I very, very recently started working at a magazine publishing company. Most people might say that’s a pretty crazy move, for someone who loves marketing and whom, apparently, has their finger on the pulse for the future direction of consumers’ media interactions. It’s no secret, the magazine (and overall print media) business is dying! But personally, I love that it is… because it’s also not.
Of all the print media, something interesting seems to happen when we come to Magazines. They’re a more informative, longer read than other print and they are able to better address certain issues that short-form, printed news just isn’t. It holds a certain cache and nostalgia that satisfies informed travellers and entertains special, niche interests. While it’s had a major impact on media, it’s also in a slow, potentially fatal decline that could end the magazine overall… But I don’t believe it’s ending. I believe It’s evolving! Because it must.
The Magazine business isn’t dead… But it might be soon!
You don’t have to look very far back into history to know that print media has had a massive role in some of the most explosive events in history. For years it was the primary source of mass information for consumers. For many it was the first they’d heard of the sinking of the Titanic, the end of World War 2 (also competing against radio), the assassinations of JFK and the Moonlanding (competing with television).
Magazines, being print, have been able to do something similar, especially during the 60’s. Providing thought-provoking perspectives on issues of Pop-Culture, it could be argued that the magazine brought down Nixon (Newsweek broke the Nixon tapes, proving his guilt in Watergate). The magazine also has a secret, yet obvious, weapon in its arsenal. The Magazine Cover. Not so limited as Newspaper headlines, the cover page could not only draw attention, but also tell its own story through the imagery provided. Some of the most iconic images in history were printed on the front of magazines such as Time, Rolling Stone, Esquire, The New Yorker, so-on-and-so-forth.
But while the impact of magazines, especially regarding pop culture, has been huge, the fact is that they’re like Captain America in the Avengers. They’re “out of time”. The main thing you’ll hear about magazines is “circulation”. Think of it like Currency, where there’s a certain number of bank-notes an economy at a given time. This is a major metric for magazines and, let’s face it, magazines are long-term like bank notes. A hair-dresser in Sydney probably has a 1992 issue of OK magazine somewhere!
But, and it’s been said before, the way people consume information has fragmented enormously in the past 10 years. The internet is a source of nearly infinite information (credible and otherwise!) and the ongoing shift in the ownership of information means people contribute to this information and furthermore tailor it to fit the criteria of their personal information streams.
But while it might actually sound like it’s all bad news for the humble, history affecting, printed magazine, I’m happy that I’ve stepped into this industry at the time that I have. Because the magazine isn’t dead… It’s being reborn.
“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”
It’s true. Magazines have been on a downward slope and there’s no arguing that fact. The digitisation of information consumption has seen to that. But in that, there’s also a glimpse of the future! We’ve seen most publications move online, using websites to support their printed companions and paywalls to (try) and limit the revenue losses from people moving online (and getting used to it being free!). Publishers dropped the ball, massively, on the digital magazine. Thankfully they’re starting to catch up.
Revenues for magazines rely on three key areas: Newsstand (where you buy magazines!), Advertising (selling it to other brands) and Subscriptions. The reliance on these fundamental sources of income hasn’t changed, but the ways in which these channels flow and are interacted with has. As I’ve said, it’s going digital. My favourite is Wired.com FYI. But it actually hasn’t been as bad as it seems… Global revenues for magazines in 2015 are expected to be $98.1bn. Up from $97.1bn in 2013!
In fact, something interesting is happening. Mounting evidence of a new tech-bubble is creating some concern that digital won’t survive as a result (http://www.businessinsider.com.au/evidence-that-tech-bubble-is-at-a-peak-2014-10) and there are a number of digital-only publications moving to physical print, because print is still an evocative and effective form for magazines which resonates with people (http://mumbrella.com.au/are-magazines-frozen-in-time-282394). I know I still buy magazines, especially when travelling!
How does print move into the future?
Being a “futurist” I’m excited of the possibility of a flexible, transparent screen, made of graphene, with which I can tailor to display my news stream much like Flipbook, subscribing to publishers in a way similar to subscribing through Netflix. But as a present-day marketer, I also know that the current (and more reaslistic) big thing is experience. Consumers are no longer “just consumers”. They’re producing content and the internet is creating digital villages which people are using to build virtual communities. It’s all part of the experience of being involved in content sharing and dissemination. Demanding greater involvement in the experience of magazines will also mean a greater need to expand the experience beyond screens and pages.
With this in mind, I think it’s more than reasonable to make the following (educated) assumptions about the future of the humble magazine:
- Digital and Print will be supported by experiences such as events, branded ‘bricks-and-mortar’ stores such as cafe’s and shopfronts (especially for lifestyle magazines) and contributions from users and influential bloggers (especially for travel magazines).
- Digital communities will be formed around special interests, fed by various digital and social platforms, where publishers will become equally on reliant of readers for information as readers are on publishers.
- Subscriptions will move to the ‘Netflix’ model, the ‘shopfront’ revenue channel will shrink to a minor source of income and highly targeted, data-driven (therefore more effective and valuable) advertising will become the primary source of income.
- ‘Consumers’ using the “single-subscription, many outlet” model will tailor their information to be highly specific and personal. Removing the barriers separating pages, screens and publishers, combining magazine content into a single stream of information.
- Print will become the flagship of Magazines, with major articles featured exclusively in print, presenting only the best content, driving continued print sales and integrating with supporting experiences where possible.
My future sits in the world of Magazines
So, while magazines might appear to be in a dire situation right now, I’ve never been more excited to be involved with a particular industry. The evolution of the magazine to an integrated experience, particularly the opportunities facing lifestyle magazines with brand-extending storefronts, will make magazines more than just words on a page or screen, although the reading of magazines will always be needed of course.
The shift that this will make, in combination with the digital, social and virtual community aspects, means that, unfortunately, a lot of minor players in the industry will fall away, but those who are left will be able to provide far better content and experiences, specific to each person, in a way that is both valuable to consumers and to publishers also.
I’m personally greatly excited about that (But I also can’t wait for my flexible graphene screen for digital issues of my favourite magazines! Eventually).