Making ƒ2 work again

This is the first blog post – not that I like the term blog as it presumes something regular like a diary or a log – on Icon. It’s not an easy one to make. Today I went over the news-trade figures and requirements, as inherited from the caretakers of ƒ2 magazine over the last seven years. They brought me back to the state of anger I felt in the mid-1990s when I withdrew our publications from news-trade sale.

That decision was made not because we were doing badly, it was a rebellion against a system which put 60-70% of the printed issues into landfill or incineration (they are not pulped or recycled as paper like newsprint can be). I’m not the world’s greatest eco-warrior but waste on that scale was multiplied across the entire magazine publishing industry in the UK. Tens of millions of tonnes of paper were being made, transported, stored, printed, transported again two or three times, and consigned to a disposal process with high environmental costs.

I imagined everything would now have changed, with all the constraints placed on energy companies (look at your heating and power bills) and the vastly increased awareness of the need to cut waste in packaging and to recycle everything. I find it has not. It’s got worse. The only reason there may have been any reduction in the tonnage of unsold returns from news outlets is that circulation figures have collapsed. It seems that these days it’s not unusual for magazines to need to print five copies for every one sold.

There’s only one way ƒ2 will work again, and that is to take the returns back to the levels which applied when I set out in magazine publishing 25 years ago. Then we could expect to sell three to four magazines for every five printed.

The good news is our predecessors chose not to add a useful little widget to the ƒ2 website – one which we will be adding to that site when it is passed over to us, and also adding to this site. It’s a Retail Outlet Finder which keeps track of which newsagent branches stock the magazine, and will tell you if you enter your postcode where the nearest one is. You probably won’t be seeing ƒ2 in Tesco or any supermarket, as their terms involve being paid to sell magazines. There are 28 photographic magazines on retail sale in the UK and ƒ2 won’t really be ‘like’ any of them (if we get it right).

I can only advise that despite the high costs of postage, in cash and in environmental terms, ƒ2 is a magazine you should subscribe to if you want to be sure of getting it, and to feel that the publisher is actually being paid to produce it. It does look as if selling on the news-stands, through WHSmith and major independent newsagents, involves the publisher paying for every reader. It would need one direct subscriber to pay for the loss on every WHSmith purchaser. The other solution is to place an order with a small newsagent for the magazine – perhaps with a newsagent which is also a local post office or convenience store, the kind of neighbourhood business you simply do not want to lose. Every ‘firm order’ copy is one with no chance of becoming a ‘return’.

Subscriptions and firm newsagent orders both support local jobs, whether it’s the postal workers or the shop staff. I will be doing my best to ensure that ƒ2 becomes an efficient sales success not a small addition to global warming. I want every copy to be read and valued.

– David Kilpatrick