'There's a generation growing up that has no interest in magazines'

Young people cannot see the point in magazines and have no interest in them, a debate on the industry’s future has heard.

Ashley Norris, one of the founders of online publisher Shiny Media, made the claim at a New Media Knowledge event hosted by the University of Westminster.

But others disagreed, arguing the future of magazines was “glorious” – if their business model was right.

Norris, who co-founded Shiny Media in 2004, said he last bought a magazine – Uncut – at an airport in 2006.

“People are growing old – there’s a generation growing up that have no interest in magazines,” he said. “There’s no reference point for them.

“I don’t know if you timed it so Bauer would close Arena for tonight’s discussion, but it seems like we’re going to see one after another.

“The last set of ABCs were catastrophic for some magazines. As time goes by, the generation that are coming through are not in the practice of buying magazines.

“They can’t see the point, frankly.”

Norris was also asked if newspapers and magazines could charge for online content, and said: “No, not really. It’s just not going to happen. No one wants to pay for news any more. The world has changed.”

He did add he could “see a space for magazines doing 10, 12, 14-page features – the kind of work you can’t reproduce online”.

‘Newsstands seemed anachronistic’

But Mike Soutar, founder and managing director of Shortlist, the free men’s magazine, said its business model was successful.

The magazine, given away in 11 cities, had an average circulation of 505,970 in the second half of 2008, according to ABC.

“What we are proving is you can reach people by inverting the business model,” he said.

“What Shortlist are doing is reaching a very difficult to reach audience by going to them, rather than wait for them to come to us.

“The idea of going down the route of the newsstand seemed, to us, to be anachronistic.

“What we have done, by our route into the market, has allowed us to reach this very difficult audience on an unprecedented scale.”

When asked how he kept quality high and costs low, Soutar said: “Thank heavens for the credit crunch. It makes things a lot cheaper.

“We recognised early on the digitisation of content, the effect of the internet, the ability to make fantastic packages and product pages, mean that you can run magazines on a very much smaller overhead that you would ever have been able to.

“We have got a very lean team; we outsource everything we possibly can. That’s how we reduce the costs.

“To establish Shortlist, in terms of infrastructure, is a fraction of the costs of establishing Grazia.

“Looking at the business model can result in being able to do something which is quality, engaging, that’s just not as expensive.”

Soutar added magazines had an ‘incredibly bright future”.

‘We do things that other media can’t do,’he said. ‘The experience of fantastic magazines is something that is not replicable.”

‘Glorious future’

Simon Wear, chief operating officer of Future, agreed that magazines had a future – if they ‘kept things simple”.

He said Future had failed when it ‘tried to become a software company’– for example, by launching a musicians’ social network – rather than a ‘content company”.

‘I think keeping it really simple is what’s next for us. Where we’ve been simple, stuck to our knitting, we know what we are good at,” he said.

‘We are good at writing reviews of sound cards – geeky stuff. That’s what we have done online.

‘We are a magazine company that’s run by people who used to sell adverts and write advertorial. We’re not a software company.”

He added magazines had enjoyed a ‘golden era’in the Nineties, and was having to reset after a long period of growth, but said: ‘The future of magazines is glorious – they will be around for a long, long time.”

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