Country Life editor Mark Hedges has a simple solution to the commercial pressures currently facing the magazine industry: “Make the magazine better.”
Hedges was speaking at this week’s PPA Festival in London and noted how his title has posted eight successive annual ABC increases since he took over as editor in 2006.
It currently has a circulation of just over 40,000 copies a month and notable scoops in recent years have included securing Prince Charles as a guest editor and publishing the first image of Shakespeare which was created during his lifetime.
Most UK magazines are currently losing circulation, albeit at a lower rate than newspapers, and the magazine industry is collectively attracting a shrinking share of the advertising market.
Hedges said: “Magazines can be fantastically successful, but don’t go on doing the same thing you were doing five years ago or ten years ago. You need to create the product that your readership wants.
“Too many magazines are being diverted by publishing houses focusing too hard on the digital aspect. I think they would see much better sales of there was greater focus on the magazine.”
He said he was helped by the fact that “before I took over the magazine it was fucking dull”, adding: “I have no belief in focus groups I think they are absolutely ridiculous.”
Talking about how to be a good editor, he said: “The key is not to create a parish magazine of your own interests. That is the single greatest flaw of all editors. The readers, not you, must come first.
“The second thing is to understand what those readers want.”
Paraphrasing Paul Getty, he described how to succeed as editor of Country Life: “You need to start early, work late and put a dog on the cover.”