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Think BR: Magazine leader says vive la revolution!

Ahead of today's magazine ABCs, PPA chief executive Barry McIlheney offers his thoughts on the evolving magazine industry and the need to look beyond the headline print figures.

Barry McIlheney, chief executive of the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) and former editor of Empire and Smash Hits

Barry McIlheney, chief executive of the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) and former editor of Empire and Smash Hits

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I had lunch this week with Lucie Cave, the diminutive though effervescent editor of Heat magazine. This being ABC week, I broached the subject of how her own title might fare on the big day itself.

For Heat, read pretty much the entire consumer magazine industry in her reply: the headline print figure might be down a bit, website up yet again, big growth in the radio station, massive surge on the Twitter followers, ditto the Facebook page, total brand reach now well into the millions, thanks very much for asking.

The magazine, for Cave and her fellow new generation of editors, still remains the mothership at the very heart of the increasingly multi-platform brand.

As the PPA’s recent Publishing Futures research showed, print still drives 86% of revenues for consumer publishers, and ABC day is still an important date in the industry’s calendar.

But it is the brand in its entirety that does now need to be measured, and it is encouraging to see this new reality start to be reflected in the latest round of ABC multi-platform certificates, with their breakout columns for iPad apps and the like.

The Twitter followers and Facebook likes might not be on there but they now form a growing part of the bigger picture.

Magazine brands are trusted sources 

And it’s not just a matter of wanting a nice big figure to add up and sell back to the advertising world. It’s actually more a matter of trust - the trust that traditional readers of magazines are more than happy to transfer over to the various platforms on which that trusted provider now presents its content.

I do it myself every minute of every day. Content from a site randomly sourced via Google tells me that this is what I need to be wearing next season. Really? I’ll be the judge of that.

GQ editor Dylan Jones tweets about a new collection that has taken his fancy - I’m in there, no questions asked.

Fashion, music, film, food: insert your own passion here. Magazines, in whatever format they now wish to communicate, are still the ultimate trusted source of information, entertainment, and beautifully edited choice.

The exciting challenge for agencies and clients is therefore to move with the early adopters in their world who are already starting to look beyond the headline print figures, be they up or down, and focus more on the holistic power of the brand.

I don’t know just yet what Red magazine’s traditional ABC figure might look like this time around. But does anyone following Sam Baker on Twitter or who shops on the Red website seriously think that the Red brand is in any way less prevalent or powerful now than it was this time last year?

These are just some of the ideas that we will be developing through the PPA Marketing operation over the next few months, kicking off with our appointment of a brand new marketing director in September.

As to where this astonishing and hugely exciting magazine revolution might end, the middle of the uprising is perhaps not the best time to try to predict its outcome.

Mao Tse-tung, when asked to assess the impact of the French Revolution on the occasion of its 200th anniversary in 1989, famously replied that it was far too early to say.

On ABC day, if no other time, I’m with chairman Mao.

Barry McIlheney, chief executive of the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) and former editor of Empire and Smash Hits

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