TV.

He cited examples such as incorporating URLs into magazines that link direct to your TV screen and using EInk technologies by which readers can connect to personalised internet content directly from the magazine.

Pearson said these kinds of technology advances would mean magazine production becomes more of a two-way system, of personalised interaction between the reader and the magazine beyond the traditional means of communication, the letters page.

"You can make a much clearer link between you and the customer because of the artificial intelligence which knows who I am, where I am and what information I need right now," he said.

Pearson warned that reputation alone would not carry companies through to the technological revolution, but that the brand value combined with keeping pace with the digital advances would.

He added that convergence would mean magazine publishers would face competition from non-traditional publishers.

"You'll be competing against everybody,"

he warned. "Tesco will be selling a lot of the content of your magazines in the future as well. The convergence doesn't just go to selling the magazine, but selling the actual content of the magazine, too.

"We'll see all the boundaries splitting up and being part of the same industry, and it will be very difficult to say you work in magazines, publishing or retailing.

The boundaries will just disappear."

Pearson's comments were echoed by Top Gear editor Michael Harvey, who visited South Korea as part of BBC research into the magazine business in the most technologically-advanced country in the world.

He found that South Korean magazine sales were falling off at an alarming rate with only 2,200 titles left compared to 6,243 in 1998 and that the country had experienced a dramatic cultural shift into the digital age which would be replicated here.

Harvey said: "Any society that's putting PCs at its centre is extremely relevant to a company that's just selling magazines — it's going to happen here because it's purely determined by the level of penetration and the speed of the broadband there."

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