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November 5, 2016

FIPP World Congress, Oct. 13-15, 2015, Toronto – Report

by Sylvia Skene, Executive Director, MagsBC

I've done a long report on the congress with key takeaways, which I hope you find useful. Suzanne Trudel, executive director of the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association, has also shared her comments about FIPP, which I’ve incorporated below.

As a biennial international conference, the FIPP World Congress comes to North America infrequently, and Canada even more infrequently. This time it was in Toronto, which meant more magazines, vendors, funders, media buyers and sellers were also Canadian- or U.S.-based and thus more relevant to us.

Even with many of the delegates being from North America, FIPP was international in scope and views. As Canada’s magazine market is different from the U.S.’s, I found it interesting to hear about different models and strategies working in other countries.

I was also able to catch up on what was happening in the magazine world on the larger stage and with leading publications. Speakers representing the “big guys” (Hearst, Condé Nast, Time Inc., National Geographic) talked about what innovations they’re implementing and had success with.  We’ll likely see some of this filtering down to smaller magazines in the next few months or years, so it was nice to have a head’s up about these initiatives.

I also had a chance to talk with staff members from Magazines Canada and the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association (AMPA), who continue to support MagsBC however they can.

Main Take-Aways

In listening to various speakers over the two days of presentations, most magazine media companies admitted they were “cautiously optimistic” about their industry, which is a significant improvement over a few years back.

“Culture trumps strategy.” If a magazine has a welcoming, inclusive presence that caters to its target audiences and provides opportunities for co-creation, then it’ll be more likely to see good numbers.  One publisher found staff that matched its audience and empowered them to make suggestions to the C suite to engage its readers and viewers even more.

Publishers agreed that they had to focus on not just good but superlative, original content, be the “go-to” content provider for their areas of expertise. Those that do are more likely to have robust subscriptions and/or membership lists that may reduce their dependence on fluctuating ad dollars.


Content is still king: CEOs from many media brands spoke about the importance of high quality content and long form.

“It provides great user engagement, premium content for our ad partners, and enables us to charge premium rates,” said Atlantic Media COO Michael Finnegan.

Joe Ripp, Time Inc, said, “There is so much bad content - quality content will win through and engage readers.”

On long form journalism, there’s a surprising resurgence in demand for long-form articles, great storytelling and expert journalism, typically 800+ words, often much longer, in Smartphones especially, which is also the fastest growing platform.  These articles can be long temporally rather than single articles, as evidenced by a 7-year walking journey by National Geographic’s Paul Salopek.

Out of Eden Walk: Dispatches from the Field from Paul Salopek

Generation of this quality content has shifted “from months to moments” and companies have pared away anything taking energy and resources away from their core assets, speeded up the production and sharing of content, added respected content providers such as well-known bloggers, and are focusing on what they do best.

Mobile-first magazine media and content providers have the fastest growing readership, and often tailor their content to the time of the day and day of the week posted. New magazine or content publishers may want to be strategic and focus exclusively on this platform.

Magazines need to have an app for Smartphones if they’re serious about having a presence, with one-finger rather than two-finger usability.

Some companies are offering video, though others see it as a waste of money. Possibly the difference is whether the video is editorial content, which people like, versus advertising in another format, which can be a hard sell for readers/viewers.

Suzanne has a different take based on what she heard:

Video traction: Many brands agreed video is a great way to differentiate themselves from bloggers and content and has great potential for growth.

Koda Wang, at Huffington Post said as much as 50% of its content would soon be video based.  Melinda Lee, VP Digital content at Hearst, said their video has become the “most powerful superhero of all its content” types.

Some find candid videos, as long as curated, to also be almost as popular as expensive formal shoots, especially of insider subjects such as backstage at a fashion show, which may help smaller magazines with more modest budgets.

Phrase of the event: “Strategic Disruption” (whatever the heck that means).

My personal favourite: “Failure Is Overrated”.

Other Trends

More magazines are putting on events as a way to extend and profile their brands, to build community, and to make money.

Time Inc. continues to see a decrease in print sales, to the tune of 4-5% per year for the last seven years. This may be U.S.-specific or industry-wide; it wasn’t clear.

Slate Magazine - Politics, Business, Technology, and the Arts

A few leading magazines are using Snapchat to great effect, e.g. Slate. Online magazine of news, politics, technology, and culture. Combines humor and insight in thoughtful analyses of current events and political news.

Some larger publishers vary the price of their magazine by country, depending on various factors, not just do a currency conversion of the cover price.

One publisher, Kadokawa, offered a raise to staff members who passed an IT course, figuring that all staff needed to know about tech, not just the IT staff.

Best online practices need to include making sure loading times for various devices is minimal, and getting up images (I would add also the candid videos mentioned above) as soon as possible.

Some companies have found that hiring a dedicated social editor to monitor, curate, and push content and information to be invaluable.

Publishers realize they need to diversify their staff quickly to remain relevant, being prone to the “male, pale and stale” demographic.

If have online presence, need to track traffic and check analytics regularly, and, even more importantly, respond to what your analytics are telling you. Experiment with content and interactivity.

Focus for both magazines and advertisers shifting from unique views to time spent/engagement. Share what you’ve learned with your advertisers.

Blendle charging micro-fees per article, with no ads (see below). Winnipeg Free Press using similar model, with a maximum fee per month after which articles are free.


The Paywall: A Dutch company Blendle, has signed substantial number of the country’s media brands and created a platform that allows readers to access single articles for a minimal payment.

This micropayment model has seen great success with Dutch youth who previously were not paying for content.

Blendle says, “It’s important to instill a sense of value. People need to see that content has value.” The model shares profits with publishers and offers readers a money-back guarantee on purchased content.

Magazine media brand every page, as most readers/viewers access content by article, rather than through home page or “cover”.

Most successful articles: short & sweet @ 300 words or less OR long original narratives/analysis of 800+ words.

Viewers/readers hate pop-up ads, even by the magazine media asking them to subscribe to their newsletters, and especially if they’ve just started reading an article. Ditto pages that take a long time to load because of ads. (No surprise there.)

Produce “things” that people want and can pass around to help promote brand: specific & focused facts, charts, photos, etc.

Integrate storytelling: blogs, testimonials, experiential media, cross-media posts.

Distribute content wherever can create audiences.

For larger publications: flatten the pyramid, minimize bureaucracy, have integrated cultures, reduce editorial and sales silos, have CEO as innovation and diversity facilitator rather than leader.

Suzanne's Additional Quick Takeaways and Common Threads:

Ad blocking: There are different approaches to ad blocking being taken – from creating a dialogue with readers through a pop up box, to a bid by City AM in the UK to stop ad blocking software users from seeing its content. The discussion continues.

Integrated content on social media: While there may be benefits to partnering with tech companies, publishers need to protect their data and revenues.

Print: There is ongoing demand for printed content. Rodale’s Organic Life launched a print product in 2015 and the Netherland’s Flow has moved from only publishing in Dutch to adding English, French and German editions.

In Future

I was not convinced that this event would have relevant and meaningful insights to BC magazines, but after going to the conference and reflecting on what I’ve learned, I actually found it quite useful professionally.

It may be of benefit to attend the biennial FIPP World Congress on a regular basis.  There are also innovation workshops at other times that may be useful to attend once, again to find out if they are useful.

I do not feel that it would be useful for the association to have a display booth at one of these events. However, as Suzanne had an AMPA booth, I also solicited her comments:

It was useful in that we were able to start conversations with people we wouldn’t have met otherwise, and our presence allowed us to demonstrate the strength of consumer engagement in Alberta’s magazines to Canadian and foreign advertisers – though I’m not sure the benefits were tangible enough to warrant the cost – especially if we were paying full freight. (Magazines Canada offered discounts.)

In addition, I do not feel that most BC magazine publishers would benefit from attending the FIPP World Congress. Exceptions might be the major publishers, or those who are looking to franchise or sell their content via the Media Marketplace.  Again, I asked Suzanne for her opinion:

It was valuable for those publishers looking to explore opportunities.  The session content was valuable and I think most would be interested in hearing from the major media players who provided global perspectives.

My most useful takeaway was the consistent focus on quality content and innovation as the keys to growth. I also appreciated the level of confidence and optimism for the sector that was universally expressed; there was measurable proof that the magazine sector is rebounding.