Flipping through a women's magazine is like stepping back in time

Flipping through a women's magazine is like stepping back in time
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Former Cleo editor and founder of online women’s content hub Mamamia, Mia Freedman, has spoken out about the “insignificance” of magazines in today’s fast-paced media landscape.

Freedman, who established Mamamia in 2007 after many years as editor-in-chief of ACP’s Cleo, Cosmopolitan and Dolly, addressed the Sydney Institute last night with a perspective on Australian women and online communication.

Her address highlighted what she sees as magazines’ desperate attempt to maintain relevance within a 24 hour news cycle – a cycle which requires a responsiveness and flexibility on the part of publishers that is “simply unprecedented”.

“Women in particular are voracious consumers of information, but we inhale quickly and we move on,” she said.

“The magazines, which I loved madly as a reader, and then as a writer and editor, are produced monthly or weekly – but the reality is that Australian women don’t live their lives in increments of months or weeks or even days. We live our lives in increments of half hours, sometimes minutes – and if you’re mother of a child under two, best make that seconds.

“We don’t wait for magazines anymore. We have information coming to us from the internet and social media much faster than we can consume it. For free.”

Freedman illustrated the importance of timeliness with a reference to the way Australian media handled the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy news, which broke unexpectedly in early December.

“The news broke overnight in the wee hours of Tuesday December 4th. The weekly women’s mags were stuffed,” she said. Many of Australia’s weekly magazines hit shelves on Mondays.

When it came to the monthly magazines, “The Australian Women’s Weekly… simply threw up their hands in frustration, essentially locked out of the story for weeks,” she said.

“The fact that the Women’s Weekly is the largest selling magazine in Australia is a liability when it comes to quick response. It takes a long time to turn around The Queen Mary.”

Meanwhile, at Mamamia, things were ‘all systems go’. “We had our first post up at 7:30am on the Tuesday and we updated it as a few more details emerged – as did other news sites, websites and blogs,” said Freedman.

But the relevance of magazines isn’t just declining because of timing, she believes. When it comes to women’s titles, publishers have fallen out of touch with their audiences in terms of tone and content.

“The increasing insignificance of magazines is only compounded by the fact that they continue to use the same formula they always did when speaking to women,” she said.

“While women’s thinking has evolved, magazines haven’t grown with us. Flipping through the pages of a women’s magazine is like stepping back in time.

“Women are no longer interested in being told how to improve their lives from on high. They’re far more likely to crowd-source advice and information from a variety of online sources, social media accounts and the comments on women’s websites.”

Both the women’s weeklies and monthlies took a beating in the last audit. In the six months to December 2012, Bauer Media’s  Cleoslumped 23.6%, Cosmopolitan fell 16.2%, Madison dropped 23.3% and Shop Till You Drop receded 14.9% year-on-year.

Likewise, Pacific Magazines’ InStyle dropped 8.2% and Marie Claire lost 9.6% of its sales, according to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Every single weekly magazine declined in sales in last year’s fourth quarter.

Last week, editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly Helen McCabe told B&T she believed young women’s monthlies needed an overhaul across the board, and that this category had found its new guiding light in the form of Sharri Markson – newly appointed editor of Cleo.

Markson is a Walkley Award-winning journalist who has worked across mainstream newspapers and TV news. She has already signed Rosie Squires and Kevin Rudd’s daughter Jessica as columnists for the iconic young women’s monthly. 

Freedman's speech comes as the national magazine industry body, Magazine Publishers of Australia (MPA), campaigns to showcase the enduring power of magazines in fostering emotional connections with readers. 

According to the industry body, magazines are still critical in driving consumers to purchase. 

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