Moving from months to moments

The Guardian carries an interesting interview with Duncan Edwards the CEO of Hearst Magazines International. He has been with the company for 25 years and he has an interesting take on the competitive environment that magazine publishers now face:

Faced with competition from the BuzzFeed generation of digital upstarts, Edwards, chief executive of Hearst International, delivered an edict to his magazine editors: “From months to moments”.

“With the advent of mobile, smartphones and tablets, consumer expectations have changed,” he says. “Some content-driven pure plays were fast to realise that was an opportunity – examples everyone uses are BuzzFeed and [fashion and beauty site] Refinery29. We had to re-educate and re-structure our teams. We are moving from months to moments in our editorial thinking.” Hearst’s Duncan Edwards, ‘We are moving from months to moments’.

This mantra sits pretty askew with the rest of the interview, which stresses the long-term decisions that Edwards has taken since 2000 which have, on the whole worked out pretty well for Hearst (or Nat. Mags as they used to be known within the industry). The move into women’s weeklies in 2002, an alliance with Rodale in 2004, and the steady and still continuing success of Good Housekeeping. Historically magazine fortunes have not been built on instant success. Magazine hits have evolved over years, if not decades. There may be a kind of ‘shock effect’ by telling his editors to think in moments not months, but I hope that Duncan Edwards has not lost sight of the fact that the magazine business is not for nothing a periodical business. Success tends to be cumulative, and success results in renewals and recurring moments.

If Hearst Magazine International thinks it is in a toe-to-toe competition with BuzzFeed and Refinery29 it is going to come off second best. BuzzFeed and Refinery29 are parts of the competitive landscape for Elle and Cosmopolitan, but they are very different kettles of fish.

At Exact Editions we think that magazine publishers should no longer be moving on a month-to-month schedule, but the answer is not to be fussing about moment-to-moment tactical news stories. The key metric for the success of a digital magazine industry is the metric of renewable subscriptions. And in this context Duncan Edwards’ comment that only 80,000 issues being are currently being sold per month for the Hearst UK tablet titles is a real shocker. The number should be much higher, but the metric that really matters is: how many of those issues are being sold to subscribers, and how many of those subscribers are renewing annual/monthly/quarterly subscriptions. Hearst Magazines needs to turn its app subscriptions around so that they become a bright spot, and revenue from digital subscriptions is the key to that.