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How it all works

Years and years ago – in the early 1970s – I once interviewed Tony Elliott, sometime husband of Janet Street-Porter, who is best known for having founded and being the original editor of Time Out magazine, the alternative ‘entertainment’ guide to what was on in London.

Being a callow student, I lobbed a raft of facile questions at him including – not least because I was then set upon going into journalism and/or publishing – how much market research he had done before launching his organ. His reply slightly surprised me but simultaneously gave me hope.

He’d done none at all and explained why.

The way he told it, big and highly-successful publishing businesses like IPC – the sort that could afford it – regularly spent untold amounts of money doing market research, setting up focus groups to gain prospective target readership feedback views, hired consultants and even sometimes prospective editorial teams in order to (for example) devise a new magazine, e.g. one aimed at young female teenagers as a competitor to the market leader Jackie.

They then slavishly followed the results of their research efforts to the letter. And then, when it came to launch-time, their new magazine project would bomb spectacularly.

Elliott said he’d adopted a more far more idealistic, not to say hippy, approach to his pet project which he had hatched whilst in London in a vacation between university terms during his first year at Keele University.

As a youngster set upon adventure and going to gigs, galleries, comedy shows, ‘happenings’ and even upcoming demonstrations, he was amazed at the staid and basic approach of London’s main/only magazine guide What’s On.

It seemed to be aiming exclusively at middle class West End theatre goers.

So he decided to make a virtue of finding out where events and shows that he might be interested in were going on. And then published it, initially for his friends and others like them, in the form of a piece of A3 paper that folded out into a grid listing everything by type/subject.

And never returned to university or looked back.

The message he was giving his nervous but fascinated interviewer was that it was better to concentrate upon a project that you personally believe in – and hope that (perhaps against all odds) it might take off – than to simply take a conventional business route in which, by implication, you’d almost always be trying to follow the latest fashion or ‘hot thing’ in your industry that had just occurred, i.e. rather that being creative, breaking new ground, and/or even being outrageously left-field yourself.

It provided me with food for thought then – and now.

It’s sometimes funny how life works.

The Rust began as a means by which a group of like-minded mid-life or older people might report upon 21st Century life from our own demographic’s point of view. We had no ambition to become commercially successful, partly because we all had careers behind us and were regarding the Rust as a hobby rather than a means to an end.

We had no idea that we would become a global phenomenon against which governments would seek to bring in special taxes regimes to force us to pay more tax in the countries where our money was being generated – or ever be the subject of Parliamentary and Congressional committee investigations. Most particularly, we had no idea that we would strike a chord with the ‘snowflake’ Millennial generation to the extent that 68% of our readership is now aged under 24.

Hey ho. That’s life. I guess it’s possible that part of the reason for our good fortune is that we were never seeking it.

Life was so much simpler way back when. We always tend to look back upon it with rose-coloured spectacles, even if the reality wasn’t quite so perfect.

Nevertheless I did feel a little nostalgic when spotting this piece on the Swinging Sixties that was featured upon the website of the Daily Mail overnight. A year’s subscription to National Geographic will go to the first reader to spot which girl in a Carnaby Street shop window was/is your author – see here – DAILY MAIL


About Jane Shillingford

Jane spent the bulk of her career working on women’s magazines. Now retired and living on the south coast, she has no regrets and 'would do it all again'. More Posts