Written for SYP Scotland blog | Kerin O’Connor – The Week: Building a 21st Century Publishing Model – Magfest 2015
With 34 circulation increases back to back, The Week is a fascinating example of doing print ‘right’, if there is such a thing, in a world that constantly reports on the field’s decline. Chief Executive Kerin O’Connor notes that they’re now owned by a charity so they need to be more robust, so they’re looking at the bigger picture.
In launching, they had many barriers to success. The original creator had no marketing plan, no pay to offer, no investment – that was until Felix Dennis read The Week and saw a spark in it, a potential that won his investment without it ever being asked.
“The 95% we don’t include [in the magazine] creates the unique value of The Week for the reader,” explains Kerin. “We’re trying to reflect what people want to talk about.” As he scrolls through their competitors – The Statesman, The Economist and The Spectator, all of which are over 100 years old – he notes “We’re not a market characterised by a great deal of change.”
He has several points to take us through. The first: your best customers are your existing ones. In 1995, they launched with 2750 trial subscribers – 718 left within a year, but 690 of those are still subscribing today. “There’s a loyalty.” Those original people are responsible for over £1.3m in revenue between them.
Don’t forget print – do both. Kerin notes that over 70% of their readers responded to say they don’t read any papers, meaning that The Week is their only source of this kind of content. They want people to be able to reach that in more than one way.
Partner up. “Partnerships, I love them,” he says. “They’re the future of our business.” Next: Digital has to have a mission and a goal. Print success is a big digital problem. Their beloved layouts simply don’t work on iPad. “We thought we were really cool, but we were actually really shit.”
It’s about proportion, and print simply doesn’t work the same as digital. The Mona Lisa shows that Da Vinci understood proportion. “Da Vinci knew how to design magazine apps way back then!” They deconstructed The Week, and it got good ratings, realising then that “digital doesn’t have to mean free.” They do bundle subscriptions, which is particularly popular.
Next, you must launch often and launch small. “Don’t be afraid to fail, be ready to succeed,” he says. “Keep the brand fresh by changing the way you do things.” Then you should change the way that you work – re-gear the team. Kerin recommends things like Slack and Trello for doing so.
Then comes the final reinforcement that you should treat your segments separately: Put the right content on the right place. In terms of design, one size doesn’t fit all, and it’s the same for content and the way in which it’s formatted.
The Week are evidently doing something right, and it’s quite exciting to see the thinking behind such success!