At Work With: Peter Houston, Flipping Pages
Peter Houston runs Flipping Pages Media, providing training and consultancy to publishers as they look to merge print and digital. He also writes the Flipping Pages blog, is a regular judge at the Digital magazine Awards, and is chair of this years Scottish Magazine Awards. He’s just launched The Magazine Diaries, an initiative to record the disruption in our industry and raise money for MagAid.
Where are you today?
At home in Cheshire. I got back last night from a weekend in Scotland for my father’s 80th birthday.
What can you see from the window?
Unfortunately, not the Clyde or the Argyll hills. From my seat, I can see the top of my neighbour’s apple tree. If I stand up I can see that my grass needs cutting.
Are you a morning or evening person?
Morning. Unless I have an absolute drop-dead, no-way-out, miss-it-and-you’re-fired deadline, I run out of steam about 7pm.
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
I hate that question. It’s like asking someone what’s their favourite song…
The Damned’s ‘New Rose’, no wait a minute, John Martyn ‘May you Never'… no hold on… it’s definitely ‘Wake Up’ by Rage Against the Machine… no maybe it’s every Lemonheads song ever...
There are so many brilliant magazines and the best do something that fits perfectly with a particular time and space. It's that clarity of purpose that I absolutely love.
If I had to pick just one, well I’d probably pick two - one print, one digital.
In print I’d go for Stand & Deliver, a magazine about comedy that doesn’t exist yet, but that I’m really excited to see. It recently got funded on Kickstarter, and looks like it will be a really nice mix of journalism and design.
In digital, I've just been sent Astronaut no3. I kind of raved about the first Astronaut after judging it for the 2011 Digital Magazine Awards when it won launch of the year. I haven't spent a lot of time with the third edition yet, but at first glance it has the same fantastic layering of words, images and video.
You're involved in many publishing-related endeavours; describe how a typical day divides between roles.
Typical days haven't really started to happen yet. I've only been working on my own for about 18 months and start-up is all about doing lots of different things for lots of different people.
If I’m working from home, social media tends to rule the first part of the morning, scanning my feeds and deciding what's interesting enough to read properly and share.
Then I switch to writing. I have a fair amount of writing work at the moment, which is great because I get paid to do something I love. Unfortunately, it has meant the blog had suffered. I'm working on a way to fix that - basically to make money writing the sort of stuff I write for the blog. Watch this space.
Afternoons are all about talking to people and working on whatever consultancy or training projects I have on. That’s the most interesting stuff for me, it’s where I get to try to join the dots and fix stuff.
This week I’m in London Tuesday with TeamRock, where I’m working with editors on process and culture change – they’re taking long-established music magazines like Classic Rock and Metal Hammer, building out a tablet and phone offering, merging them with a digital radio station and building an online news service and community. It’s the most multi platform of multiplatform projects I’ve been involved with.
The Magazine Diaries is a great project, I can’t wait to read the printed selection. How did it come about?
The original idea was sparked by a friend who took to writing 100-word ‘drabbles'’following a stroke. He collected them into a book documenting his fight back to health and donated a portion of the cover price to the Stroke association.
The intention with the Magazine Diaries is to publish a book of 100-word diary entries submitted by 100 different magazine people. Like everyone in magazine publishing, I spend a lot of time reading predictions on the future, all very mechanistic. Magazines are as much about emotions as mechanics and I thought it would be interesting to hear stories of how it feels to be working in magazines in the middle of the biggest disruption in publishing history.
Anyone in magazines is welcome to submit their 100 words. We'll post all submissions on magazinediaries.com and select the best 100 for publication, launching the book at Magfest in Edinburgh in September with all profits going to the MagAid children’s literacy charity.
Do you feel positive about the future of magazine publishing in its broadest sense?
I feel more optimistic for the magazine format than I have for a while. I think the idea of a curated parcel of related stories told in words and pictures is stronger than it has been since I started working in digital in the early 90s. The focus on the ‘information firehose’ is weakening.
I'm still fearful for our industry, at least in the short-term. As much as I love the independent magazine scene, all the independent titles put together probably don't employ as many people as a medium-sized commercial publisher. Those businesses really need to figure out how to make magazines make money in print and digital.
I’m confident they will, but it might take a while.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
Wednesday I'm at the PPA's content manager’s forum. I set the topic and recruited the speakers for this one, so it's not the usual show-up and speak gig. I’m quite excited.
Also, seeing who submits 100-words to the Magazine Diaries - there are some great names on the contributor list.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
The dentist on Friday…
What will you be doing after this chat?
Posting your 100 words to Magazinediaries.com