James Brown on editing Four Four Two: 'I don't see mags I want, so there's an opportunity'

James Brown talks to The Drum about the evolution of print

Renowned magazine editor James Brown has shared with The Drum his plan to revitalise Four Four Two in an era where print has to adapt to survive and fight to thrive. For him, it is business as usual...

Speaking to The Drum’s deputy editor Cameron Clarke, Brown discussed his colourful career in print and his plan to transform the Future-owned football mag as its new editor-in-chief. To do so, he has come out of magazine “retirement”.

He said: "I started Loaded because there wasn't a magazine for me. Once again I find myself in the newsagent and I don't see any magazines I want to buy, that means there is an opportunity... I want to read a really good football mag."

There is competition out there from new football media players like Mundial and Copa90 which have carved out a unique tone of voice, regardless of the platform: "There have been a lot of small [football] indies that have done well because they did what I did with Loaded and first created a magazine they love."

Four Four Two needs to adapt, and, for Brown, embrace an older audience instead of chasing the elusive millennial. For him, there is little interest in exclusively catering to a generation that may have no nostalgia for the brand, and have no print reading habits to speak of. For them, there is digital output that could draw them into a subscription; the mag does, after all, boast half a million followers across social.

He said: "I don't see the point in trying to sell a magazine to a generation that don't want to buy magazines when there are people out there looking and there is nothing there for them."

It's not just a style choice, brands like Nike are moving their spend to the likes of Instagram in pursuit of that audience they can sell directly to.

After a few years away from mag editing, instead operating in the evolving PR and media landscape, the writer, author and radio host reflected on how brand partnerships and celeb access has changed since the peak years of print. Drugs are much less commonplace during the interviews apparently.

He said: "When I was editing Loaded, it was hard to get footballers, we would pay Paul Merson £500 or get Gazza 50 videos from HMV."

"Here's the guy that is buying me the videos," exclaimed Gaza when Brown and co were visiting him on a pre-season tour with Rangers. HMV got an ad in the mag, and a mention in the piece for sourcing the extensive video archive.

In many ways, things are less ragtag, more organised, although media titles are working with brands and get access to talent and celebs.

He said: "Future is pretty aggressive around its commercial relationships, it is a different company that I am used to working in."

There is a branded partnership in the works in the video space, but Brown is open to these relationships in print if it is the right fit. He is there to turn around the title, and a big part of that is morale, he said.

Following his hire, there is a buoyancy around the football mag.

"There are in-depth, brilliant pieces in the works, people are coming to me with stories because they know we can present them in a way that no one else will."

To thrive in the current media environment, he concluded: "If you create print editorial with impact and shorter, punchier digital editorial on social, then you know where you are going."

The latest mag, (issue 298), was a joint effort between the old and new regimes, Brown's first full issue that he can call his own will come out in April. This month, 'the world's best defender' Virgil Van Dijk adorns the cover. Immediately setting the tone are a few double page spreads ranging from the Copa Del Rey, to the foggy climes of Arsenal vs West Ham under 23s.

Down the line, he has queued up features from Irvine Welsh, Bob Mortimer and Hunter Davies, indicating the wealth of talent he hopes he can continue to attract.

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