Date Posted: Monday 12th June 2017
At DIARY directory, we monitor over 4000 magazines, this ranges from mainstream titles including Vogue, ELLE or GQ, to niche independents such as LOVE, i-D & VICE and e-zines – across fashion, beauty and lifestyle.
But with the usual monthly glossies dropping in circulation month on month, the question has been asked… is print dead?
David M. Watts, with a career as a renowned fashion industry advisor, discusses why he feels the time is right to launch bi-annual boutique men’s lifestyle magazine, Wattswhat. The 104-page magazine is set to launch on 4 September and will coincide with fashion’s seasonal cycle, covering fashion, interiors, grooming, travel and food. The first issue will include a profile of fashion designer Bella Freud and an essay by Caryn Franklin MBE, who contemplates the rise of male body image challenges in today’s society.
You’ve worked as a fashion business advisor for the likes of the British Fashion Council in the past...
My role at the BFC was to advise the Board on developing and implementing business support strategies for helping new and established fashion designers to make their businesses commercially successful. That involved one to one business advice, mentoring, workshops and seminars. Subsequently, I have developed a Designer Halo project with clients such as Avery Dennison RBIS, a platform for UK-based designers to utilise the technical print component expertise of this US print solutions group. More of a technical collaboration, it has run successfully for several years to date, notably by designers including Christopher Raeburn and Astrid Andersen. I more recently headed a team in China as lead consultant for the Hong Kong Design Centre in 2016, creating the blueprint for a new luxury fashion initiative in Asia. The resulting showcase FASHION ASIA 2016 - HONG KONG consisted of a luxury fashion conference and a designer showcase with 10 of the most exciting designers in Asia, which ran for five days in tandem with the conference. There is also an outline plan to create a state of the art Fashion Incubator Hub in Hong Kong for emerging design talent which I am looking to begin the development on.
Discuss your new venture…
My feeling is that like digital, print media has become too focussed on trying to be all things to all people, all the time. We as consumers are being bombarded on all fronts and there is a strong argument for sensory overload. Wattswhat magazine is looking to offer a sharp and curated range of subjects in a way that will appeal to a slightly older male reader. Uncluttered, and clean lines with the aim to present some new and off radar brands in an accessible and engaging way. When one talks about the ‘older’ male reader, there is an automatic jump to sartorial, Savile Row, Cigars, Private Jets etc, all of which is very relevant to a tiny percentage of the population but real people have a much firmer grasp of everyday Metropolitan life. So we will look to Grooming, Food/Health, Fashion, Interiors for men who possess a sense of their own style beyond the mainstream.
Print over digital…
I have always been passionate about magazines and I still love the touch and sense of good paper stock in my hand and truly believe it can engage the senses in a uniquely different way. I also think it forces you to slow down, which is not a bad thing. Boutique publishing is making a huge resurgence and the belief is if you offer a well thought out quality offering that people will engage with it.
You’re creating the title in a larger format than standard magazines…
Magazine format is a rather complex matter. Some retailers and stores will have specific shelf sizes so anything above standard dimensions can be problematic. However, those retailers who champion new publishing realise that these titles are becoming products in their own right and both sell and display them in new and engaging ways. That said I believe one always needs to have some point of difference and to that end, we believed a larger format was the right approach for Wattswhat. We have also taken the decision to use illustration artwork for the cover, partly as it’s another point of difference and more importantly, I am passion about illustration and wanted to champion the graphics art medium. We have been very fortune to work with two outstanding fashion illustrators in issue 1, Richard Haines and Jack Hughes, whose work is held in very high regard.
The role of print has changed from a channel competing with digital for budget, to a distinct, personal and even luxurious option…
Boutique publishing is starting to change the way print media is consumed and whether that’s a conscious decision by consumers to slow down and take stock, it also indicates that people don’t want to be overwhelmed with information. They want to read a magazine that they believe caters to their very specific needs and aspirations. Making the magazine both aspirational and accessible has been a fundamental driver for me. We also look to work with brands who understand experiential and who will consider hosting an event for a select number of readers, whether that’s for a demo, a studio visit, grooming, cookery etc. Linking the real experience back through the print medium and into the digital platforms is a holistic approach.
Menswear is a growing market…
Menswear has gone through an astonishing growth period in the past 5 years and since the creation of a Men’s Fashion Week, both the commercial and creative pillars of the men’s fashion industry continue to grow faster than womenswear. It’s become OK and even enjoyable for men to express an interest in fashion, looking good and being well groomed has become the norm and heralds many new opportunities for the industry. One of the plans for the web edition of the magazine is to develop demonstration video and film content for men’s grooming which we believe is a hugely untapped area.
Publishing is a very challenging industry and historically is an advertising based model. Brands buy ads in a magazine and hopefully get editorial consideration on the pages within. Alas, the pendulum has swung so far whereby so much editorial content is now solely advertisers and consumers have become much more savvy, knowing they are being ’sold to'. Overheads and printing costs are incredibly challenging, and our aim is to work with brands who fully get that we are targeting a specific male reader who is more likely to engage with said brands because they feel a connection through our editorial and film and video content with our web edition. My experience shows me that consumers still like a guiding hand, some advice and a point of view when it comes to lifestyle choices, be it fashion, interiors grooming, travel. The art is to engage and offer advice and opinions in a way that’s accessible. We believe that quality over quantity will be the way forward. If one specific topic in the magazine reached 50 or 100 engaged and self-aware readers then it's more likely they will research those brands, check out the website, visit a store and they are actually the demographic who can afford to buy the product. This in turn creates considered brand awareness and starts a dialogue with the brands, which we believe has far more long term value than flash in the pan ‘influencer’ hype.
It’s a fine line and delicate balance but I firmly believe if you retain your integrity whilst striking a commercial balance that the model can work. One doesn’t venture into publishing to get rich, but it is still a business after all and needs to be commercially viable.
David M. Watts in 'media contacts'
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