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A step into the future

Future of Publishing is a new content hub from PPA Marketing that brings together 20 key figures from magazine publishing to explore how the sector is changing. Barry McIlheney, Chief Executive of the PPA, explains more about the project.

By Barry McIlheney

A lot is said, written, blogged and tweeted about the future of our industry. Without looking too hard, you can find plenty of forecasts, reports and conjecture that combine to create a pretty confused picture.

Despite persistently robust circulation figures from ABC, magazine publishers are, so the story goes, print dinosaurs losing a digital battle. At the same time, we are apparently at the epicentre of a digitally-driven media revolution that continually presents our members with exciting new ways of delivering content and, increasingly, generating new revenues.

Attempting to grasp any real conclusions are, therefore, understandably difficult, particularly given the slippery influence of constant change. Answers are still currently outnumbered by some pretty fundamental questions: will we still be looking at paper sheaves in 40 years’ time? What role will technology play? How will magazine content be written and paid for? What exactly is the ‘future of publishing’?

The PPA Marketing Board, led by PPA Marketing Chairman Matt Teeman, decided that now was the perfect time to bring some of these questions to light and thus the Future of Publishing was born. In the first phase, we assembled a cast of 20 senior people from the PPA's membership across editorial, sales and management roles in order to get their views. Faced with such a broad subject, we focused on the thoughts of one subsector – consumer publishers – and asked each participant a series of questions on certain aspects of the industry. We filmed their responses and edited their thoughts into a series of six articles and videos that form the basis of a new channel on the PPA Marketing website:

The result? A genuinely illuminating collection of views that articulate in a way that has never been done before how magazine publishing is changing. It takes the recurring themes of innovation and opportunity and explores them in the wider context of magazines as trusted providers of professional content. There is also the beginning of what looks like a fascinating new thread on how magazines drive the consumption agenda, a topic sure to grow and grow throughout 2011.

Inevitably, there’s a bias towards technology - and rightly so in the year that Apple lit the touchpaper of the tablet market with the launch of the phenomenally successful iPad (4.19m units sold in the third quarter alone). But the future is far from exclusively digital, with the assembled cast advocating the uniquely immersive qualities of print and quashing any wild predictions of a paperless world.

The site has already created a great deal of interest since it launched earlier this month and we think it’s a valuable body of work that begins to consider how magazine publishers are adapting and looking ahead while drawing on their unique strength of heritage.

What next? Well, there are clearly plenty of questions still to be asked on specific areas such as the free distribution model, and we have yet to look at the future from the perspective of, for example, our business-to-business and data publishing members. Such considerations will inform the next phase of the project – the future of the future, if you like.

Visit the Future of Publishing website.