Read anything about the state of the Aussie magazine market of late and the news is invariably bleak. Sure, some old favourites have been put to pasture but digital-savvy publishers building a ‘brand’ are setting the category up for lean, mean future. Here’s what industry experts say is going to happen to the future of magazines.
The bi-annual ABC magazine audit numbers have fast become a bit of an industry horror show for those who brave the self-flagellation of actually reading them. Plummeting circulations, fleeing advertisers and closures of, what had become household brand names (Cleo, Famous and Zoo in the past six months alone), mirror a similar grim pattern in the category globally.
The most recent ABCs – out in early May – showed a year on year drop of audited weekly magazines just shy of 13 per cent.
So, are we witnessing the final death throes of one of last century’s great medias before the great digital disruptor suffocates the last remaining life out of print? Or – as the publishers would have us believe – is it all part of some grand master plan into the 21st century and beyond?
And yes, if you just take the actual print sales into account then those death-riding magazines have a valid point. But a 21st century magazine’s more than just paper and staples. It’s a brand with a website, a social media strategy, it has an e-commerce business, does events, spin-offs, one-offs; and should be the authoritative mouthpiece for its category. It’s abundantly clear that magazines’ future isn’t being a magazine. It’s boring, it’s cliché, it’s all a little twee – but it’s now all about the brand.
“Every media has to adapt and publishers know that we no longer talk about magazines as just print; magazines are brands,” says Mary Ann Azer, executive director of the industry body MPA.
“You can’t define magazines via the distribution of paper anymore. To define a magazine as just print these days is plain wrong. Magazines are brands and it’s the successful publishers who are growing those brands across multiple platforms.”
Azer cites a “brand” like National Geographic that has its foundations in print but has grown to be so much more. Or the global success of Tyler Brûlé’s Monocle that has, on top of a print edition, a radio station, TV spin-off, even cafés in London and Tokyo. Monocle may sell less than 100,000 copies worldwide a month but the brand was recently valued at a whopping $A140 million by Japanese investors.
“Magazines now have their own TV programs, they have e-commerce, they do consumer shows, digital products; they sell T-shirts, calendars all under the magazine brand. Some of those brands are enjoying 25 per cent growth YOY in their magazine sales alone,” Azer says.
ADVERTISERS WANT ‘MULTIHOMERS’
A study by the University of Toronto in 2014 found that magazine publishers who prioritise their digital offerings are twice as likely to be profitable. The study found that “the more homogeneous the magazine’s audience, the more attractive it is to advertisers looking to target a specific type of consumer.”
Furthermore, readers of magazine brands that consumed content via more than one medium – or “multihomers” as the study labeled them – were the most appealing type of consumer for advertisers. Put simply, the more the reader sees an ad the more likely they are to purchase, which meant magazines with multiple channels were highly desirable vehicles for advertisers, the study deduced.
DON’T BELIEVE YOUR OWN BAD PRESS
Even Tyler Brûlé believes that the magazine business might be reading too much of the bad stuff written about it. On a recent visit to Australia, the famed Canadian publisher and entrepreneur told B&T: “I think one of the big problems facing the industry right now is that so many magazines reduce the quality of the paper, they have cut back on journalism – they are simply delivering an inferior brand to the one they might have built up over the decades.
“I think it comes down to putting out a physical product, that people are not just comfortable holding but they want to be proud reading it, they may not want to collect it but they want to revisit it again and again.
“That is where a lovely magazine comes in – you don’t need to plug it in, it doesn’t need solar panels, it is not going to beep, rattle or vibrate,” Brûlé said.
Adds Azer: “Yes, I think it has taken Australian publishers a long time to turn those perceptions (that they’re merely just print businesses) around and they are only now starting to adjust to that. I’d agree that when compared to say the US or the UK local publishers have been slow to change that mindset that they’re more than just magazine publishers.”
And Nick Smith, lifestyle publisher of NewsLifeMedia, agrees that there’s these kind of macabre perception from those outside the magazine game that publishers are sitting on their hands as their well-trodden business model slides gently into the great digital abyss.
Not true, Smith says, arguing that the process of turning NewsLifeMedia magazines into NewsLifeMedia brands has been quietly underway for the past few years now.
“We identified fairly quickly that the move to digital was essential and most of our brands are across platforms,” Smith says, “they’re channel agnostic and they create content through a number of channels be that social, digital, print, events and even brand extensions and even merchandise.”
For Smith and Newslife the future of the business won’t be the printed product – although there’s no suggestion a good old fashioned magazine will be gone for good – but it’s all about “top quality content”. He says: “The content will need to be exclusive and that means you have the most engaged audiences and that’s the most appealing thing for advertisers. It’s about using our international brands (such as GQ and Vogue) but making sure the content is very localised and that pays off in outstanding ways be it newsstand sales or socially or hits to the website.”
And for those of you thinking of getting shares in a printing press, yes, Smith says, the actual printed product has a future.
“Take homes, that category just works so well in print. Sure, it translates to Instagram and Pinterest but people who are renovating love to have a printed magazine in their hands. We really push this idea of ‘event publishing’, that every issue needs to be picked up by the reader. But as publisher you don’t just think of a product in isolation. When we do a shoot with a coverstar it’s about the mobile-first delivery of that content. It’s an Instagram post that encourages people to got to the website or pick up the printed product.
“For us we see longevity in print and it won’t go away,” Smith says before adding that print products who have a news focus – be it current affairs or celebrity or whatever – are likely to continue to see their audiences drift away from a paper product held together by glue and staples.
MAGAZINES ARE ALL A BIT DAGGY
In a recent interview with B&T, industry legend, former GroupM boss and now head of media buying at the newly merged WPP AUNZ John Steedman said that a lot of media – considered ‘old school’ – was overlooked for the likes of digital and data and programmatic by planners and buyers when it still – as is the case with magazines – had a compelling case to offer advertisers.
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