publishing industry

“Onward and upward”

A funeral. Luis Dominguez was my old boss at The Spectator (and the first person to ever employ me in a freelance capacity), a gent of the old school – debonaire, elegant and more charm than a coach-load of French aristocrats.

It was he who got the Speccie to turn its first profit since WW2. Taking over a title that was regarded as past whatever prime it might have had, a poor second to the New Statesman, he set about making it the place where luxury goods advertisers put their budgets and which could be regarded as an English New Yorker. His work on the business side (including a lot of investment in circulation building), coupled with Dominic Lawson’s editorial nous, brought in readers, subscribers and revenue. When you look at the huge structure that now exists and supports Andrew Neil’s ego, it is built on foundations laid by Luis.

As a boss he was great. He never micro-managed (a euphemism for the fact that detail bored him), but he was reliable in a crisis and stuck by his decisions. If you did something successful, he praised you to the skies to his bosses; if you screwed up, he took responsibility.

He always claimed never to drink during the day and to be a non-smoker, but we all knew his occasional afternoon walks “to clear my head” were strolls round to the nearest hotel bar for a G+T and a sly fag. So this evening I’ll have a Luis Dominguez Memorial Gin and Tonic and remember one of the truly great publishing characters.



Well, I wasn’t expecting that.

And I bet the news that Dovetail is folding up its tents and melting away will have been a shock to its dozens of independent magazine clients for whom it provides subscriptions fulfilment services (to say nothing of the scores of employees – Dovetail is a considerable local employer).

The company was a joint venture of Dennis – who had previously held their subs at Customer Interface in Somerset – and Immediate, who inherited BBC Magazine’s involvement in Galleon. They merged to become Dovetail (geddit?) around ten years ago, partly to help fund the investment needed and partly to reduce the overcapacity that existed in the fulfilment market.

As well as the 1 million+ active subs records from Immediate and several hundred thousand from Dennis, Dovetail managed the files for a large number of independent (i.e. non-partner) publishers such as Private Eye, Imagine, the Tablet and Investors’ Chronicle. (more…)

Financial Modelling for Subscriptions

CoverI’ve just uploaded a small job for Dovetail Services, a beginner’s guide to putting together financial models for subscriptions. So if you’re at a loss when your marketing team go on about LTV, CPA and ROI, or when your finance manager wants to know what the impact of raising the subs price by 10% might be, this will be the place to start.

You can read it online here, or download the all-singing, all-dancing PDF version by clicking here and giving your email address to the nice people at Dovetail.

And if you’re still baffled by the numbers, you can always draft me in to put a budget together for you (I’ve done quite a few of those in the past year), or to run various projections based on your current numbers. Just drop me a line here.


Some reading…

I’ve been doing some work for the subscription bureau Dovetail recently, writing and editing content on their website. It’s building into a nice little collection of guides, tips and case studies about subscriptions marketing and ecommerce and (though I say so myself) is well worth a look. Recent pieces include:

Print and digital subscription bundles. Abi from The Week shares the title’s strategy on building its digital subs.

Checkout enhancements. We all lose too many customers in the final stage of the payment funnel. Here are some things you can do to reduce that.

Getting more revenue from subscribers. Carolyn Morgan looks at ways of using the 80/20 rule to your advantage.

Using reviews to boost search performance. In a competitive search landscape reviews can help raise your site in the rankings. Here’s what you need to know.

There’s also a blog and, if you want to know what content has been posted recently, you can sign up for the Dovetail newsletter.

Sainsbury’s “Entertainment on Demand” Digital Newsstand

An interesting launch last week, with Sainsbury’s offering its customers digital subscriptions to over 1,000 magazines by partnering with Magazine Cloner to run a feed of the PocketMags site. The new site is part of their “Entertainment on Demand” offering that provides movies, music and ebooks as well as magazines. You can see the similarities and the the differences between a title page below.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 12.49.46Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 12.50.00

As well as the usual payment methods, The Sainsbury’s site also allows customers to redeem Nectar points in purchasing subscriptions or single copies, and gives points for purchase. (more…)

Don’t read all about it

There’s a lot of sound and fury over the newspapers’ coverage of the election, so as a bit of fun on a Friday lunchtime I’ve dropped some ABC figures into Excel. What they show is the diminishing importance of “the press”, as we have always thought of it.

Between the last General Election and this the sales of the national daily and Sunday titles is down by a third overall to what must be the lowest figures since the early Victorian era (Here – from p16 – are post war UK newspaper trends). (more…)

Probably the most widely-read magazine you’ve never heard of

Last week I went to the British Library’s Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition and, amid talk of King John, Edward Coke and the banning of fish weirs on the River Medway, I had a chat with a chap whose travel magazine (called TRVL) has been going for around four years and has something approaching 2 million subscriptions. 2 million! – how many have your digital editions had in that time? The galling thing for a marketer is that most of these have been generated through word of mouth.

It doesn’t follow all of the ‘rules‘ that I think should apply to a digital magazine, but it was purpose-built for the iPad, not reverse-engineered from some print title. And because it was conceived in that way it doesn’t have any of the messy compromises that magazine apps have – it doesn’t feel the need for every issue to appeal to every reader; it can focus on long-form content, its content is not time-sensitive.

What it doesn’t have yet is a significant income stream, nor much of a website to speak of – there are premium subs and some advertising (although they face that classic problem of being read internationally, but with advertisers who book ads nationally) – and I don’t know what the level of engagement is, but it shows that there are people out there doing things in a way that traditional print companies are not, and achieving the sort of reach that digital editions of print magazines are not getting close to.

How thrilled are you with the sales of your PDF page-turner now?

PDF editions – why they’re rubbish, and why you need them

If you’re at all concerned with digital editions of magazines you should follow @david_hicks on Twitter. You do have to endure a succession of tweets about Man United (a once-successful association football club m’lud), but between these he says some very sensible things about digital magazines.

“Sensible” in this context means of course “stuff I agree with”, and his criticisms of PDF ‘page-turners’ are generally right on the money.

These ‘digital facsimiles’ were devised as a solution to publishers’ problems, not to meet any need of consumers. They allow a magazine to pretend they’ve ‘gone digital’, when in reality they’ve done nothing of the sort. They tie a publisher and a consumer to a publishing and content schedule that dates from the days of movable type. And I don’t care what your reader survey says, people don’t like reading facsimile editions – if they did you’d be selling more of them.

A ‘proper’ digital edition will have been built from the ground up so that it works in the way a user of a digital device consumes content. It wouldn’t be issue-based; it should be updated constantly and able to draw on all the content of the title. Your magazine might support several editions or apps for different types of content, or you might have one app that pulls in material from multiple titles. The key is to identify the need and build around that, not create a clumsy facsimile and hope to drag current readers across to it.

Having set my standard firmly in the ground, I’m now going to tell you why every title should have a PDF version.
For consumers who don’t want print, produce a proper digital experience rather than a rubbish compromise. But because page-turners are simply an extension of the print product, give them away free with a print subscription and leverage the marketing benefits that this allows. (more…)

The Magazine Diaries

Screen-Shot-2014-06-05-at-08.32.23And how is the magazine industry treating you these days?

The Magazine Diaries is a project by Peter Houston of Flipping Pages to try to capture what it’s like working in an industry that’s in the middle of a huge disruption. The goal is to have 100 people each contributing 100 words with the entries being collated into a book sold for the benefit of MagAid, a charity promoting literacy.

The entries to date seem to split between “wow, it’s exciting” and “hell, it’s scary” – although the two emotions aren’t mutually exclusive of course.

I’ve just done my 100 words, where I take an eeyoreish view of the business; I’ve seen too many magazines close, too many people lose their jobs (including me of course) and too many companies struggling to survive to view the proliferation of small titles as anything other than a sideshow. (If I hear anyone else talking about a ‘golden age of publishing’ I won’t be responsible for my actions.)

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that there are people producing fantastic quality magazines on subjects they love, for people who love those subjects, but the number of copies sold/readers acquired for all of these titles combined wouldn’t match the lost sales of just Readers Digest over the last five years.

Print, as a mass medium, is on its way out.

It won’t stop completely of course – you can still buy vinyl, let alone CDs – but the industry as I have known it for 25 years is moving closer to the exit. Something will replace it, and the process will be both exciting and scary.

If you think different – or even think the same – you should send your 100 words off to Peter.



Is there a MyWaitrose effect?

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 20.58.45Good news! trumpets an email from Waitrose. From tomorrow the minimum spend needed to get a free broadsheet paper falls back to £5.00 between Monday and Friday; at the end of April they’d increased this to £10 (this price point stays for Saturday and Sunday papers).

If you don’t know Waitrose’s promotion it’s quite a simple deal. If you’re a MyWaitrose card holder then as long as you have £5.00 of groceries in your basket (believe me, not at all hard at Waitrose) you can add one of the papers in the offer for nothing (they ring it through the till and then deduct the amount off the total bill).

I’m fascinated by this promotion and whether it might be connected to a recent slowdown in the sales fall for some newspapers. In April the Guardian was down just 0.3% on its sales in April 2013, The Telegraph down 2.5%, The Times 2.2% and the Mail 5.5% (the Independent was down a whopping 14.4%). Compared to the huge falls of the past few years these almost seem like good news for the print press. (more…)