Claire Beale on Advertising: Sharkey tells publishers to learn from music world

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The Independent Online

When the cream of Britain's magazine publishing houses met for their annual pow-wow in Westminster last week, an ex-punk rocker from Londonderry was not an obvious pick to lead the debate.

But as glossy mags face the challenges of print erosion and digital explosion, Feargal Sharkey, former singer for The Undertones, reckons publishing has a lot to learn from the music industry.

Sharkey, who once enjoyed "Teenage Kicks all through the night" but now leads music industry body UK Music, knows how the internet can ravage traditional businesses; it nearly kicked the record industry to oblivion. Like record companies, many publishers have struggled to extract the same value from their content in the digital world. But as music has shifted its financial focus onto events and merchandising, accepting the albums themselves are no longer the financial fountainhead, publishers are also after ways to turn content into cash.

Magazine brands are examining paywalls and subscription models for their websites and iPad publishing offers opportunities to make money from digital content that was once given away. But the consumer appetite for paid-for online content is uncertain.

The good news for publishers is that print has life in it yet. We spent over £1.5 billion buying magazines last year and the average circulation in the consumer magazine industry was up more than 4 per cent by the end of 2011. Advertising followed suit, up 3 per cent.

Whether this represents a base for re-investing in quality content is moot. But as Sharkey warned: "Technology has democratised creativity, democratised distribution, but quantity is not what people want; we all want quality."

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign