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As Glamour goes “digital first”, what does the future hold for magazines?

The pervading sense of decline is rooted firmly in reality, but it also obscures a more complex picture.

On 6 October, Glamour magazine, one of the UK’s most recognisable women’s titles, announced that it was abandoning its monthly print edition in favour of a “digital first” strategy and two glossy print releases a year. The news prompted a renewed round of industry introspection.

The numbers provide plenty of reasons to be gloomy. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the combined revenues from cover sales and advertising for the UK’s magazines have fallen by 8 per cent since 2012 from £2.4bn to £2.2bn, and will fall a further 18 per cent to £1.8bn by 2021. Digital growth simply isn’t replacing declines in print ads and circulation, and by 2022 the market will be almost a quarter smaller than it was a decade before.

The pervading sense of decline is rooted firmly in reality, but it also obscures a more complex picture. Current-affairs magazines such as the Economist, the Spectator and, yes, the New Statesman have been on an upward trajectory. According to the Economist’s deputy editor, Tom Standage, that isn’t simply the result of the uncertain state of the world, but also the desire for journalism that helps make sense of it all.

“The more noise there is on social media, all those TV channels and so on, the more demand there is for a finite, finishable package that helps you understand what’s going on,” Standage says. “A noisier and more uncertain news environment works in our favour.”

Other sectors, such as TV listings and children’s magazines, continue to appeal because comparable online alternatives haven’t emerged. But those whose roles are easily replicated have suffered. Women’s titles such as Glamour have struggled to compete with bloggers and social media stars, and lads’ mags have become all but extinct after the culture (and bare breasts) they offered shifted to the web.

“It’s a big mistake to look at magazines as a single homogeneous market,” says Tom Bureau, the chief executive of the Radio Times publisher, Immediate Media. “Bits are under massive pressure… generally where they are getting disintermediated by the internet.”

Albert Read, the managing director of the Glamour owner, Condé Nast Britain, says the story of “overarching decline” contains both “very steep declines and growth stories”. He cites the excitement over the appointment of Edward Enninful to edit Vogue as evidence of the industry’s continuing relevance. “[Editors] have enormous heft. I can’t tell you the number of people who want a piece of the editor. They occupy central points in the ecology of their industry.”

But even the comparatively successful magazines are, in general, selling fewer print copies. New revenue streams, such as conferences, educational tie-ups and digital subscriptions, are working for some, but the big hope for many remains digital advertising.

For the first time in years, there is optimism that it might be possible to retrieve some of the digital ad growth that has been dominated by Google and Facebook.

Concerns about the social impact of big tech have helped, but the real driver is a nagging doubt that advertisers were too quick to embrace opaque online platforms.

“The ad industry has been guilty of chasing an audience online and not paying enough attention to context and quality,” says Robin O’Neill, the head of digital trading at the ad-buying agency GroupM. His print counterpart, Steve Goodman, tells me: “Just maybe the pendulum is swinging back.”

Of course, both publishers and the big ad agencies have good reason to push a positive narrative. Douglas McCabe, the chief executive at Enders Analysis, is more sceptical, saying magazines can’t just expect the money to come flowing back in. “Part of the problem is that a lot of online magazines are just replicating what everyone else is doing online,” he says. “Publishers need to go back to some quite fundamental business decisions about what their brand might mean in a digital space. What can they do that no one else can?” 

Jasper Jackson is the New Statesman's digital editor. He was formerly assistant editor of Media Guardian, and editor of TheMediaBriefing.

This article first appeared in the 19 October 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Russia’s century of revolutions

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Four key thinkers more deserving of a revival than “Trump’s philosopher” Ayn Rand

If thinkers have enduring value, it is because their ideas are timeless, not timely.

A recent story in theTimes carried the headline, “Trump’s philosopher is heading for your local pub”. The philosopher in question was Ayn Rand, whose works The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) have been a profound influence on the American right since they were published, and are apparently enjoying a resurgence.

The story went on: the previous week, “about 15 people packed into a room above the Plumbers Arms in Victoria, central London” to discuss Rand. You read that right: 15! Three more than a dozen! Their cups runneth over indeed. We later discovered that Britain’s first Ayn Rand Centre is being set up. Moreover, new groups dedicated to Rand have popped up in Reading and Milton Keynes.

Everything about this story was designed to make me angry. For one thing, Rand was above all a novelist, not a philosopher. For another, it’s generous to suggest that the star of America’s Celebrity Apprentice, who is also the current occupant of the White House, is deeply familiar with her overall body of work. He said he enjoyed The Fountainhead; that’s some way short of her being a favourite philosopher.

But the thing that really riles me is this fashion for stories about intellectual fashions. Last year, apparently, there was an upsurge of interest in, and sales of, George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. During the financial crisis, displaying knowledge of Hyman Minsky’s oeuvre became the columnist’s trope du jour – just as, in the recession that followed, flaunting one’s knowledge of John Maynard Keynes’s The General Theory was a mark of cool and learning.

If thinkers have enduring value, it is because their ideas are timeless, not timely. So here, apropos of nothing in particular, are four other key thinkers that are being unfairly neglected.

1. Polonius The true hero of Elsinore, who manages to distil in one speech more wisdom than the self-indulgent prince manages over five acts. Where Hamlet’s meandering vanities take him hither and thither to no great end, Polonius speaks the language of uncommon common sense to which this column aspires. And how prescient is he? His “neither a borrower nor a lender be” anticipated the post-monetary policy era four centuries before Mark Carney took the reins in Threadneedle Street. And his advice to “Give every man thine ear but few thy voice” is the perfect coping mechanism for social media. 

2. Judith Kerr If you have young children, chances are you are more than familiar with Kerr’s seminal work, The Tiger Who Came to Tea. In it, Sophie is having tea with her mother in the kitchen when a big, furry, stripy tiger knocks on the door. It joins them and promptly eats and drinks everything in the house, forcing the family to go out for a special dinner when Sophie’s father comes home from work. Naturally, I don’t approve of the stereotypical gender roles in this plot; but the message of instinctive generosity and openness to unfamiliar outsiders, with unforeseen benefits for family life, undoubtedly carries lessons for our age of mass migration and rapid demographic upheaval.

3. Meryl Streep Less neglected than my other candidates for your attention, I’ll grant; but I really think Meryl Streep’s assertion, when asked in 2015 by Time Out if she was a feminist, is crucial. She said: “I’m a humanist.” In doing this she proclaimed the connection between feminism and universal ideals, placed feminism within a broader philosophical tradition, and revived interest in humanism at a time when religiosity is again on the march. Given the current conniptions over gender in our public domain, this was an important contribution, don’t you think?

4. Humphrey Appleby Have you noticed that, amid the toxic warfare over Brexit, the once unimpeachable integrity of Britain’s civil servants is now being traduced? Jacob Rees-Mogg criticised them only the other week. I recommend he revisit Yes, Minister, in which the peerless Nigel Hawthorne played the ultimate British bureaucrat. His dictum that “a cynic is what an idealist calls a realist” is both plausible and the perfect coolant for our
overheated democracy.

Back to the Ayn Rand philosophy club: I don’t believe I’ve tried the Plumbers Arms in Victoria. But I’ll make an exception if some New Statesman reader is prepared to start the first UK society dedicated to the propagation of these thinkers’ ideas. Anyone fancy a pint? 

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist