The first edition of the new Liberal Democrat party magazine, Ad Lib, went out to all party members earlier this month*. Future copies will only go to paying subscribers, so what to make of the first edition’s efforts to make people part with their cash for future editions?
Judging its contents I think requires bearing three main factors in mind: it’s a monthly publication, it’s one that is printed on paper and it’s probably not aimed at you.
Both the first two attributes are rather more modern than you might think at first glance, for the usual story of rise of internet, decline of printed newspapers blah blah blah omits just how well printed magazines are doing in many sectors in the UK. Daily print is certainly suffering badly. By contrast, less frequent print is often flourishing. It is flourishing when it finds a role which doesn’t pitch itself into a losing competition with the internet for speed or multimedia.
Slower paced, with more reflection and analysis, is the mix most likely to work for Ad Lib.
On the third factor, that it’s a magazine most likely pitched at someone other than you, I strongly suspect Ad Lib’s audience is rather like the one for my monthly email newsletter, Liberal Democrat Newswire.
For that I typically have in mind a core reader who is a party member, watches Newsnight, visits the BBC website and yet rarely reads a political blog. There are plenty of readers who are more into the online world than that, and many non-members amongst the readership, but the heart of the audience is one which doesn’t read multiple political blogs each day and there seems to be a large such audience out there.
Or in other words, if you’re reading this by all means subscribe to my email newsletter – and judging by others I think you’ll enjoy it – but the main value of it to me (and to readers) comes from that other audience it reaches. So too for Ad Lib – and hence if you’re reading this, I suspect you’re not the sort of person Ad Lib is primarily aimed at.
But if you’re read this far you probably do want some views on it…
First, the production quality. It’s got a much lower budget feel that that of the free magazines I get from various pressure groups. I can see why the budget for Ad Lib is tighter than for those, so personally I’d tweak the design to play to the lower budget a bit better. If you can’t do brilliant glossy full colour photos due to a shortage of such photos (and the absence of a budget to buy them in), best to have a design that minimises your need for them.
Second, the size. It’s smaller than most magazines. I like the size as it makes it very handy to read on a crowded commute. I’ve also heard others say they like the size for its convenience in fitting in handbags and the like. In that Ad Lib reflects the wider magazine market, where sizes smaller than A4 have their place.
Third, the assumed level of knowledge of the audience. Ad Lib’s pieces basically assume its readership is not an expert one. I think that’s the right call. The experience of my monthly email newsletter and of my fairly frequent talks at local party events, for example, is that many pieces of information which some would happily file in the ‘so obviously almost not worth saying’ pile are news to less digitally involved members.
Not forgetting too, how many party members are people who have joined in the last five years and also how many are young enough, for example, not even to have been born when Shirley Williams (featured in the the first edition of Ad Lib) was last an MP.
Fourth, the balance of contributors and subjects. As Jennie has pointed out in her review (see below), the pieces with named by-lines had an unfortunate split – women’s issues and non-policy stuff written by women, Traditional Serious Politics stuff by men. (Of course, as women are a majority of the electorate, women’s issues should be the stuff of serious politics, but you know what I mean.)
As with Caron (again, see below), I liked Katy Riddle’s recipe page and it reminded me of how some very successful long-term party campaigners swear by such content even in Focus leaflets. Likewise the selection of tweets printed alongside letters appealed to me. A nice mix of the old and the new – and a distraction from all five printed letters all being from white men. I know men dominate letters pages, but even so…
Fifth, it’s likely commercial future. Hard to tell, though I thought having three paid-for advertising inserts plus ads in the magazine itself from four outside organisations was a promising start. Liberal Democrat News never really cracked the more lucrative parts of the advertising market. Let’s hope Ad Lib does.
In summary? Not a perfect debut, but then no debut is and there are plenty of signs of promise.
* UPDATE: Some future editions will also go out to all members –
For the views of other Liberal Democrat bloggers, see: