Publishers could learn from Tesco

By Alyson Fixter

Magazine publishers must bring about a
“revolution” in the way they reach readers if they are to survive the
growing threats from supermarkets, the internet and the changing
distribution chain, the managing director of BBC Magazines has warned.

Speaking
at the PPA-run Subscriptions 2005 conference last Friday, Peter Phippen
(left) said publishers and editors must “wake up” to the reality of a
new breed of reader: one who expects to be in control of how, when and
where they interact with the media.

He said publishers who still saw their main issue as subscriptions versus newsstand sales would be left behind.

Like
corporations Tesco and WalMart, publishers should put the customer at
the centre of their business and scrap the idea that “editorial is
king”, Phippen added.

“It is madness to think we can control how
customers behave, how our competitors react and how our suppliers and
resellers conduct their business,”

he said.

“Publishers
need to become distributors of content rather than magazines, creating
multiple touchpoints through which to interact with consumers.”

With
the Office of Fair Trading’s verdict on the future of magazine
distribution still delayed, postage price rises confirmed from Royal
Mail and increasing fears about the power of large chains such as Tesco
to dictate what is on magazine covers, publishers are beset on all
sides by threats to the traditional magazine.

Phippen said the old-fashioned approach would have to move aside and content should be tailored to readers’

needs in terms of printed or electronic format and frequency.

“Magazine
publishers are innocent when it comes to customer insight in comparison
with other industries,” he added. “Tesco knows more about our customers
than we do.

“One day we will know who these people are instantly,
and future content will be tailored to their format and frequency
needs. However, our capabilities and skills of direct selling are not
yet distinctive enough to deliver growth.”

■ Elsewhere at the
conference, industry leaders debated the future of postal delivery of
magazines, after Royal Mail released figures showing that single copy
magazine subscriptions had increased by nearly 8 per cent over the
year, with subscriptions accounting for 12.3 per cent of all sales.

The rise was partly caused by the threat to the distribution chain posed by the OFT, according to the company.

About 700 million copies of magazines are currently delivered to readers by mail, with a value of £270m-£280m.

Tom
Wasilewski, Royal Mail’s head of publishing, promised publishers that
despite the lifting of price controls on Presstream, the special
subscriptions mailing service, the company had “no proposals” to change
the price structure.

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