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For print to survive requires imagination and innovation

March 7, 2016

I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having mixed feelings over the decision of Incisive Media to take Post monthly after almost 176 years of weekly publication.

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For those who don’t know I edited what was then called Post Magazine from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s and then helped to guide it into the multi-platform era. I arrived as it was acquired by new owners – Timothy Benn Publishing – with a brief to radically modernise a very tired but respected brand before it was swept aside by the threat of brash, new competitors. This we did with a total overhaul of contents, style, tone and design in September 1986, remarkably the first major revamp of the magazine since the late-1930s. No, that’s not a typing error. It really hadn’t changed in nearly 50 years: unthinkable nowadays.

It worked and Post rode the crest of a wave, frequently publishing 100-page plus issues packed with classified and display advertising. Those were great days. But they are gone.

The print publication was everything then. We had no events and the internet was still a very faint and distant vision of a handful of tech pioneers. Roll forward 30 years and we are in the multi-platform era where print, where it still exists, is secondary to digital publishing. The developments at Post have to be seen in the wider context of the revolution that is sweeping through the publishing world, whether that be newspapers such as The Independent or specialist media like Lloyd’s List abandoning print. It is a relentless trend, although Lloyd’s List got ahead of its readers and had to re-introduce a print edition.

Post, of course, is still planning to maintain a monthly print version. This seems a sensible move as the UK general insurance market it serves is notoriously conservative and many in it still place some value on the printed word, or at least they say they do.

Finding a place for print in the digital age

In sticking with print it has set itself some interesting challenges. Finding the right longer form content is not as easy as it sounds. It doesn’t just mean publishing longer, more technical articles, although they will clearly have a place in a business-to-business publication. It means playing to the strengths of print by investing in high quality design, photography and production. I also think it requires an imaginative approach to diversifying the content so that it becomes a desirable, even entertaining read, as well supporting and complementing the new website and app Post is promising.

Print magazines are not dead as a look around the shelves of most newsagents demonstrates. But look carefully at the ones that appeal to a youthful readership, especially women who are an increasingly important part of the insurance industry’s workforce. They have personality and a very strong emphasis on people. Find a way of importing that into business publishing alongside the more technical and discursive content and you may yet find a winning formula for print. After 175 years it is certainly worth a try.

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Why was an insurance publication called Post Magazine?

Post Magazine was a huge innovation when it was launched by the enterprising John Hooper Hartnoll in July 1840. It was the very first magazine in the world sent by post, taking advantage of the launch of the Penny Post just three months’ earlier.

One Comment
  1. An excellent, insightful and well-balanced blog David.
    Quite staggering to read that your highly successful redesign in 1986 was the first for over 50 years. Perhaps an illustration of the huge amount of respect people have for Post within the insurance market. It is certainly not something we take for granted.

    It is fair to say that a lot more has changed within the world of publishing during my own 19 year history with Post than did within the previous 156 years. Having spent a number of those 19 years working with you, it is no surprise to see that you understand our challenges and you understand our audience.
    As we enter another new era in Post’s wonderful history, we are very excited about our new digital products AND the new print magazine.
    High quality design, diverse, desirable and innovative content delivered with personality to a market we feel very much part of is absolutely the aim.

    We may not get perfection straight away of course but I hope you and our loyal subscribers like what you see and you continue to engage with us across all of our platforms.

    Thanks for your comments and your continued support.

    Phil Davison
    Publishing Director – Post

    Like

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