HOW MAGAZINE PUBLISHERS CAN TURN DECLINE INTO OPPORTUNITY

The latest magazine ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) results, outlining circulation for the second half of 2016, contained both expected and unexpected results.

In the expected camp, women’s titles are taking big hits as readers increasingly get their celebrity gossip and beauty content for free elsewhere.

Unexpectedly, 130 of the 367 titles listed actually grew their circulation. That’s a surprise, considering only 60 managed that feat in the same period of 2015.

Perhaps the most predictable result though was that general circulation is in decline once again. Around 6%, compared with 5.3% in the first six months of 2016.

If, as is widely accepted, the decline in print is all but irreversible, how can publishers and their brands diversify to stay relevant?

PRINT IS DEAD. LONG LIVE DIGITAL

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. But it is no surprise to learn that in terms of growth/decline, digital is winning the battle vs print.

Digital editions (classed as digital versions which largely replicate the print edition) accounted for 1m of the Q3/Q4 2016 circulation figures. That’s up from 750,000 in the same period of 2015, contrasted with a circa 12% drop in print sales.

As a wider point on digital trends, this chart showing consumption of online news, newspapers or magazines from 2007 to 2016 is pretty powerful. (Source: Statista.com)

chart showing consumption of online news, newspapers or magazines from 2007 to 2016 increasing steadily

Drilling down into magazines, the crystal ball gazers at PWC predict that consumer spend on digital magazines will see an 11% increase by 2020.

SO TO BUCK THE TREND, ALL PUBLISHERS NEED ARE DIGITAL VERSIONS OF THEIR TITLES?

Absolutely not. Let’s not forget that audiences (and their interests) aren’t disappearing off the face of the earth. It’s just that their consumption habits are changing.

Reading a print magazine may be a welcome solitary pastime, but rarely do we behave this way when we’re online. We share, we ‘like’, we comment and we debate. And when it’s a niche subject, as magazines often serve, this behaviour presents huge opportunities to build and foster communities.

“The beauty of digital publishing is that it makes it very easy to share your favourite articles to spark discussions on social networks that creates a much higher reader engagement, build community, and access a lucrative wider audience.”

Nicely put by Digital Marketing Magazine‘s Anjana Varsani.

SO WHAT SHOULD PUBLISHERS BE DOING ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS?

In a nutshell, the magazine brands that stand the best chance of not just surviving but thriving need to:

  • Create bespoke digital editions built for the platforms and devices their audiences use
  • Ensure they’re as slick and user-friendly as possible
  • Make content instantly and easily shareable
  • Build communities around shared interest by using social networks as an extension of the title
  • Create dedicated content, campaigns, offers, events and interactive experiences that deepen the relationship between brand and audience by continually making them feel valued

HOW DOES THE SUBSCRIPTION MODEL FIT INTO ALL OF THIS?

According to Dovetail, magazine subscription rates are falling but at a slower rate than retail sales, indicating that consumers still see them as valuable.

However, the likes of Netflix and Spotify have changed how consumers perceive subscriptions, particularly when consuming digital content.

Image of a phone and headphones with the spotify app on the phone - an app that is a subscription to listen to music

In contrast to the twelve-month subscription that is standard across print magazines, publishers need to consider that people now expect to be able to manage their subscriptions online, ‘turning them off’ at the click of a button and resuming them just as quickly and easily if they wish.

FINALLY, WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN FOR THE MAGAZINE INDUSTRY?

For the answer to this question, we’ll defer to Joely Carey, former editorial director of Fabulous magazine and now a digital content consultant.

For Joely, the magazine industry isn’t dead, it’s just different…

“Publishing, and magazine publishing in particular, has stared death in the face. It’s seen what it has to do to survive and at long last the fight-back it starting with the kind of passion, skill and dogged determination that makes it such a stimulating industry to work in.”

Read her passionate and highly insightful piece here.