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Nicholas Brett

Deputy MD and Editorial Director | 01 Oct 2010

If the definition of magazine is to do with ink and paper then that is where the discussion of death and mortality comes in. For me a magazine is about a brand, it's about aggregating audience around a passion. I am a specialist magazine maker, working around community and people that are mad about astronomy, cooking, cars etc. I service these people using the appropriate medium for them. And a magazine on ink and paper is important to me, but a magazine on Ipad is still a magazine to me. A magazine website still has magazine elements.'

Nicholas Brett joined BBC Magazines in August 1988 from The Times, London, where he was Features Editor, Radio Times (RT). He became Editorial Director of BBC Magazines in 1991. In 1996, he became Publishing Director of RT and in the BBC Worldwide organisation a year later, became a Director of one of the cross-media businesses that included magazines, BBC's audio business, books and video publishing for music, drama, arts and history genres. It was in this role that he launched History Magazine in 2000. He was appointed Deputy MD of BBC Magazines in August 2001 when magazines were brought back together into one division, and in January 2006 he took on the additional responsibility of Group Editorial Director for BBC Magazines in London, Bristol and Mumbai. Under him BBC has seen the launch of magazines like Lonely Planet, Knowledge in India and abroad.

In November 2006 he received the BSME's lifetime achievement award - The Mark Boxer Award - for his editorial contribution to magazines in this country. In July 2007 he was honoured with the PPA's Chairman's Award for his services to training and development of the UK magazines industry.

Brett has been observing the Indian magazine industry closely given the BBC joint venture with TOI, Worldwide Media. In this interview with Akash Raha of exchange4media, Brett talks about the digital age of magazines and about BBC's stakes in India.

Q. BBC and the TOI together launched several magazines in India. How has the joint venture been so far? Would you say that it has been successful?

Our relationship with the Times of India has been very good and the joint venture (Worldwide Media) has been fruitful to say the least. In the magazine joint venture, which we began in 2004, we now have nine magazines. We have top BBC brands like Top Gear and Good Home and with the marriage came big heavyweight Indian brands like Filmfare and Femina. We also got the license for probably the world's best gossip magazine Hello and Ola. License for Italian news and fashion magazine Grazia was also procured, which we now publish that in India (an Indian version). And then we launched the Lonely Planet magazine and we are going to launch Knowledge soon. I feel that we are doing very well. The Indian magazine market reminds me of the scenario in Britain 15-20 years ago, when there was rampant consumerism. Magazines are a tremendous medium for promoting consumerism. You have a booming economy, very new affluent middle class who want all the new brands, they want their BMW and Rolex and magazines are great medium of promoting those kinds of luxury brands.

Q. There is this hullabaloo in the industry over the fate of magazines. Several people believe that magazines will cease to exist. Is that a possibility?

If the definition of magazine is to do with ink and paper then that is where the discussion of death and mortality comes in. For me a magazine is about a brand, it's about aggregating audience around a passion. I am a specialist magazine maker, working around community and people that are mad about astronomy, cooking, cars etc. I service these people using the appropriate medium for them. And a magazine on ink and paper is important to me, but a magazine on Ipad is still a magazine to me. A magazine website still has magazine elements.

If we are talking about a narrow definition of magazine, coining it as ink and paper then the picture might not look as beautiful. But if we are saying that there is a community of readers who can still read magazines in various mediums, then I think future is very rosy.

Q. Do you think enough has been done in Indian to leverage magazine in the online space? Is there a successful revenue model on digital or are other, more basic revenue models better?

I am well aware of the incursion of mobile phones in India, but I am not yet familiar with websites in India and how well they have been leveraged. I think you will find that soon consumers will be very excited about Ipad and other e-reading devices. There, we as publishers seem to be on the right foot. We are recognizing that the people are paying by and large for these Ipad and Ipod apps. Money is changing hands, content is valued.

I think in the early days, 10-12 years ago, when internet was beginning there was a theory 'let's give content a way, let's build an audience around it and then let's worry another day how we monetize that audience. Thinking on hind sight, that was probably a mistake.

Having said that, if you can get a website right, there is definitely a revenue model in it. I have a leading magazine called Good Food which is basically a recipe based magazine. I have also got a Good Food website which is massive recipe database. You can search by recipe, ingredients, time a dish takes to cook, and you search by a particular type of cuisine. It is such a brilliant website, and its content is so good that last year we got back about million pounds of advertising from that website.

So, I think we have come too late on the web to think about how to make money. We have been completely reliant on advertising. I don't like a model where you are commercially completely reliant on one source of revenue. My magazines in Britai have very healthy newsstand revenues. The cover prices are much higher back in Britain. We have almost a million subscribers who have signed and paying a years revenue in advance for a year's subscription. We also have a healthy stream of advertising revenue. I don't know, I am not an economist, I am from a journalistic background but I have realised that reliance over a single source of revenue is not good.

Q. In a country like India, where cover prices are low and there is an increasing dependency on the advertisers, how much does the content gets dependent on the advertisements?

As far as we in BBC go is to build a strong relationship with the advertiser to understand the things that are important to them. But that is secondary to the relationship we have with our consumer. And we have a very strong line drawn between our editorial activity and commercial activity. And readers have to know when they are reading advertorial and when they are reading editorial. BBC has a history of being trustworthy to its readers and we will stick by it forever.

I know about my magazines and can vouch that they have excellent content. In time I believe they will grow. Our magazines are still growing. I believe that if you have a great product and you believe in it, you will always find a market to sell it.

Q. How did global meltdown affect BBC Worldwide Magazines? What is on the cards for the year 2010-11?

I would say that the recession hasn't affected us at all. We launched the 'Lonely Planet' in February, 'Knowledge' in November. Launching two magazines in a year in my reckoning is quite good. We certainly didn't stop our expansion plans or halt them, actually quite the opposite. We also launched this design magazine in New Zealand called 'Home Trends'. We were pretty much on launch mode all the while.

In the current year we have got an upcoming launch that we working on. We plan to launch it during the Spring. We are not ready to reveal the details of it yet. However, it is a subject area which has remained underdeveloped and I think we have the expertise in this area and we will do well. Our budget for next year shows planned growth and we are very excited about the opportunities here in India.

Q. What are the upcoming magazine trends that you observe in India and worldwide?

I see the trends going differently for different magazine markets. For example our UK strategy will be very different from our India strategy. Our UK magazine strategy is in three folds. The first is to make brands and build brands which bring audiences around a particular passion. The idea is to make a trusted brand in a particular area and make it work very hard across multiple platforms. The second part of the strategy is to make products which have multiple format potential. We want to make a product that can work as a paper magazine, it can work on an Iphone, on a Tabloid reader, work online, possibly work as a television program and work as a live event too. This increases the potential of the brand to be successful. The third part of the strategy, which also relates to India is to make brands which are international, products which are global. Ours is a global world and the need of the global vision for business. That was the over-arching BBC Worldwide global strategy.

In India the scene is slightly different. We are still very very interested in making paper magazines. But in India, print market as we see is still bourgeoning and is doing quite well. Whereas in Britain, most of our money is going into making Ipdad applications.

Magazine for me will always be a successful business. The will always continue to flourish, albeit in different forms and mediums. The essence behind magazine making is to put the consumer at the heart of everything. To such an extent that the consumer actually dictates that how they want the content delivered to them. It is essential to know how your audience wants the relationship to be, how they want to communicate with you and how you want to engage with them. The mantra is to choose the right medium for the right audience.

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