Business News Media The Great Escape 2017

CMU@TGE 2017: New music media business models – DJ Mag

By | Published on Tuesday 23 May 2017

Martin Carvell

Look out for reports on all the key sessions at the CMU Insights conferences at The Great Escape over the next few weeks. Today, the first of a series of interviews looking at new business models in music media, this one with DJ Mag’s Martin Carvell.

As part of the CMU Insights Media Conference at The Great Escape this year, we looked at how a number of music media are surviving, and even thriving, in a difficult marketplace. Making money from music media is challenging because print sales are – in the main – declining, while big audiences online don’t necessarily equate to decent revenues, because people expect online content for free and banner ad income is generally pretty modest unless you have tens of millions of readers.

One of the titles that has managed to thrive is DJ Mag. It’s MD Martin Carvell discussed buying the struggling dance music title from Future Publishing in 2006 with his business partner James Robertson, and then expanding the publication beyond the print title – and beyond the UK – in order to ensure the media brand’s survival.

“When we bought DJ Mag in 2006, the landscape was becoming very challenging and the magazine had been through a series of traditional publishers in the preceding years”, he said. “It was with Future before we bought it, but it had been through Highbury, it had been through Nexus, and when it got to Future, they didn’t really know what to do with it. It was full of very old school dance music journalists”.

On how he and Robertson, as Thrust Publishing, came to own the magazine, he explained: “We literally used to write to whoever owned it at any one time saying ‘can we buy it?’ Eventually, Future wrote back and said ‘yes, you can’. We made them an offer and bought it. At the time it was not doing very well, and a lot of other dance music publications had recently gone out of business, or were struggling”.

However, despite that, “we always felt that the brand of DJ Mag was very strong and hadn’t really been fully exploited or explored. So we saw an opportunity to take it forward again”.

Turning the magazine around involved creating new products around the DJ Mag brand, and building on the title’s existing and popular Top 100 DJs poll – in part by launching other awards like the Top 100 Clubs Poll, the DJ Mag Tech Awards and the Best Of British Awards – all of which bring in revenue, but also enhance the magazine’s global reputation. Which has proven key to growing the business.

Though the print magazine – actually two print titles, Thrust directly publishes a UK and US edition – is still at the core of the operation, and still delivers for the business. “We still generate a lot of our revenue through print advertising”, noted Carvell. “We’re reasonably niche in terms of the content we put out, but that means we still have a very loyal readership”. And there are still a number of companies – especially in the music tech space – which want to reach that readership, and which recognise that traditional advertising within DJ Mag is still a very effective channel to do so.

Though the print edition is also about getting the DJ Mag brand out there, so to boost all the other things the company now does. “We print up tens of thousands of extra copies and distribute them at key events like ADE or Miami Music Week”, Carvell continued. “In those scenarios, the print magazine is also about showing the world that we’re still here and this is what we’re doing. It’s definitely our calling card”.

DJ Mag’s global reputation has proven lucrative for the business via a number of licensing deals, where other music or media companies buy the rights to use the brand in their home countries. “It’s very simple”, he says of these deals. “People pay us a license fee and then they get to use our content and they get to use our brand in their territory. It’s nothing more complex than that”.

“The licensees have to do a few simple things”, he continues. “They have to operate a website, they have to cover our flagship products – Top 100 DJs, Top 100 Clubs – [and] they have to print [the editions of the magazine related to those events]. So two magazines a year. Apart from that, we take a stand-off approach to managing them, other than just being in contact and talking them through anything they need to know”.

How many of these licensing deals are now in place? “Loads”, says Carvell. “The whole of Latin America, Spanish-speaking under one licence. One in Brazil. Mexico. We run North America. In Europe we have licensees in Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Germany. There’s a new one coming out for the Middle East. Australia, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan. And China is our new big one”.

Prior to Carvell and Robertson taking on the DJ Mag title, there were no licensing deals in place at all, he added. “We started doing a few in Eastern Europe to start with, then the rest of Europe, then it moved on from there”.

“People tend to come to us, or it’s people that we work with, or who are involved with within dance music, not necessarily always within publishing”, he said of who typically comes to them to license the DJ Mag brand. “It fits in with what they’re doing. We don’t massively pitch it. I’m not travelling round the world going to a million conferences and pitching it per se. But we are out and about so people get to see us and people get to discuss it”.

“Things like the Top 100 DJs have definitely helped [to grow this side of the business]”, he added. “The profile of the poll has definitely helped us reach audiences in different territories; for a lot of people their first experience of DJ Mag will be their favourite DJ asking them to vote for them. That has definitely expanded our audience and given us the international reach, and the credibility and the heritage in different markets without us having actually been active there”.

Check out all the reports and resources CMU has published around this year’s CMU Insights @ The Great Escape conferences here.