Trends that will dominate magazine publishing in 2014
Things get a bit bi-focal in the magazine publishing world in December, writes Peter Houston, founder of Flipping Pages Media. For those still doing print, January issues are already close to the finishing line, and absolutely everyone has one eye on what happened this year and the other on what's coming next year. With that split focus in mind, here are five things that have vexed magazine people in 2013 and that we'll all still be talking about in 2014.Programmatic advertising
It's a dead cert that publishers will be talking about programmatic advertising next year, and not just because none of them managed to figure out what it actually is in 2013.
At its simplest, programmatic is the automation of media buying. The what, where and when of advertising procurement handled by software through desktop dashboards - no fax machines required. Sounds good; no more paperwork, and better targeting through advanced analytics.
Yes, but does it always involve auctions? Does it have to be real time? Is it just a way to handle unsold inventory or can it support premium positions and packages? Are salespeople obsolete? Just some of the questions thrown up by this developing and frankly ill-defined media buying methodology.
The evangelists believe all ad buying will one day be programmatic. While a total takeover won't happen as long as there are media owners that can maintain the cachet of scarcity and the ability to weave their creative magic, no publisher will be able to completely avoid programmatic. To get yourself set for 2014's debate, have a read of Ad Week's Programmatic for Dummies.
Hot on the heels of programmatic in the 'what the hell is it?' stakes comes big data. The advanced science of crunching huge data volumes came to prominence last year with a rare appearance outside the computer science lab at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
There's no argument that there is much, much more data around than ever before. Networked devices that support 24/7 digital interaction are creating a personalised data trail for connected individuals that marketers are desperate to exploit. Used properly, this can help predict everything from public healthcare needs to Google searches.
The problem is, not that many publishers actually deal with the enormous data volumes implied by big data; they typically have lots of little data sets. This hasn't stopped them being seduced by the promise that big data can help them define their customers' deepest desires and lusting after servers and software that supports the dream.
Luckily, 12 months is a long time in technology and the big-data-is-bullshit-backlash has brought some perspective to the scene. Hopefully next year's conversation will be about the value of quality data and the insights that can be drawn from it rather than the 'my data's bigger than your data' back and forth that has gone before.
As much as you and I might want them to, arguments about native advertising are not going away - it's making people money. Personally, I'm tired of the tone of the debate. Native adverts are advertorials, no more no less, but the conversation that has swirled around the format all year centres on some level of denial of this fact.
"Is there something wrong with advertising that it can't actually be called advertising?" asked US magazine veteran Bo Sacks in a rather angry blog post recently. No Bo, there's nothing wrong with advertising; we're all trying to make money here, and advertising - native or otherwise - is one of the ways we do that.
There is, as Bo points out, something wrong with pretending that advertising isn't actually advertising.
Let's all just agree that native advertising is advertorial, whether it's contributed posts, sponsored content, or whole digital channels rented by brands. So long as advertising content's origins and affiliations are labelled clearly and honestly, and it delivers value to the audience, no one should care. Agree on that and maybe we can spend 2014 talking about innovative advertorial formats and about the value they can deliver to marketers and audiences alike.
Digital magazine discoverability
If you don't download many digital magazine apps, you might not have noticed, but Apple's App store isn't really working for magazines. Its virtual shelves are empty, searching is difficult and Apple doesn't seem to be doing much about it.
Empty shelves and poor category searching are only the most obvious of the problems magazine publishers face with the world's biggest digital magazine distribution platform. Apple doesn't release download data, so publishers have no way to market directly to users to encourage them to purchase future issues. Maybe that's part of the reason 95 percent of apps downloaded are abandoned within a month.
Google just got serious about the publishing market with the launch of its own Newsstand. It's taking the discovery issue seriously, and hopes are high. But volumes right now are small, no one knows what anyone is spending and its model is skewed heavily at consumption rather than helping publishers get paid.
It would be great if the digital magazine discoverability talk in 2014 was about how Apple finally listened to publishers, but chances are it will be more of the same, with a possible sidebar on how best to take advantage of search alternatives like Magvault.
The 'death' of print
Still rumbling along in 2013, the death of print thing has been going on for almost as long as I can remember.
2014 might be a little different though, if only because one of the dead-tree failures that was used to beat the print lobby soundly early in the year will return early in the New Year.
Newsweek, the highest-profile print closure of 2013, is making what Ray Snoddy recently described as a 'Lazarus style' comeback. The 80 year-old magazine, digital-only for just over a year, is relaunching a print edition with a trimmed down staff, less art and Ecomomist-esque content more likely to draw subscription revenues.
Whether Newsweek 'boutique' succeeds or fails (again), print will be around next year, and the year after that and the year after that. The real point of the Newsweek resurrection is that serious minded business people believe they can make a case for a print publication.
The leadership could make a hash of it, but the logic - reduce production costs and focus on premium content that people will pay for - is sound. Independent print magazines like Monocle have proved that.
So please stop talking about the death of print. Maybe try talking about the rebirth of print, an established product with a valued place amongst the rest of your multi-platform portfolio, whether that's programmatic, big, small, native, or discoverable.