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Richard Branson

Journalism goal, Virgin ads in Student

1 Jan, 1986

Branson tells Interview magazine that he started Student because he wanted to be a journalist, not an entrepreneur:

I had no plans to be an entrepreneur. I just wanted to be a journalist and write for a magazine. At 15, I just decided to leave school and launch a national student magazine … And in order to run a national student magazine, I soon realized that the editing is one thing, but you’ve got to sell the advertising and worry about the distribution and the printers. You end up having to become a businessman just to get the magazine out. So it wasn’t from a desire to be a businessman.

The approach has helped other ventures:

Since then, I’ve gone into projects because I’m interested in them rather than because it would make us the most money. Often, because of that, the projects do much better, because all of us are willing to work long hours at it.

He gives details on starting Virgin Records:

In the last issue of Student, I took an ad saying “Virgin Records—ten to 60 percent off any record, any label.” Nobody discounted records before I did and nobody specialized in selling rock records. You’d always have Andy Williams stacked alongside Frank Zappa.

The ads appeal to his own age group and uptake is strong:

Then there was a mail strike. I went down to Oxford Street one day, looking for a little to sell our records from. Finally, I went into a shoe shop, went up the stairs and there was an empty floor. I asked the manager if he’d like to let us have it for a few months. He said fine.

The queue on opening day stretches around the block to Tottenham Court Road tube station:

For about three years, all the other retailers got together and said they wouldn’t discount. So we had three wonderful years when we were in shops above shoe shops and in basements—usually on the outskirts of towns, but people were willing to come to us … But still the record companies wouldn’t supply us. So this little shop in the East End of London had a turnover of about ten million pounds. The local rep was driving around in a Rolls-Royce.