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Editor of MediaStreet, Nicole Buckler, meets Grace Aungier, CEO Magazines Ireland.

A graduate of UCD, Grace started her career with The Sunday Tribune advertising department. She then worked as Group Advertising Director with Image Publications for 10 years before taking up her current role as Chief Executive Officer with Magazines Ireland.

Grace is a member of the ABC Ireland Council; the Press Council of Ireland Admin & Finance Committee; the European Magazine Media Association (EMMA) and the International Federation of Magazine Publishers (FIPP).

What are the major issues for magazine media in 2018?

 Magazines Ireland is working on a range of issues of concern and our main activity is lobbying government to highlight the challenges facing the Irish magazine industry. Some of the main challenges facing the Irish magazine industry, include VAT rates on digital and printed magazines; copyright legislation; competition for digital advertising revenue; the EU e-privacy directive; retail challenges; the cultural importance of Irish magazine media and concerns about Brexit and its impact on the industry.

Explain the VAT rates on magazines and why you need to put effort into lobbying this issue.

Magazines Ireland is calling for a zero VAT rate on Irish magazines like our UK counterparts. The current EU VAT Directive (2006/112) needs reform and we are monitoring developments closely. In relation to the consultation on reduced VAT rates for electronically supplied publications, we are supportive of the option of extending to e-publications the rate that applies to printed publications. Magazines Ireland believes that the application of VAT should be platform neutral and rates applied to printed magazines should apply equally to digital editions.

We believe that both print and digital Irish magazines should be zero rated. Many of our European neighbours enjoy more attractive rates of VAT on magazines. The UK, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and France enjoy zero or super-reduced rates. The Irish market is flooded with imported titles and this is an on-going threat to our sector. UK publishers, operating in a VAT free environment have significant advantages over indigenous Irish publishers giving them bigger production and marketing budgets to promote their titles on the Irish newsstand.

Irish magazines on the other hand are published in Ireland for an Irish audience. They are much more relevant to Irish readers – the products and services featured in Irish magazines are available in the Irish market; the prices are in euros; they promote indigenous Irish companies in their editorial pages; the staff of Irish publishing companies contribute to the local economy unlike the staff of UK publishing companies who contribute nothing. Irish magazines should not be disadvantaged in their own market.

We are monitoring closely the EU Action Plan on VAT and encourage the government to continue to support us in the push for VAT reform. In supporting VAT at zero% the government would be sending a strong signal of the importance it attaches to the magazine industry and the contribution it makes to the Irish economy.

What concerns do you have about copyright legislation?

Magazines Ireland is working to get support for a piece of draft legislation that could have significant benefits for press publishers: the Press Publisher’s Right (part of the EU copyright reform) would give publishers an important enforcement tool against unlicensed use of their valuable online content.

The proposal for a neighbouring right for publishers, in line with the protection already granted to the film, music and broadcasting sectors, is currently under discussion in Brussels. This “press publisher’s right” will create the legal means to fight against those companies who reuse press content without permission or fair remuneration for the press.

Magazines Ireland believes that a Publisher’s Right would improve the legal gaps in current Irish law. Firstly, under the Irish Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000, the scope of the protection is limited to works made in “the course of employment.” This implies that freelancers’ content is not covered by the authorship of publishers which can lead to legal uncertainty while enforcing rights. A right as proposed by the Commission would fill that legal gap by granting a blanket protection to all publishers’ content.

Secondly, a legal clarification might be needed to specify that that all excerpts, whatever their size should fall under the scope of the right because of their commercial value. Indeed, an increasing number of people do not click on links to access the whole article but are ‘satisfied’ with the headline and the “snippet”, creating a substitution effect. It impacts press publications because if there is no click through the hyperlink, there is no traffic and no advertising revenue. For this reason, it is essential that snippets remain in the scope of article 11.

 Magazines Ireland has lobbied the Irish government, Irish MEPs and the Intellectual Property Unit at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation asking them to support the proposal for a press publisher’s right in the draft Copyright Directive proposed by the European Commission, and to reject any proposed changes that would bring more uncertainty to press publishers and to journalists in Europe, including any proposal to delete the press publisher’s right and to substitute it with an approach based on litigation.

 Where are you on issues with digital advertising revenue?

Digital media has caused massive disruption to traditional business models. Technology giants such as Google and Facebook dominate the market and sweep up 80% of all global digital advertising revenue without even having to invest in content creation.

Magazines Ireland members have been investing in online, but revenues are extremely low and do not reimburse the publisher sufficiently to meet the production costs of content creation. Although Google and Facebook provide publishers with some opportunities to amplify the distribution of their magazine content they are taking significant revenues away from Irish publishers by practices which make it difficult for publishers to monetise their content to maintain high quality journalistic standards.

Furthermore, the rise of adblocking software is also having a negative impact on traditional publishers whose business model depends on the advertising revenue on their digital platforms.

What issues are there with e-privacy regulation?

Magazines Ireland is working on an EU Proposed Regulation concerning respect for private life and the protection of personal data in electronic communications. The EU proposal introduces heavy restrictions on the way publishers will be able to collect and process user data.

Magazines Ireland sent its position paper, Proposal for a Regulation on Privacy and Electronic Communications Com (2017)10 to the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment. The correspondence outlined several concerns for Magazines Ireland members. One of them relates to the possibility for publishers to use third party cookies for a variety of essential purposes such as web audience measurement, interest-based advertising etc. In addition, the proposal does not give publishers the legal certainty they need for some other very important purposes (e.g. adblocking detection) which may be required to access data stored in the device but are harmless from a user privacy perspective.

Magazines Ireland will continue to lobby the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment in Dublin asking them to consider the numerous concerns publishers have which threaten the well-being of a sustainable magazine sector and weaken professional journalism in the digital sphere.

What are the retail challenges that publishers face?

The Irish magazine industry is already under pressure and Brexit is presenting even more challenges to the retail sector – the main route to market for magazines.

A vibrant and healthy retail sector is particularly important for magazine publishers and their advertising clients. A significant number of high street brands operate across both the UK and Ireland. Most are UK-headquartered. Several larger retailers also operate all-island businesses and use all-island supply chains that are tightly integrated with the UK.

Weaker sterling has made Northern Irish retailers increasingly price-competitive. Increasing numbers of Irish consumers are looking to Northern Irish retailers to benefit from weaker sterling and competitive pricing. In the months after the Brexit vote, the volume of southern consumers shopping in the North began to approach 2008 levels, the highest of the past 10 years.

Irish consumers are also using online shopping more. UK-based online businesses are well developed and have strong Irish market penetration. Currency volatility is currently giving them a competitive cost advantage in Ireland. The retail sector is the first to feel downturns in consumer sentiment, and experiences them acutely.

A healthy retail sector is also important for magazine publishers for magazine copy sales. Retail sales of magazines are significant and newsstand sales are already under pressure from UK titles. 60 million magazines are bought in Ireland each year; 12 million of which are Irish. The proximity of the UK market with its plethora of titles flooding the Irish magazine market provides an on-going threat to our sector requiring constant innovation and flexibility from our members. Any new tariffs could significantly increase the cost of Irish goods in the UK market and lead to a decrease in copy sales revenue.

 What cultural issues are at play?

Magazines play a vital role in the societal, economic, educational and cultural life of the nation. Ireland needs to maintain the indigenous character of Irish business and consumer magazines and their role within our overall societal and cultural identity. In a market flooded with imported titles, Irish magazines not only reflect the unique culture of Irish society, but they also have provided the training ground for young writers such as Colm Toibin, Maeve Binchy, Joseph O’Connor – all of whom started their careers in magazines.

Magazines have an important role to play in educating and informing its audiences on a whole range of issues from fashion to food; from beauty to business; and in contributing to higher literacy levels in society. Titles like Irish Tatler; Irish Golfer; Irish Country Magazine; RSVP; Books Ireland; Image; The Messenger; RTE Guide; Easy Food; Confetti; Woman’s Way; and Hot Press and are all uniquely Irish magazines promoting and supporting indigenous Irish brands through their advertising and editorial pages.

Business-to-business magazines such as Accountancy Ireland; Irish Food; Checkout; Business Ireland; Hotel & Catering News; Law Society Gazette; EuroTimes; AutoTrade Journal etc are key drivers of knowledge exchange, education and innovation in their sectors.

It is important for the Irish economy that these magazines survive as they play a particularly important role in these times of uncertainty and disruption that Brexit brings to Ireland. Magazines Ireland believes that the recognition of the special position of Irish magazines in the cultural, educational and economic life of the country should be formally recognised.

Irish people love their magazines. Magazines create huge footfall in store and drive purchases in other categories. The magazine sector is a major revenue stream for retailers and Irish magazines outsell their UK counterparts in all categories. The content in Irish magazines is more relevant to Irish audiences than imported titles. And of course, magazines are the most beautiful looking products in any store!

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