Navigating Scotland’s magazine landscape has called for tough boots this past year. Much like the landscape of the country itself, the last 12 months have consisted of a number of ups and downs.
With heady peaks such as successful new magazine launches as well as several sinking low points, it’s hard to say whether the last year has been a good one for the country or not.
For those such as Caledonia and Firm Publications, 2003 was a particularly rocky ride. Caledonia entered into receivership earlier in the year, and has still not found a buyer. Meanwhile, the Firm Publications-owned titles Property Executive, Catering Scotland, Business & Finance and Firm were also forced into the hands of the receivers. All have since been bought, however, and are headed for higher ground with their new owners. Catering Scotland and Business & Finance were both bought by former Firm Publications staff members, while Property Executive was snapped up by former owner Janice Campbell.
Firm, meanwhile, was bought over by the Carnyx Group, publisher of The Drum.
But while these magazines have been through tough times, others have fared better.
Scottish Local Retailer, a joint initiative between William Reed Publishing and Scottish contract publisher 55 North, is one of the new players that has emerged in the last year. Paul Begley, co-founder of 55 North and advertising manager on Scottish Local Retailer, explains: “It’s slightly more convoluted than that we just launched a magazine. The magazine is actually owned by William Reed Publishing. They didn’t have a presence in Scotland, but we have a lot of experience up here in publishing. We are contract publishers, and were looking for a way to expand outside of company newsletters and such. We approached them and talked to them about a number of sectors, and we settled on Scottish retail, which we thought was not particularly well served by the incumbent magazine. The local retailer in Scotland was getting a tough deal when it came to editorial coverage.”
Other new magazine launches have included the well-received gardening title The Scottish Garden.
As well as the launches and purchases, some of Scotland’s existing magazine titles have found 2003 to be a bumper year.
This year saw Glasgow-based International Magazines launch a new title in the North of England, North of England Weddings, a sister magazine to the company’s The Best Scottish Weddings. International magazines publisher David Riddell says: “It’s been our best year ever. It was a bloody good year. Our magazines are more related to retail than manufacturing. I know some of the magazines reliant on manufacturing took a hit, but it’s been retail that’s been keeping the country out of a recession.”
Other successes over the past year have included titles such as Bunkered and Vibe, which has branched out from its Dundee base to open new offices in Glasgow, as well as well-respected business magazine Scottish Business Insider.
With some enjoying the heady heights of success while others are left behind at the bottom of the hill, it raises the question of why. Why have some magazines had a strong year and others haven’t?
One solution, as with any type of business, is overheads. Begley states that one of the reasons Scottish Local Retailer has done well has been the company’s small overheads. He says: “Obviously, advertising has been in the doldrums. You just have to read the press and see that. But I think a lot depends on your cost levels. I don’t think William Reed could run a very profitable mag up here but because we are smaller, have a lower cost level, we are able to make it work.”
Riddell, however, believes that the success or failure of a magazine rests on its ability to find and appeal to a specific target market. A niche. He says: “I think one of the reasons Caledonia went down was because it never had a niche. Homes and Interiors Scotland has a niche, it does really well and the reason it does that is because it knows what it is. I think Caledonia did at first, but by the time it went down it had no idea.
“I think a magazine absolutely has to identify a niche, and it needs to be an area that has room for growth. I think there’s tremendous potential in Scotland but a magazine needs to know what it is, it has to know who it’s aimed at.”
So is there still room in Scotland for further growth? Are there yet more niches for Scottish publishers to exploit?
The Periodical Publishers Association exists to promote the magazine industry and further the cause of its 400 members. Robin Hodge, chairman of PPA Scotland and publisher of The List magazine, believes the industry north of the border still has plenty of room to grow. He says: “Well, it’s quite interesting, if you compare Scotland with, for example, Ireland. Ireland has many more successful magazine titles than Scotland, with a population similar in size. They have built up some strong titles. There are still gaps in the Scottish market. For example, there is no women’s lifestyle magazine in Scotland; there is one in Dublin. There’s still an opportunity to start up if you’re different. But it’s not easy. It takes talent, marketing expertise and determination to make a magazine successful.”
As far as the year ahead goes, it looks as though Scotland could be ready for yet more rocky terrain. The new Government Communications Bill will leave Scotland’s magazine publishers, as well as its television, radio and newspapers, open to takeover by both foreign and domestic giants.
But what effect will this have on the industry here? Hodge says: “At the moment there’s a really healthy mix of media ownership in Scotland, from old established family publishers such as DC Thomson through to big companies such as Trinity Mirror and Newsquest, and then small independents like Scottish Garden. There’s a good range, a good healthy mix. I think that’s important. You often find that the innovation comes from the smaller companies. I think if media ownership is restricted to conglomerates it can restrict creativity in the marketplace.”
With advertising spend slowly dragging itself back up and Scotland still seemingly under-serviced in the magazine sector, the months ahead could prove to be the most profitable yet. But it remains to be seen whether, with larger media owners scouring the country for future acquisitions, Scotland will remain firmly in control of its own magazine publishing sector.
With regards to 2004, time will tell the lay of the land.
The power of magazines
Robin Hodge, chairman of PPA Scotland, explains why these new awards come at an exciting time for magazine publishing.
“This is a great time to be celebrating excellence in Scottish magazine publishing. We all know that the media mix is continually changing in this digital age, but it is clear that magazines retain a powerful bond with their readers. A quick flick through any successful title will begin to reveal the skill of the writers, photographers, editors and designers who bring life to the pages and add personality to the publication. It is this personality and character that gives magazines their strength – recent research has shown how strongly readers identify with their favourite magazines compared with other media.
“In spite of the challenging economic climate and occasional setbacks, magazine publishing in Scotland continues to thrive. This year has seen the launch of new titles dedicated to a range of subjects from gardening and retailing to the Edinburgh Festival. At the same time, there have been innovative supplements and spin-off publications or events from many of our well-established titles.
“Scottish magazines play an important role in most of our leading professions and businesses, and they cater for a wide range of sports, from golf and rugby to fly fishing and scuba diving. There are customer and membership magazines for major organisations, general interest titles devoted to almost everything you can think of and, of course, still the timeless classic that is the Beano.
“While other media are continuing to fragment – witness the roll-out of ever more TV channels and the launch of new specialist radio stations – more and more advertisers are beginning to realise just how effectively they can reach direct to their target markets through magazines. Newspapers are also becoming increasingly aware of the appeal of the format, as they add more and more supplements in an attempt to emulate the appeal of magazines.
“PPA Scotland exists to help support this important creative industry, to raise the profile of magazine publishing, to undertake research, provide training and encourage growth and innovation. This year’s inaugural awards attracted 99 entries and were attended by over 200 guests. We are already planning a bigger and even better event for November 2004.”