As New Media Age closes today, we asked some of the key figures from NMA's 17-year history to share their memories of life at the magazine. In the second of our two-part series, we hear from one of the magazine's longest-serving journalists Mike Nutley, founding publisher Nigel Roby and more.
Read part one featuring contributions from Justin Pearse, Nick Jones and Gareth Jones.
Mike Nutley, former NMA editor-in-chief, now freelance digital consultant
When I was offered the job as editor of New Media Age in the summer of 2000, I jumped at the chance. I couldn’t imagine a more exciting place to be as a journalist. And despite all the changes that the industry went through, that feeling persisted, for me and for almost everyone who worked on the magazine. How many journalists get to report on the birth of a new industry, let alone one that is changing every aspect of how people live, work and do business? And what could be more inspiring than spending your time talking to brilliant, maverick people who were risking their futures on their belief in those changes?
Another thing that sticks in my mind is the freedom we had as a magazine. We took it for granted that our readers wanted to know what was going on not just in their immediate areas of responsibility, but across the wider world of interactive media. So we covered whatever we thought was interesting and important, from electoral reform and electronic voting to payment innovations from the porn industry. We made mistakes, of course, some pretty spectacular, but then as Yogi Berra once said, “predictions are hard, particularly about the future”.
But what I remember most was how much fun it was, how each issue brought new ideas and innovations to be understood, analysed and reported on. Some are still around, others turned out to be ephemeral, just stops on the journey, as NMA itself has turned out to be. But despite that, it’s worth remembering, as Facebookers like to say “This journey is 1% done”.
Andy Oakes, former publisher of New Media Age, managing director at BlueStripe Media and head of London operations for The Drum
It was the simple things we did well. We understood it was all about being a part of the community and making it easy for that community to engage with you. A classic example of this were the NMA Socials. We just put the date out there via our twitter feed and told people that there were no sponsors, no presentations just good people doing good work meeting each other.
To start with, we got about twenty people. Towards the end we were filling whole pubs.
We really encouraged our reporters to get under the skin of their beats, to really own the sectors they reported on. Obviously this meant we picked up readership as we dug deeper than other mags but it also had positive commercial implications.
I can let you into a secret - when [editor-in-chief] Mike Nutley introduced the podcasts 'from the studio', it was actually my office. I was sent out on a long lunch whilst they recorded it.
Charlotte McEleny, former news editor at NMA, now associate editor of 12ahead.com for The Knowledge Engineers
The quality of the content spoke for itself. Arguably content about digital media and advertising can be taken in a more integrated context, following the general movements of the industry. But New Media Age stood for more than just digital media and internet advertising; it was about being passionate in pushing forward business innovation and effectiveness. This permeated the culture of everyone that worked there (on both the editorial and commercial teams), a passion moving the industry forward through shared knowledge. Personally, I feel immensely proud of what we achieved and feel privileged to have worked with such a clever bunch of people.
Will Cooper, former NMA deputy editor, now digital editor at Five Live
My time at NMA could well be the best years of my working life. It might seem strange to say that when I’ve got decades ahead of me, but the five years I spent at the title – rising from reporter in 2006 to being news editor and deputy editor on my departure in September last year – coincided with an astonishing technological and lifestyle revolution.
I saw the rise of platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, countless agencies rise (and fall), the industry’s voice grow louder and stronger. All driven by some of the most pragmatic, visionary and badly dressed people in the world. And we, as NMA reporters, had front row seats.
I can’t say we always got it right, but then neither can the industry. That’s what makes it so fun: the Indiana Jones line of “just making it up as I go along” absolutely applies to digital. The future is not written, so people are actively encourage to try new things.
NMA played an important role in not just covering the industry, but raising its profile. I played a small role in this, and for that I’ll always be proud. And every so slightly scarred.
Nigel Roby, founding publisher of NMA, now managing director of The Bookseller Group
I took over New Media Age from, I think, issue six in August 1995. It had been launched in the June by Howard Sharman under the editorship and management of Phil Dwyer. At the time it was a 16 page newsletter covering a market that barely existed. Centaur was smart with its timing. The digital industry grew around the title and New Media Age became synonymous with the growth of dot coms like lastminute.com and digital agencies like AKQA. We launched the NMA Awards quickly, I think it was 1997, and they immediately added a validation to this nascent industry.
During the dot com boom, New Media Age was hugely successful. The mix of subscription income, well-crafted editorial and job ads was a powerful combination. I can remember crazy things like double page job ads from Yahoo! wanting 50 new people. Or very early on being introduced to a new company called Ebay whose business model I couldn’t quite figure out at the time. Mind you, when we first started Amazon had only been in existence for a year – wonder what happened to them….
Haymarket launched Revolution magazine against us, firstly as a monthly and then when the boom really got going, as a weekly. So New Media Age didn’t have everything its own way but the paid-for weekly approach was always going to win out when the market went into reverse. We had substance and they had style - or that’s the way we saw it.
At least with Revolution, I knew what we were facing and how to deal with it. After all, Centaur and Haymarket had competed for decades and I had worked at Haymarket for many years myself. It was when the Industry Standard – which was the much fatter US equivalent of New Media Age – announced that it was launching out of the UK that we started to get a bit edgy. They had a good team. They had poached Mike Butcher, whom I had appointed as editor, and who now edits TechCrunch, and we knew that their budgets would be way ahead of ours. But bizarrely they got it all wrong, producing a rather bloated European edition which lacked any real sense of belonging. And then the crash came and they had to fold Industry Standard in the US and Europe was closed at the same time. Then Revolution went back to monthly frequency and NMA was left where it started as the only UK weekly.
The crash was tough having been being the smart shiny one in Centaur’s portfolio and it was painful having to fold back all the extensions we had created during the good times – like New Media Creative and New Media Investor. I think I was prouder of the way we managed our way through those difficult times and emerged as a tight, still-profitable weekly than one that was of the dot com boom money. We had to be smarter and people like Ed Tranter, who had joined us [as publisher] by then, were superbly creative.
When the money started to come back into the market, the two marketing weekly magazines, Haymarket’s Marketing and Centaur’s own Marketing Week, sensed an opportunity. In the first part of NMA’s life, there weren’t really any in-house marketers who ‘did digital’ so NMA was the magazine of choice, but as email marketing and then social media started to grow at a rate of knots, the magazine market split nicely into NMA for the specialists and Marketing Week for the generalists. As you’d expect that created the odd internal tension but on the whole Centaur worked its way round things pretty well and we launched the Interactive Marketing & Advertising Awards together with Marketing Week. It was a slightly more sober affair than the NMA Awards (!) but it meant that we had all the bases covered.
And throughout all of this time Ashley Friedlein was working his magic with Econsultancy. Ashley was never really a competitor back then – it was doing a very different job to NMA. Now the market is so different – every marketer in the land has to think digitally and at the start-up end of the market the technology websites do a good job. So if you have Marketing Week in your stable and now you have e-Consultancy then there’s precious little space left for NMA. Having nurtured the brand for so long, it would be lovely to imagine it could have been re-invented profitably but it’s not simple matter. I think I may just be viewing it through the fug of nostalgia. Essentially, I see this as a movement in how B2B publishing is playing out rather than a NMA/e-Consultancy story.
The large media companies like Centaur need to push hard to lower exposure to advertising and increase margins. That’s what investors expect. And that is what Centaur has done really well over the last few years. Out of that focus on margins and core products comes the opportunity for smaller companies and start-ups to take over magazines that aren’t performing so well for the majors, or launch into the spaces that have been created. It’s what I did myself taking over The Bookseller from Nielsen and what is happening over at EMAP with Broadcast. It creates a vibrant market – major companies raise profits and margins and small companies develop and grow.