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DC Thomson chief Ellis Watson: 'Publishers must get off their pessimistic arses' to turn industry around

Magazine publishers must “get off their pessimistic arses” if the fortunes of the industry are to be turned around, according to DC Thomson CEO Ellis Watson.

Delivering the Marcus Morris Lecture at the PPA’s Re-invented conference in London today Watson told the industry that it was time to face hard facts.

“In 2007, seven years ago, there were 1.21 billion magazines sold in the UK,” he said. “Three years ago, in 2010, it went below a billion for the first time in two decades, and last year it went down to 781 million copies bought in the UK.

“I appreciate that’s not the kind of cheery perspective we wanted at this exciting and upbeat, optimistic PPA conference, but it is really important that we don’t sit deludedly pretending things are fine, because they’re not.

“I would ask those of us that are still lucky enough to be sitting here in this ridiculously exciting time to stop looking back at how things were yesterday and get on with delivering a much more exciting tomorrow.”

Watson, who was also previously CEO of Simon Cowell’s entertainment company Syco, told the conference that publishers must remember to focus on their core offering and get back to basics, and said the “obsession” with technology was “getting ridiculous”.

“The internet has given us some beautiful toys and trainsets to help us find our audience, but to my mind it hasn’t yet replaced the authority and dedication that only we can deliver,” he went on.

“The BBC and Google and an army of bloggers may have audiences and resources that dwarf our own but much of what they talk about or comment on is the stuff that the dedicated, professional journalists and publishers in our own industry create. We don’t just comment on the news out there, we get it out there in the first place.

“Our job then is not to duck behind our desks to avoid the redundancy rifle, it’s time to get off our pessimistic arses and get back to knocking on doors, unearthing facts, funnies, pictures and bloody good stories that really make the difference.”

On technology, he added: “Don’t believe what the voices of the technologists and futurologists that say that digital is the imminent future for our business. It’s a fantastic complement, but it’s not the replacement of it, nor the killer of it.”

Earlier at the conference, Bauer Media MD of advertising Richard Dunmall discussed the importance at Bauer of native advertising, while PPA chairman Kevin Costello opened the event with the announcement of a new independent marketing agency at the PPA to “better promote” the industry.

Prior to his time as CEO of Thomson DC Watson worked in marketing and digital publishing for News International and spent three years as managing director of Mirror Group Newspapers

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