OCR AS UNIT G322 - Audiences and Institutions: Kerrang! Stephen Hill | Friday September 04, 2009 Categories: Courses, A Level, OCR A Level, OCR AS, Topics, Key Concepts, Audience, Institutions
Discuss the issues raised by an institution’s need to target specific audiences within a media industry that you have studied.
Introduction The need to target a ‘specific audience’ is a key issue for the ‘magazine industry’. Magazines are heavily ‘subsidized by advertising’ and the key to attracting a sustainable ‘portfolio of advertisers’ is the creation of a product that is desirable to their ‘target market’. As a consequence, within the magazine industry as a whole, there are many magazines aimed at similar audiences because that ‘demographic’ is lucrative for advertisers. For example, there are lots of titles aimed at teenage girls (Bliss, More, Cosmogirl etc) but not so many aimed at single mums! The reason for this is that teenage girls have much higher ‘disposable income’. Though titles within a certain ‘sector of the market’ may be very similar, each will have a unique ‘selling point’ designed to appeal to a specific ‘target
audience’. Kerrang!, for example, competes with Metal Hammer and Terrorizer. However, one of its ‘unique selling points’ as a ‘passion title’ is its ‘brand credibility’: the magazine has been around since the early 1980s and is intimately connected with the evolution of the ‘Metal genre’. That said, the magazine industry operates in ‘volatile market’ and while the title Kerrang! has remained consistent, the magazine has changed ‘ownership’ three times in 28 years.
Ownership In targeting a ‘specific audience’ one of the key issues for Kerrang! is that of ‘media ownership’. Originally launched in 1981 (as a heavy metal ‘supplement’ to United Newspapers’ Sounds) the magazine was picked up by EMAP in 1991, eventually becoming the music divisions ‘hero brand’ of the ‘digital age’. However, in spite of its success, Kerrang! was sold to BAUER along with all other EMAP ‘consumer titles’ (Q, Mojo, FHM, Zoo and Empire etc) in February 2008. Kerrang!’s position as one of a ‘portfolio’ of titles is, therefore, both a strength and a weakness when it comes to targeting a specific audience. On the one hand, the magazine has a specific ‘niche’ and it benefits from audience research done into other ‘sectors’ of the market. For example, sharing information about audiences with other BAUER music titles (like Mojo and Q) is extremely useful in sustaining Kerrang’s ‘position in the market’. Though Paul Brannigan is the editor of Kerrang!, BAUER’s music titles are managed by one senior ‘editorial director’, Stuart Williams, who is able to co-ordinate the editorial direction and make sure they do not ‘encroach’ upon the ‘target audience’ of another magazine. On the other hand, this consideration of the ‘bigger picture’ is sometimes a problem in trying to target a ‘specific audience’. For example, Kerrang! has to be careful not to duplicate the editorial content of Q and Mojo. Equally, there is a need to please advertisers who sign ‘contracts with BAUER’ as opposed to individual magazines. For example, recent campaigns by Nintendo and Wella found in Kerrang! are also featured in both FHM and Zoo. This ‘wholesale selling’ of advertising space can lead to editorial compromise and an incoherent brand identity.
Synergy and Convergence Kerrang! is an interesting case study in the ‘magazine industry’ because it was one of the first titles to exploit cross media ‘convergence’ in targeting a specific audience. EMAP had experimented with TV and radio during the 1990s with the purchase of both Kiss FM and the cable TV channel The Box. However, with the ‘deregulation of broadcast media’ at the end of the decade, the publishing house decided to take things one stage further by developing ‘print based’ music titles as ‘multi-platform brands’. EMAP’s first venture into the ‘synergized’ world of digital media was with Kerrang! 105 a digital and FM based radio station. Though the radio station modified the core brand ‘brand values’ of the magazine, playing tracks by more ‘mainstream acts’ like Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Oasis, it was an immediate success and in 2001 EMAP followed this up with Kerrang TV! While this strategy was repeated on other EMAP titles, like Q and Smash Hits, the key to Kerrang!’s success was that it was not a ‘mainstream brand’. With a well-defined ‘community of consumers’, the ‘brand values’ of Kerrang! were ideally suited to the ‘niche market’ business strategies of the digital age. In many ways the magazine could be said to exemplify Chris Anderson’s mantra in The Long Tail: that ‘the future of business is selling more of less’ (2006). For the magazine this ‘marketing strategy’ worked very well during a time in which many other music titles had to close (Select, Melody Maker, Smash Hits). Indeed, throughout the period 2000 to 2007 Kerrang!’s sales were consistently strong (around 80,000 copies a week): due in no small part to the ‘omnipotence of the brand’ across several ‘media platforms’.
Technologies While the digital age has certainly aided the ‘marketing’ of the Kerrang! brand, the development of ‘new technology’ has also had a profound effect on the ‘production’ of the magazine. Digital photography enables art directors to work on the layout as soon as a photo shoot is over. Though Quark used to be ‘industry standard’, today the
magazine uses Adobe InDesign, allowing for much better ‘interfacing’ between Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat. Acrobat is particularly important, allowing ‘high-resolution’ pdfs to be sent directly to the printers. It is also now standard for printers to use digital technology rather than the ‘lithographs’ of old. Likewise, the ‘transfer of data’ can be down via ftp sites as opposed to the physical transfer of a CD. All of which conspires to ‘speed up’ the process between ‘editorial meeting’ and the finished copy hitting the shelves. Like all forms of ‘print media’ Kerrang! is still very dependent on traditional models of ‘distribution’, with ‘over the counter’ transactions accounting for 95 % of sales. However, while retailers of the magazine like WHSmith continue to stock the magazine, the title has been hit by the decline of high street music retailers like HMV and Our Price. The year on year ‘ABC figures’ for 2008/2009 are down by nearly 30% with sales sliding from 75,937 to just over 52, 272.
Web 2 No doubt the magazine, which retails at £2.20, has also lost out to the ‘proliferation’ of ‘social networking sites’ like Facebook and MySpace during 2007/8. The effect of these sites on a ‘niche market’ magazine like Kerrang! is perhaps more pronounced as the information that the magazine was previously the ‘gatekeeper’ to is accessible either directly from bands or other fans. It is uncertain, therefore, whether the success the magazine brought EMAP will be replicated at BAUER. In the past one of the ways in which Kerrang! was able to withstand the ‘proliferation’ of the Internet was not only by having an ‘online edition’ but by encouraging the reader to be ‘interactive’ in the production of the magazine. For example, it has long been a strategy of the magazine to use its online forum to find out who the readers would like to see in the magazine and ‘test’ front covers. Likewise, readers are able to request the stars whose posters they would like to have included in the magazine. Ironically, it is the inclusion of the traditional ‘pop poster’ that is at the core of the magazine’s ongoing appeal. As Stuart Williams has said ‘you can’t put j-pegs on your bedroom wall’! Music fans can be fickle, however, and clearly advances in ‘digital production’ are pivotal in keeping up with the whims of Kerrang!’s target audience.
That said, in spite of innovation in magazine ‘production’ and ‘marketing’, increasingly the print title is becoming an ‘anachronistic subsidiary’ to both Kerrang’s MySpace page and online edition.
Hardware It is without doubt that the success of Kerrang! in the digital age is down to the fact that it has embraced the ‘proliferation’ of new digital ‘hardware’ since the turn of the Millennium: specifically digital production processes and use of the Internet and digital TV and radio to extend the range of the brand. This relationship with technological ‘hardware’ is not unique in the history of the music press. For example, Smash Hits’ success reflected the ‘proliferation’ of home VRCs and satellite television in the 1980s (MTV). Likewise the rise of Q was connected to the proliferation of compact disk players amongst a ‘demographic’ of affluent older music fans in the 1990s. However, just as that success did not go on forever, the question remains as to whether the tide has turned for Kerrang! While the magazine has been able to embrace ‘initial transformations’ brought about by the Internet and digital technology, recent changes to the way in which people ‘listen to music’ is threatening to erode the ‘financial viability’ of the magazine. In particular the proliferation of mp3s, the iPod and online music players like Spotify, mean that the music industry has come to rely less upon the sales of recorded music to make a profit. Consequently, record company spending on print -based advertising campaigns has been cut dramatically. Kerrang! has, of course, embraced this in the form of its MySpace and website, which is hyperlinked to online ticket sellers, Kerrang! 105 and its TV channel. As a consequence, however, it could be said that the online version of the magazine has more to offer the target audience than its print-based namesake.
Technological Convergence While Kerrang!’s success in targeting a ‘specific audience’ can be attributed to the way in which it has embraced the ‘convergence of technology’, ultimately that process challenges the concept of the ‘magazine industry’ as a ‘discrete media institution’.
Exemplary of this is not only the number of magazines that have closed since 2000 but the way in which those that have survived have developed as ‘multiplatform brands’. In this respect Smash Hits (a running partner of Kerrang! at EMAP) is an interesting ‘point of comparison’. While the ‘print title’ closed in February 2006, the brand name continued as a TV and radio station. Indeed, when BAUER purchased EMAP’s Consumer Media Division in 2008 they also bought the rights to Smash Hits.
Portability Projecting forward then, the ‘long-term viability’ of magazines depends very much on the proliferation of ‘portable hard-ware’ that allows us to view text and image. While notebook computers are becoming more common, Stuart Williams argues that magazines have a future as ‘premium brand product’: ‘because people appreciate the tactile quality of the paper and the pleasure associated with possessing visually seductive artwork’. It is interesting to note also that while the music press has declined over the past ten years, other sectors of the market are thriving. ‘Top end women’s glossies’ like Vogue and Cosmopolitan, for example, remain strong sellers: in part because their readers have been slower to uptake digital media forms. In this sense, while the ‘convergence of technologies’ has meant the end for some titles, the music press could be said to be at the ‘forefront of the digital revolution’. And, for ‘strong brands’ like Kerrang! the future looks very promising. Whether or not Kerrang! will be here as a magazine in ten years time is not certain: however, it is unlikely that the web-site, TV and radio stations will disappear. In this sense, as Smash Hits proved, convergence offers a ‘digital after life’. While this may no longer embody the traditional targeting of a specific ‘magazine audience’, the ‘brand values’ of Kerrang! (pioneered by the print title) are likely to remain the same.
Targeting an Audience
For a magazine like Kerrang! understanding it own ‘brand values’ is central to the way in which EMAP and subsequently BAUER have targeted its audience. While it is possible to ‘profile the audience’ in terms of age, race, sex and class, for a ‘passion title’ it is important to have a ‘core ideology’ about the topic with which the reader can identify. Central to that ‘ideology’ for Kerrang! is a nuanced understanding of the metal genre in terms of both the ‘contemporary scene’ and its ‘historical antecedents’. The ‘forms and conventions’ of the magazine are also very important: Kerrang!’s ‘written style’, for example, is very celebratory; unlike NME, the magazine tends not to be critical of bands but ignores what it does not like. Likewise, the ‘visual style’ of the magazine is key to the way in which it targets a ‘defined community of consumers’. The ‘dark-house style’, for example, is reflects ‘sub-cultural style’ of the Metal and Hard-core music scenes. That said, BAUER is quick to acknowledge that the ‘core audience’ for the magazine is predominantly white and ‘more middle class’ than generic lifestyle titles like Zoo or Bliss: arguably for Kerrang! readers the rejection of the mainstream is dependent on already belonging to it! Most interesting, perhaps, is the ‘inclusiveness’ of Kerrang! in addressing male and female readers. Unusually for a ‘teen-orientated title’ the magazine has ‘55/45 male/female readership split’. In the past this has had a direct effect on the way in which the content of the magazine has been conceptualized. For example, ‘received thinking’ at EMAP was that the magazine should feature predominantly male stars: whom the male audience regarded as ‘heroes’ and that the female audience could view in a more ‘objectified way’ as ‘pin-ups’. In recent months, however, this has changed, with the inclusion of more female stars in sexually provocative poses and ‘editorial’ focusing on relationships and fashion. Whether or not this will be enough to stave off the decline of the title is unclear. However, clearly the magazine is moving more towards the ‘mainstream world’ depicted in magazines like Zoo and Bliss. This shift also reflects the magazines unique position in the UK publishing market as one of only two weekly music titles. When Kerrang! was launched the ‘mainstream market’ was more competitive. However, the closure of Melody Maker, Smash Hits, Sounds, Record Mirror etc has potentially left a very ‘lucrative gap’.
Personal Opinion / Wider Trends and Patterns From my own ‘personal experience’ as a media consumer I believe changes in the way in which Kerrang! is targeting a specific audience reflect ‘wider patterns and trends’ of ‘audience behavior’. While the ‘digital age’ has been characterized by ‘niche marketing’ and ‘narrowcasting’ the ‘proliferation’ of ‘social networking’ has encouraged ‘youth culture’ to form more of a ‘consensus view’ of popular culture. While the iPod is a ‘solitary experience’, online playlists, which users post on Facebook and MySpace pages, encourage audiences to be ‘collaborative’ in the ‘formation of taste’. Equally, the direct ‘interaction’ between artist and audience, which sites like MySpace facilitate, has challenged the role of the music industry as an ‘intermediary/gatekeeper’. As a consequence, while the ‘contemporary music scene’ may be characterized by high-levels of diversity there is, ‘in my view’, a much stronger sense of the mainstream. It is ‘my opinion’ that a shift towards the mainstream by Kerrang! is, therefore, an attempt to pick up new readers exposed to cross-over acts enjoying chart success. While the magazine is by no-means a ‘pop magazine’ in the sense that Smash Hits was, increasingly it seems to embody a very ‘pop sensibility’ in the way that it talks about the ‘discrete genre’ of music it covers. Whether or not this ‘strategy’ will be successful remains to be seen and that depends to a large extent on how bright you view the ‘long term prospects’ of ‘print media’ in general. However, in view of these ‘shifting trends’ and ‘wider patterns’ it would be interesting to know if BAUER have considered re-launching Smash Hits!, a magazine whose ‘brand values’ are perhaps more in keeping with the carnivalesque media landscape of our time.