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“In 2019 we want to fully focus on experience”

For the De Persgroep's magazine makers 2018 was the year in which they regained their confidence. 2019 will be the year of a new digital proposition. "We hook up with HLN.be and ensure that our readers connect even more strongly with our brands."

The magazine market is struggling and nevertheless you see a light at the end of the tunnel?
 
Klaus Van Isacker: “We cannot ignore the figures, but I am opposed to those defeatist media people who seem to think they are doomed to failure. The print newspaper was declared virtually dead two decades ago, but it is still doing exceedingly well. We sell fewer magazines, but our readers are more involved than ever with the titles we make.”
 
“With an annual turnover of more than 70 million euros, magazines remain very important to this company. Moreover, we have very strong and valuable brands. ”The question is: what do you do with the material produced by those brands? At the end of 2017 we brought our editors together in one big cluster. They come up with stories for the magazines, but just as well for HLN.be.”

“This way of working produces great results. Last year, the number of unique views of showbiz content on HLN.be increased from 190,000 to 450,000. This puts us way above the competition and results in new trial subscriptions, both for HLN and, for example, Dag Allemaal. In the long term, we hope to compensate for the decline in print sales with an increase in the number of subscriptions.”
 
An Meskens: “We are no longer a purely printed medium. We are also growing online now. In 2019 we want to continue on the path we have taken. Thanks to our greater clout, we succeed in, for example, increasing the reach of HLN.be, which has a positive impact on advertising sales. ”

Such a unified editorial staff is often a delicate issue for journalists. How do you deal with that?
 
An Meskens: “We do not make no-brand products, but magazines with their own identity that are not at cross-purposes with each other. At the same time, the influx of news has become much larger. It is our job to decide where and how we can make the best use of a story. The big advantage of this approach is that we hardly miss anything anymore and that we can focus even more strongly on quality, on nice photos and on a beautiful layout. If print wants to distinguish itself from online, this is an absolute necessity. Our people do see the benefits of that greater efficiency, and at the same time this approach gives a new boost to our collaborators.”

“The big advantage of our unified editorial team is that we hardly miss anything and that we can focus even more on quality.”
An Meskens, the magazines’ general editor-in-chief

Klaus Van Isacker: “With this editorial team we sell 535,000 magazines every week. That is huge. At the same time, we ensure that we do not produce a boring uniformity, so that everyone can remain proud of his or her title and the stories that are published.”

Are you looking for innovations to use and valorize the expertise within your magazine cluster in a different way?
 
Klaus Van Isacker: “This will indeed be this year’s main challenge. In 2018 we vastly upgraded our efficiency and gave our people something to be proud of again. In addition, we have put a lot of effort into quality. No matter how quickly it sometimes has to be ready, not a single article is published online without at least one other editor checking its grammar and its content.

Now it is time to develop a new digital proposition for our readers. For example, we can compensate for the decline in paper sales with new revenues from the readers’ side. A new website? Probably not, but we are looking for a smart strategy to use our excellent material and our strong brands to present ourselves to the reader in an innovative way.”
 

Can you make that more concrete?
 
An Meskens: “That is exactly what we want to do this year (laughs). A platform, a channel, a world: we cannot yet predict what it will be, but we will hook up with HLN.be anyway. Experience and interaction will hold a key position. Everything indicates us that readers want to connect more with our brands. We want to respond to that.”
 
Klaus Van Isacker: “That experience must be so good and so unique that people are also willing to pay money to gain access to that environment. There they can read, look at and listen to a unique content, and they can also gain certain benefits. We will have to choose very carefully which brands we want to use and which proposition is optimal for each of those brands.

“No matter how quickly it sometimes has to be ready, not a single article is published online without at least one other editor checking its grammar and its content.”
Klaus Van Isacker, the magazines’ general editor-in-chief

Do not be mistaken: we still are interested in print. For example, there is nothing wrong with an attractively priced paper magazine for the somewhat older reader who loves Flemish showbiz and soap opera, in combination with a fun puzzle and clearly layouted television schedules. That is not a bear market, on the contrary.”

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