Bonfire Builders – Neil Perkin

I’m delighted that the third in the (frequentish) series of ‘Bonfire Builders‘ is Neil Perkin, of Only Dead Fish fame, with some brilliant, thought provoking stuff on the future of magazine communities…



Let’s start socially… tell us a wee bit about yourself

Well, the most exciting thing going on with me right now is that I’m starting my own thing.

Until very recently I worked at IPC Media heading up several areas of the business including research, insight, planning and commercial strategy.  IPC is a really interesting business in that it has over 80 media brands, mostly born out of magazines, which means it’s an incredibly diverse company.

In the last few years I was at the centre of defining and implementing their digital strategy, which was a brilliant job – but there is so much interesting stuff going on out there that the opportunity to work with new people on new projects was too good to miss.

So I’m going to be doing some consulting on digital content and commercial strategy, overlaid with a healthy dose of social technologies (since I believe that this is now critical to both).  And I’m really excited by the possibility of it all.

Apart from that, I’m a (slow) running, (rubbish) rockclimbing, (dodgy) goatee-wearing, glass-half-full type of bloke.

The social bonfire/advertising fireworks principle works along the lines of ‘not either/or, but both…’  Is there a specific approach for magazines to ‘bonfire building’ with readers?  After all, a lot of them would be eager to participate surely?

Magazines are already strong on community.  Think about it – they’re self-selected, focused around areas of passion, read by similar people.

So there are things that magazines have always done that help to build the community over time – I’m thinking of the visibility they give and the interaction they encourage through some of the editorial product (real-life magazines for example, are all about user generated content), and through events and added services.

The digital realm takes this to another level of-course. The great opportunity that magazine brands have on the web is combining the best of what they have always done (curated content, inspiration, aspiration, passion) with the best of a connected web (interaction, real-time, connection, conversation, collaboration).

Magazine brands can be great facilitators, and so the social web is a huge opportunity. There’s some great stuff happening in this space but in truth, I don’t think we’ve yet seen what’s really possible.

I’m aware that a lot of sales tactics for magazines over the years has focused on the ‘free’ covermount, which I guess is quite ‘fireworky’ in nature.  Do you think more ‘bonfires’ will help build up more consistent and stable sales?

The UK differs from the US in that the majority of magazine sales are newsstand based rather than subscription.  The newsstand is a hugely competitive environment.  Confronted with rows of magazines, readers make their minds up in seconds, so your front cover has to work exceptionally hard.  Given all that, most magazines actually have remarkably consistent and stable sales.



Of-course there’s promotional stuff going on all the time – it’s a highly competitive environment remember – but every magazine will have it’s core base of loyal readers.  But sure, the interaction between the offline product and a magazine brand’s social web presence is an interesting opportunity for them to encourage additional loyalty and new ways of inter-playing offline with on.

We hear a lot about how the trust people have in advertising, and in the media, has been eroded over the years, and now are far more likely to trust other people (even if they’ve not met them).  Do people trust their magazines the way they used to?  And if not, does the collaborative ‘bonfire’ approach help re-engender that trust?

Magazines have always been a hugely trusted medium – I don’t think that has dramatically changed.  But I think what has changed is the expectation people have about being able to access, share and interact with that trusted content whenever and wherever they want, and how they discover that content.

Magazines have strong media brands (you can form a pretty strong picture of a person just by saying they’re an NME reader.  Not sure where that leaves you if you’re ITV 3).

They have long added editorial authority to commercial copy (the ‘advertorial’ approach), but the opportunity that the social web gives to magazine brands is to help provide new solutions through facilitating conversation and collaboration via a trusted brand.

And what of the future?

I think all the stuff going on right now around e-readers and the ipad is really interesting (Mag+ has been by far the best visualisation of its potential), but not for the reason you might think.  Yes, user experience is very important, and it’s really exciting thinking about all the different ways in which people could interact with magazine-type content.

But to repeat one of my most oft-used Henry Jenkins quotes, our focus shouldn’t be on emerging technologies but on emerging cultural practices.  The media owners that will win in this ever-changing environment will be those that truly understand their communities.

And note – I didn’t say ‘audiences’. The biggest opportunity that magazine (and other media) owners have is to be facilitators.  To get in and really mix it up with the people who are interacting with their content.  To connect people.  With other people.  With great content.  And great information.  With entertainment, inspiration, aspiration, stimulation…fun.

But in order to do that they have get over the destination thinking that still dominates within many content owners.  Life isn’t linear anymore.  In fact it never was.