Would its own industry association help the digital magazine sector grow?

28/11/2013 — Leave a comment

There were a lot of big questions being asked at the Digital Magazine Unconference in London Tuesday.

  • Will iPad domination last?
  • Is a subscription model better than an advertising model?
  • How can design teams support multiple form factors?
  • How do publishers overcome discoverability problems in the newsstands?
  • Is print an advantage or a drawback?

If there was one question that unified the discussions raging across the venue it was this: How can the digital magazine sector grow? One possible answer – form an industry association to coordinate the debate and present a unified, positive message of digital magazines to the outside world.

Unconference organisers Bruce Hudson and Gerrie Hawes put this idea to the assembled participants and later to attendees at the Digital Magazine Awards. Their answer isn’t clear yet, but I suspect this somewhat self-selecting group is likely to be supportive.

My initial reaction was that the publishing sector already has too many associations – PPA, FIPP, AOP, IAB, ABC, CMA, SIIA – our industry has more association acronyms than you can shake a stick at.

But none of these groups, all doing excellent work in their own areas, have digital magazines at their core. They juggle print and digital, websites and magazines, circulation and advertising; none focus exclusively on the unique issues faced by digital magazine publishers.

That still doesn’t mean another association is the best way to increase the digital magazine sector’s share of circulation and advertising revenues. For me, that would depend very much on what the association looked like.

I’m not 100% sure what a successful digital magazine association should look like, but I have some ideas on what it shouldn’t look like.

No borders
Old school publishing can be a pretty parochial place. Yes, the biggest publishers talk international, but mostly the people in charge have divided the world up into manageable territories and rarely look outside the geographies that they are responsible for. Digital is different. Entries for the Digital magazine awards came from almost 70 different countries. At one point, of the 12 people in the session I facilitated at the Unconference in London, most came from outside the UK.

No standards setting
The last thing digital magazine publishers need is a standards setting body. The energy and innovation evident in the field must continue, free, for example, from the sort of auditing constraints that have crossed over from legacy print. However, a group that could share solutions to common problems and present best practise would help in easing publishers into the sector, encourage reader and advertiser take up and make it easier to develop skills.

No phoney war with print
An association formed with the sole intention of going to war with the print lobby would also be a bad thing. Much of the potential membership, especially the bigger publishers in the market, still rely heavily on print revenues. While promoting the benefits of the medium, a successful digital magazine association would need to remain sensitive to the economic realities of publishing, promoting the possibilities of digital while maintaining a multiplatform perspective.

No soapboxes
A talking shop that becomes the soapbox for big-time publishing executives wouldn’t be helpful either. The real joy of the Digital Magazine Unconference was watching executives representing the Big Beasts of magazine publishing listening intently to independent publishers and recognizing that these individuals are figuring out important stuff.

No barriers to membership
Take a look at the winners list for this year’s Digital Magazine Awards; titles from corporations like Conde Nast, Hearst, Future and Immediate share the winner’s circle with independent titles like Katachi and Clash Music. An association that doesn’t give a voice to the little guys is unlikely to help the sector move forward, so it has to remain accessible to publishers who have more ideas than cash.

Would an industry association help the digital magazine sector grow? I think the right association would, but I’m really interested to hear what other people think about this one.

Did you already take the poll? If you think a dedicated industry association would help the digital magazine sector grow, give it a thumbs up and leave your thoughts on what you think that association should look like. If you thinks it’s the worst idea ever, give it the thumbs down and say why.

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