Launch specialist Alun Probert takes a look at some of today’s most successful titles and finds that, with the right formula, there’s a bright future for the industry’s innovators...
We’re very lucky to work in an industry where, in the past ten years, we’ve seen some of the most mould breaking and dynamic new launches of possibly any decade. If there’s one broad lesson we can learn from their varied successes, it’s that there’s no obvious reason why publishers can’t continue to come up with great ideas that become hugely profitable, famous magazines.
Ten years ago, we were being told by all and sundry that magazines were finished and within years we’d be subsumed by the internet. The late nineties saw “content” become king, with all manner of media conglomerates fighting over rights to apparently elusive content. Looking back from the safety of 2005, I’m of the view that the magazine industry is as healthy as ever and, thanks almost entirely to those new launch titles, still retains the facility to shock and surprise.
In the nineties, I was involved in many discussions with editors and publishers who felt that there were no more gaps left for magazine launches and that the real boom of the eighties had given way to a more mature and settled market. Yet the most recent PPA data shows that the number of consumer magazines in the UK in that period actually grew by half again, from 2,100 titles in 1994 to over 3,200 by the end of 2004.
Now that’s an astonishing number of new titles. When you also consider that some titles certainly closed during that time, the number of new launches in the decade is actually something nearer to 1500. That’s an average of three new titles a week and gives some idea of the vibrancy of the market.
In North America, according to Samir Husni, there are an astonishing 75 new magazines published every month and the US has recently seen one of the most dynamic consumer magazine launches in its history.
I’ve never met the people that created Lucky, but I’m enormously impressed by their success with the title. Launched in 2001, Lucky was initially trialled as just a biannual magazine with a view to going quarterly if it took off.
Hugely successful and now monthly, Lucky is a magazine about shopping. Anyone who has run qualitative groups with magazine buying 20-25 year olds recently will know that a fair proportion spend their weekends shopping. It’s become a full time hobby.
Kim France, the editor of Lucky said before launch that she wanted to produce a practical and useful magazine. (It’s fair to say that practical and useful weren’t the most obvious words that you would automatically choose to describe women’s glossies at the time.). Lucky’s central core would be that the clothes featured would be realistically within the reader’s budgets and available in local stores. Most enterprisingly, she chose not to use expensive shoots to model the clothes, often using the staff to model the products themselves.
The trade press reacted disdainfully to the launch, noting: “Lucky is not like other magazines,” and branding it a magalog’. After eighteen months, Condé Nast executives were on record describing it as “one of the most successful launches of all time”. Now monthly (and presumably highly profitable, with turnover exceeding US$100million per annum,) it’s no exaggeration to say that Lucky has created an entirely new category for the women’s sector.
Timing is an undervalued factor in successful launches. Throughout the boom times of the late eighties, publishers were spending long hours sitting in rooms trying to find a formula for a successful men’s magazine. The market was hard to tie down, indeed, the first two UK launches of note, GQ and Esquire, were initially locked in a struggle to see which magazine could get to 100,000 copies first. By the mid nineties, FHM and Loaded between them were selling 7 times that number.
With hindsight, it’s easy to see now that in the UK in the early nineties, post recession, unemployment was low and economic indicators good. In Britain’s universities there were more female undergraduates than male for the first time in history and on graduating, women were building careers and postponing settling down’ until later in life.
The same pattern was reflected in America, Australia and across Europe. Why is that important? Well as a result of this huge social shift, there were more young single men in the UK than ever before. Young men that, given the state of the economy, had money burning a hole in their back pocket and time to spare. Many were still living with their parents! There had arguably never been a better time to be aiming a magazine at young single men.
Assuming that your new launch is sufficiently different and that your timing is good, the final area that we recommend publishers consider before a new launch is to make an objective assessment of what they uniquely add to the process. It may be something fundamental like being able to buy print or paper cheaper than anybody else. It might be a special relationship with a large retailer that ensures you’ll get presence. Both of those things are huge advantages. And if they are sustainable advantages, they’re excellent armour for the inevitable battles ahead.
Of course, publishers have been utilising their advantages well before this decade. Possibly the purest example of competitive advantage’ in terms of recent launches is Hello! magazine or Hola! as it was first known in Spain, where it originated. In producing a magazine about celebrities and their lifestyles, with a special emphasis on royal families, who better to produce it than relatives of one of Europe’s royal families?
Hello! enjoyed better access to the right sort of people at a lower cost than their competitors could ever hope to achieve. Of course, lots of other variables have to be right but it’s not a bad basis on which to launch a magazine. Now, while Hello! is the model for many other titles, it’s still going strong almost 50-years on, with successful editions in the UK, France, Russia and, since April 2005, the Middle East too.
So a really clear idea, a sense of good timing and a couple of sustainable competitive advantages adds up to the beginnings of a formula for a successful launch (as long as you also have an equally clear vision for what goes in issues two, three, four and beyond).
One of the reasons I continue to love the business after more than 20 years is that all of these, and many other recent launches, have proved established thinking entirely wrong. And if such enormous mould breaking success doesn’t give you an appetite for launching, I don’t know what will.
Source: FIPPs Magazine World, issue 44
Alun Probert is founder and managing consultant of Robertson Shine with offices in Sydney and London. He received two consecutive MPA awards for the launch of FHM magazine in Australia and oversaw the relaunch of 2004’s Magazine of the Year, New Woman in quarto size. Most recently he has worked on the successful Australian launch of OK! Magazine. For more information visit www.robertsonshine.com
Lucky was initially trialled as a biannual magazine and dismissed in the press. Now a highly profitable monthly, it has created an entirely new category for the women’s sector
Timing is an undervalued factor in successful launches. When FHM and Loaded arrived in the UK there were more young, single men than ever before with money and time to spare
Possibly the purest example of competitive advantage’ is Hello! magazine. Who better to produce a magazine about celebrities, royals and their lifestyles than one of Europe’s famous royal families?
Contribution Courtesy FIPP Magazine World www.fipp.com