Stalled start for Murdoch’s magazines

News Magazines, News International’s magazine publishing arm, promisedmuch when it launched in January this year.

News Magazines, News International’s magazine publishing arm, promised much when it launched in January this year.

News International’s resources and the experience of the management team – led by Times Newspapers stalwart Camilla Rhodes – suggested it would not be long before News Magazines became a key player in magazines in the way The Sun and BSkyB are in their respective markets.

Speaking to The Independent in February, in her only interview since taking over as chief executive, Rhodes talked about running the business autonomously of News International and with the sort of tight budget associated with a genuine “start-up”.

Although she denied speculation that News Magazines planned to launch eight titles in its first year, Rhodes talked of her “fleet-footed” vision for the company and added: “It’s down to my newspaper background. I’m used to turning things around with very short notice.”

However, to date News Magazines has launched only two titles, the real life weekly Love It!, which exceeded its initial circulation target of 400,000 by 5,000 copies, and interiors magazine Inside Out.

While that launch rate compares favourably with other major publishers since January, it is no secret that the launch of at least one title, a women’s weekly which was scheduled for autumn 2006, has now been put back to January next year. Another, a men’s weekly, was also rumoured to be launching this year but has not materialised. It is thought that all projects may have to be delayed further if, as expected, News Magazines wins the contract to publish Sky: The Magazine.

Ahead of the gameOne press buyer questions how much News Magazines has achieved this year, saying: “I suspect the ABC for Love It! disappointed News Magazines’ management. In News Corp culture, an executive responsible for a launch will identify a target that can be hit comfortably and if they publicly said they hoped Love It! would achieve a 400,000 ABC, chances are they actually expected 500,000.”

However, MindShare’s press director Paul Thomas disagrees. “Compared to the numbers of launches made by News Magazines’ rivals this year, I’d argue Camilla’s team is ahead of the game,” he says.

Thomas adds that it is vital to launch “the right product at the right time” and says: “Bauer had to ditch its title Cut after just five months and EMAP got it badly wrong when originally launching Heat as a men’s title. Another couple of titles from News Magazines would have been great but I’d rather they are careful and get it right than stuff the market with poor magazines. It is a tribute to them that they displayed enough industry knowledge to put the brakes on a couple of projects.”

Pressure testedSandy Whetton, who joined News Magazines from IPC Southbank as managing director in May, repeats Rhodes’ “fleet of foot” message but puts it into context. “Nobody in any competitive industry can ever truthfully say ‘everything went as planned’, but going into the market, examining every idea we have and taking all the right opportunities means prioritising,” he says. “We’re not the monolithic company that will only stick to our original idea with no flexibility. All ideas are pressure tested with customers and pressure tested financially and this takes time and rigour.

“However, we are adaptable and quick on our feet and because the executives are all based here it takes less than ten seconds to make a decision on something.”

Whetton refuses to comment on the pitch for the Sky magazine contract but says all decision-making on launches happens within News Magazines and has little to do with News Corporation. “Let our current numbers speak for themselves,” he adds. “Love It! went from nowhere to top ten with its first ABC, and as for other titles, we’ll do it when we’re ready. You don’t launch snowboarding in the middle of summer.”

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