Inside Story: Rocking all over the world

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The Independent Online

Tony Elliott, who published the first 'Time Out' in London in 1968, talks Sophie Morris through some of the milestone incarnations of a magazine that has turned into a global brand

"What 'Time Out' does is really simple - it provides information about major cities in a very contemporary and up-to-date way. The test I always use for any city, and it never fails to work, is to ask: how much live music is there in the city, and does the existing competition cover it well?

"We realised that going to other cities in the UK such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Bristol was entering fairly small territories where you'd be lucky if you got a circulation of 20,000. That meant you'd never have the money to spend on building a proper magazine.

"Getting involved with Paris in 1988 started a more international view. It wasn't a regular weekly magazine, but a number of different products serving the English-language market. So, in the early Nineties, there was 'Time Out' in London and a base in Paris. The logical extension was when we finally launched a weekly 'Time Out' in New York in 1995.

"Five years later, we met some people wanting to publish a licensed local edition - in Istanbul. People often think that 'Time Out' is this British brand trying to parachute into places and establish itself. In fact, it's almost the opposite: 'Time Out' is a local brand in each place that it operates, done by local people for local residents. All of the current licensed international editions are good examples of how flexible the model and the formula is. Many are in markets where there isn't any real, established competition. It's all about creating a market.

"The other key thing about all these people is that, from day one, they desperately want to get it right. You don't get any bright-arsed publishers saying, 'You know what, we'll just redesign it'. They want to do it perfectly. But there is also a certain unquantifiable spirit of independence and character throughout all the publications.

"We could take a more hands-on approach with, say, Paris, Berlin or Rome, but for most of the international editions, it's very important that things are done by experienced local people. We anticipate launches with new partners in Beirut, Barcelona, Bucharest and Singapore during 2006."


Launched: 2001

Frequency: weekly

Audited Circulation: ABC Jan-Jun 2005 - 29,855

"Dubai came after Istanbul. The city is really excited by its Time Out, and people there are just amazed! By certain measures, Dubai is now one of the fastest growing cities in the world. A lot of other publishers are saying, 'Oh, my god! How come we didn't realise that there was a market out there?'. It's in English and speaks to the expat and tourist market. Abu Dhabi Time Out started about eight months afterwards. They were a business-to-business publishers and this was their first consumer licensed title. They've just gone weekly, which is big news as there's an established monthly competitor in Dubai, so it's upping the ante quite dramatically. "


Launched: 2001

Frequency: monthly

Print run: 15,000

"Istanbul is a funny market, because there's a small élite. They're very Turkish but they're also kind of international in character. The couple who own and run it knew Time Out really well and understood it completely, and they had a passion to do it in Istanbul. They do an English version too, which started by going out with the Turkish edition, but they soon realised that it's two completely different audiences. Nobody's going to buy the Turkish edition for its English content, and vice versa. And that established a pattern - there are distinct audiences for distinct products in different languages in the same city."


Launched: 2003

Frequency: monthly, with Chilango magazine

Print run: 65,000

Paid circulation: 40,000

"Mexico City is an interesting hybrid. The idea is that the front part, Chilango, is moving towards being an urban lifestyle magazine, and the listings element is Time Out. Somewhere down the line, the Time Out could be spun out as a stand-alone. They are the only serious publishers in Mexico to whom, in spirit and philosophy, we could be close, and they have raised the standard. The model isn't typical for us, but in an important market - it's one of the biggest cities in the world - these were the right people to work with. They are unique in Latin America."


Launched: 2002

Frequency: weekly

Print run: 16,000

"All the individuals with whom we've dealt are international travellers and entrepreneurs. In the case of Time Out Tel Aviv, although the publisher's business is in Israel, once you meet him you know he has spent a lot of time in the world. More than anywhere, I think that Israel has demonstrated what you can do with this one brand in a local market. He publishes a weekly magazine in Hebrew, a monthly magazine aimed at visitors to Tel Aviv in English, with a section in French, a quarterly kids magazine, numerous mini guides, and a Time Out Tel Aviv men-focused supplement. He believes that with this brand, he can cover any sector of interest in lifestyle, entertainment, arts and culture in Israel, and it's incredibly powerful. The Hebrew-language weekly has replicated the same sort of power within the film community there as it has in London and New York."


Launched: 2003

Frequency: monthly

Print run: 35,000

"China is very challenging in lots of areas. Time Out Beijing launched at the beginning of the Sars crisis, and they had the launch party planned for when the city shut down completely - it was a very difficult time. It's difficult in terms of distribution, too, as there are thousands of points of sale in Beijing, but they won't hold more than a handful of copies of your magazine in each one. The people we're working with are having to create the market, to a certain extent, and find creative ways to get the product into the hands of the right people. They are the first publication in the market doing independent editorial and critical reviews. They're taking on a massive challenge and by no means going down an easy route in terms of advertising by being independent. It's a talked-about product and it's reaching the right people. That's the key thing."


Launched: 2004

Frequency: fortnightly

Print run: 42,000

"The woman behind Time Out Mumbai had spent a lot of time in New York and London, so she understood what Time Out could be. They've done a spectacular job. It really feels like what an Indian version should be. If you look at the tiny touches they've put in the design and the editorial voice, it's just so uniquely Indian. It's a complicated city, where a 'news-stand' might be a kid with a dusty blanket spread out on a street corner selling a handful of magazines. The market for city magazines was very much created by them, and due to the impact it has had, there are now several competing launches planned. There are six major metropolitan areas in India on the agenda, and many are emerging markets where you need to reach the élite quickly. Delhi launches in January."


Launched: 2002

Frequency: monthly

Print run: 7,000

"Cyprus looked at publishing in English, but then chose Greek. The flagship model of what Time Out should be before you do other stuff is publishing local listings, reviews and independent editorial with a local team for the local market. For the population (about 600,000), they do very healthy newsstand sales. They do an annual edition in English for tourists, and they're now looking at doing a more regular English-language publication."


Launched: 2004

Frequency: weekly

Print Run: 50,000

"The publishing house had an existing fortnightly magazine in St Petersburg, very clearly inspired by Time Out, which it wanted to brand and turn 100 per cent Time Out. It has done a fantastic job. The eye on the market was in Moscow - the real money in Russia is being moved in Moscow - and as soon as the Moscow magazine was in place, the St Petersburg magazine blossomed. This is what happens in a lot of places where you've got more than one metropolitan centre, in order to give it some sort of national reach for brand advertisers. The publisher has ambitious plans for the former Soviet Bloc and Baltic states."


Launched: March 2005

Frequency: weekly

Circulation: 40,000

"We launched Chicago in March this year. This is our own business. The plan was that, once we got established in New York and were profitable, we would look at other cities. It's a manageable distance from New York and its profile is similar; in fact, there's more live music in Chicago than in New York. It's only 26 weeks old, but it's going very well. Advertisers liked it immediately, and they feel we've delivered what we promised. Los Angeles has been talked about, but it's more likely we'll do Miami as there's huge brand recognition of Time Out, because so many people from New York hang out in Miami. If there is a sequence as such, it will be Miami next, then Toronto and then LA."


Launched: 1995

Frequency: weekly

Audited circulation: 138,960 (ABC Jul-Dec 2004)

"I had always wanted to do Time Out in New York because it's very similar to London, and all the sources of listings and event information there were crap. I remember going to New York in 1973 and realising that there was a significant gap in the market. People who know me well from back then would say: 'Tony's always talked about doing Time Out in New York.'

"It was built from scratch with Americans - there were no British staff. It showed that the Time Out formula would work elsewhere. That changed people's perceptions, and from that point, all of this grew."