Is the BBC secretly undermining the public image of print journalists?

Stick with me on this one.

20 years ago ITV screened an amazing Steven Moffat-penned children’s series called Press Gang. The inside track on a school’s kids run newspaper it starred Julia Sawalha (as Lynda basically (Kelvin) Mackenzie in a mini skirt), Dexter Fletcher and the brilliant Paul Reynolds (what the ferret happened to him?).

It was not only superbly scripted, brilliantly acted and daringly topical (they covered drugs, child abuse and more) mainly through the charactar of Lynda it showed journalists as heroes, publishing stories that exposed corruption, took on bullies and helped make school life better for all.

Yet it also showed Lynda as a real person dealing with her own insecurities and hang ups. It was also full of dirty jokes too, which made it a lot more fun than Blue Peter.

Most important of all though like a generation of other kids it inspired me to try my hand at journalism. And I am not the only one. Countless times, in conversation after conversation, other journalists have cited Press Gang and Lynda as the reason they joined the fourth estate.

Fast forward twenty years and the BBC has got a press-related programme on children’s TV. Scoop is a radical reworking of the Evelyn Waugh classic which stars Shaun Williamson (Barry from EastEnders) as a local newspaper journalist. Whereas Lynda was brave, intelligent and honest, Digby Digworth (Shaun’s charactar) is a bumbling, incompetent, lazy fool who is invariably beaten to his stories by his canine chum, the brilliantly named Hacker.

To make things worse the local newspaper editor Max De Lacey (played by Mark Benton) has zero scruples and thinks nothing of making stories up, fixing competitions so his relatives win and more.

Scoop is actually pretty funny, but it does portray journalists in a really negative light. You might scoff, but have local builders’ reputations ever recovered since the Beeb started screening The Chuckle Brothers? Thought not!

With the rise of citizen journalism, the problems of monetising web content and the stuttering economy haven’t local newspaper proprietors have enough on their plate at the moment?

To make amends the BBC should buy the rights to Press Gang re run the original Press Gang and commission a reunion, where Lynda (quite possibly an alcoholic now) and Colin (obviously a banker) team up once more to save the nation from corrupt MPs, dodgy press barons, rioting gangs and morally bankrupt Catalan football teams


Sky cools on UK’s most read magazines. But what does their closure mean for publishing?


Huge news this morning from Sky which has anounced that it is to massively cut its magazine output. The hero brand for customer publishing for many years now is to close Sky Sports Magazine and Sky Movies Magazine, which are each published every two months and have a combined circulation of nearly eight million copies, and reduce the distribution of its flagship Sky Magazine, which has an average circulation of 7.3 million copies, and its frequency from 12 issues per year to four.

The magazines will be replaced by email and reflects the company’s shift from print based promotion throught to digtial products. There is also some speculation that rising paper prices and the increased cost of postage might have forced the company’s hands.

Sky Magazine has been a poster publication for the customer publishing industry for many years now. It was produced by John Brown Publishing but is now put together in house. The Sky Movies mag is however produced externally by Future Publishing.

So where does this leave the customer publishing industry? Well while losing a flagship title is clearly a blow, the industry as a whole has never been stronger. February saw a host of new wins for agencies including some imaginative social media driven projects… You can read more about new projects here It seems that print projects are not dying, but are being used in a more strategic way. In some respects customer publishing agencies will probably be the last companies producing print magazines. They may have to deal with rising print and mail costs but a business model in which many of those costs are met by the brand is obviously a lot more robust than one in which the cost of magazine is met by advertising (on a downward spiral) and consumer purchasers (also struggling in many areas according to the latest ABCs).

So I don’t think that Sky’s decision will have a huge impact on the industry as a whole. The leading supermarket magazines are still posting very healthy figures and many brands still see print as the premium way of engaging with consumers. Sky’s magazines were always more vulnerable given their huge circulation and the fact they offered TV listings which are available in many other places.

There is also the emergence of digital opportunities for customer publishing agencies namely video content, iPad magazines, blogs as well as websites. It is these opportunities which are keeping my agency Sutro very busy indeed.

Better news for publishers – Google One Pass – but good luck charging for digital mags

As a publisher who has dabbled in digital magazines – go check out issue 1 of Pies mag it really is great – – I am cheered by Google’s One Pass system that was announced today.

In some respects I think that it will be very hard for publishers to charge for digital content no matter what format it is in. For me that horse bolted long ago and the future is all about other ways of funding content. However for the publishing industry there has to be a way of at least being able to charge sensibly for magazine content on tablet PCs and One Pass gives them that opportunity.

In many ways the system is a complete riposte to the system unveiled by Apple yesterday – check out Rob’s comparison piece here –… and good for Google in opting for this route.

The Guardian predicts a difficult future for paid for magazines


Media Guardian yesterday turned the spotlight on to paid for magazines with a pair of features that underline how difficult magazine publishing in the UK has become.

Firstly John Plunkett looked at some of the more general issues facing the industry – lack of new launches, closure of many titles, difficulty in monetising iPad and digital editions – while Peter Kirwan put Haymarket’s business under the microscope.

If anything it is the latter feature that puts the the industry’s problems into sharp relief. Haymarket, once a bastion of sucessful consumer titles with a thriving B2B sector, is now heavily in debt with (and this is astonishing) Thenhurst Agricultural Ltd, the Haymarket Group subsidiary that owns Lord Heseltine’s 18th century mansion and 55-acre estate in Thenford, Northamptonshire, offered as security to RBS to make them feel a little more comfortable about the £126 million the company owes.

Banks tend to see debt in a very different way now than they did a few years back and with an operating profit of just £15 million that debt is sure to feel like a lead weight around Chair Rupert Heseltine’s shoulders. The shock news about the economy probably won’t help either.

Ultimately Haymarket, and to be fair a lot of its rivals, invested massively between 1995-2008 in expanding into other countries. Now the with the Internet delievering online global media brands (ie largely US based ones) and with core media brands in decline that move doesn’t look quite so savvy.

Haymarket also faces the problem of monetising B2B brands which will be further exacerbated this year by the retraction in the public sector – one-third of Haymarket’s B2B revenues come from this source.

Not all is doom and gloom. According to The Guardian ‘Publishers are nothing if not optimistic. Advertising revenue in the consumer magazine sector was up 5% in 2010 and is forecast to rise another 2% this year.’

I do think though 2011 will see a major shake up in magazine publishing. There will be acquisitions, consolidation and closures. Most of all publishers will look to protect their key brands by investing heavily in digital accompaniments such as apps, iPad mags and websites. It is going to be an interesting ride.

December – the month the indie publishers crashed the iPad – Hoodgrown, Trvl and Pies


The cost of producing a magazine on the iPad used to be prohibitively high for indie publishers. I say ‘used to be’ because it really isn’t any more. Over the last few months we have seen the arrival of a series of solutions which now mean that anyone with great content (and a few quid) can publish to the Apple gagdet.

December has seen the arrival of two high profile indie mags on the iPad plus the growth of a rather special travel magazine from Holland.

Urban culture mag Hoodgrown launched its first issue a couple of weeks ago and it really is a unqualified success. The mag uses the Golden Alligator platform – which is ideal for smaller publishers who may not have easy access to designers – and has some great features and interviews accompanied by audio and video. It lacks some of the interactive elements of more high profile launches, but IMO that’s a smart move as it makes the mag easy to read. The mag is free and funded by advertising. A video showing the mag in action is below.

Another notable iPad start up is a Dutch company called Trvl which is producing very neat magazinettes that focus on a part of the world. The mags, which are free to download via Trvl on the iPad store, are image focused with a feature or two. The photography is at times breath-taking.

Finally, a bit closer to home, the UK’s leading sports blog Who Ate All the Pies is now available as 48 page digital and print magazine. It was my idea to produce the mag, but Ollie and Mike can take the credit for some superb features and its rather lovely design.

It was produced as an experiment, and three days after launch I can report that it has been a very real success. The mag is available in a printed version via HP’s excellent start up Magcloud. It is also available as an iPad mag through the Magcloud iPad store too. We have also made the mag available as a PDF which sells for £1 – more info on the mag and how to get it is here…

I think offering the magazine in a number of formats is clearly the way forward. I guess that in the future the tablet PC version will become the main distribution source for the mag, though I think PDFs and having a printed version gives the mag reach as well as enabling people to read the title in the format they are most comfortable with.

So is there a business model emerging? Absolutely. I think it is about offering the content for a small fee on iPad or PDF. Unless the title gets a sponsor and then the mag is free on all formats except print. It is a fantastic opportunity for a sponsor – not only are they the only brand in the issue, but the mag’s regular readers will know that if it weren’t for Brand X then they would be paying to read it. Also digital mags offer a really great platform for proper brand integration, something which has got kind of lost in the rush to produce flashy graphics and interactive videos.

Also I think having to wade through pages of ads – Conde Naste style – is archaic and unacceptable. I know CN have to recoup their investment, but in the future I think readers will see endless ads as devaluing their reading experience.