The Future of Magazines: Is NOT to be a Magazine

The Future of Magazines: Is NOT to be a Magazine
July 6, 2016 Melissa Borg

When was the last time you bought a print magazine?
When was the last time you read an article from a magazine title online?

It’s safe to assume that your answers to those two questions are very different, and they will be backed up by the most recent statistics from Australian Bureau of Circulation’s bi-annual media audit.  It shows a year-on-year drop of 13% in the readership of weekly print magazines. This statistic could paint a pretty bleak picture of the state of the Aussie magazine industry, especially if you add up the many titles that have bowed out.

However, if you look to those titles that have endured, they are teaching us something about being a magazine – it’s better to not be!

It’s all about disruption.  Digital savvy publishers have learnt that the key to longevity in the printed magazine space is to build a ‘brand’, as John Bastik put it:

“21st century magazines are 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.”

Take a look at Better Homes and Gardens, which has a monthly print readership of 1,818,000, complemented by a successful TV show, website, social channels, online store and sponsored events. It’s not a magazine, it’s a brand. Mary Ann Azer, Executive Director of the industry body Magazine Publishers of Australia (MPA), believes some of these magazine brands are enjoying 25% growth year on year in their magazine sales alone.

Alternatively, magazines such as Grazia are ditching their print edition altogether and re-launching as an entirely online platform. This is a smart move according to a study by the University of Toronto, in 2014, which found that magazine publishers who prioritise their digital offerings are twice as likely to be profitable. The study also found that the more homogeneous the magazine’s audience, the more attractive it is for communications professionals looking to target a specific type of consumer. Also, it found that magazine readers who engage via multiple channels are the most appealing, particularly in the age of integrated communications.

However, many publishers still believe there is longevity in print, particularly in categories such as homes where information doesn’t change as frequently as news and current affairs. I believe it’s time for those publishers to shift their thinking because, moving forward, it’s clear their online content is a key to push people to pick up the print edition.

This opens up more opportunity for those of us who pitch stories and content – if we provide exclusive and local content to publishers, it is likely that content can be used in many ways across the brand’s multiple channels and, again, drive people to pick up the print edition.

Communications professionals like us need to seize the opportunity to leverage, but it will depend on how well we re-think and repurpose our approaches to pitching stories – in the end, we all have a part to play in keeping magazines alive.