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The print myth exposed: Why the future's bright for magazine media

28 Apr 2015  |  Sue Todd 
The print myth exposed: Why the future's bright for magazine media

If the general trend is decline, why would so many new entrants see such value in magazine media, asks Magnetic's Sue Todd.

Let's sweep away the doom and gloom (I'm talking to you, Dominic Mills). Contrary to the prevailing narrative in some quarters ('magazines are print, print is dying, therefore so is the magazine industry'), consumer engagement with magazine brands is growing rapidly. People are interacting with magazines on multiple platforms and formats across the whole content ecosystem like never before.

Demonstrated just last week, digital magazines have reason to celebrate, with the latest AA/WARC Expenditure Report showing that 27% of magazine media advertising is digital, with this growth predicted to be at an all-time high of 6.8% by 2016.

Coinciding with the launch of Magnetic, our 'The Rules of Attraction' study, conducted over two years by Crowd DNA with 15,000 magazine consumers, shows that the medium truly is 24/7, with a significant increase in daily readership over the period.

This trend is set to continue because magazine media brands offer exceptional evidence of immersion and engagement. As Sir Martin Sorrell discussed at the Broadcasting Press Guild, advertisers should acknowledge the effectiveness of traditional media such as magazines and its high engagement with consumers.

We're in the magazine media business

Much of the negativity that has characterised the coverage of magazines in recent years stems not from consumer disinterest, but from our inability to accurately measure the evolution of consumer demand. This is linked, in part, to confusion around the previously clear term 'magazine'.

The term is used to refer to the print version of the industry but in fact the magazine media industry produces content across a variety of platforms and formats including mobile, desktop and social, in addition to print, and has been for quite some time. So instead of using just the term 'magazine', publishers have long been in the business of 'magazine media' - a media content brand that has a print magazine as its anchor, but also produces unique content for non-print platforms.

For too long we allowed the narrative to focus on the reach of the print channel alone. Many magazine media brands deliver large numbers, such as Good Housekeeping (419,575), the Radio Times (783,042) and Take A Break (645, 884) but this doesn't prevent them from also having highly engaged and loyal consumers who value their apps, websites and brand extensions - Good Housekeeping cookery schools and Cosmopolitan live events, for example.

Depth comes from a brand being relevant and vital to a consumer and offering skillfully crafted, original, and trusted content (whether that is print or otherwise).

The print myth exposed

The popular myth around print magazines has been fuelled by the fact that overall newsstand sales are declining. While this is true in aggregate, it does not apply to many successful titles.

As in any era of transition, there will be disruption and change. Some brands will evolve and expand and some will run their course, as Loaded has recently announced. What does seem to be holding true though is that the brands that are clear about who they are and what they stand for are achieving brand growth.

Just look at how Elle has invested in its editorial product while building its Elle Style Awards into a recognised event in the fashion calendar, or how The Week has taken a successful print format and adapted it for the needs of a demanding, mobile audience, selling close to 30,000 digital editions. Or how Empire is using multiple channels, including newsletters and social media, to grow a community inspired by a passion for film.

Airbnb, Net-a-Porter and ASOS have all recognised the powerful value proposition of delivering content in print format and have launched print magazines. Launches amongst independent publishers are also at a 10-year high. Why, when the general 'trend' is downward, would new entrants see such value?

Several consistent themes seem to drive these brands expansions into print: print's tangibility and durability, its credibility and trust, the sense of community, identity and belonging it can elicit, its ability to filter and distil information in a noisy cluttered content landscape and its high dwell time.

To reference Sorrell again, he also argued that recent research has found readers are more likely to retain information in print magazines and newspapers than with online and mobile content and therefore engagement levels are higher. Our 'Rules of Attraction' study found that 81% of people have bought an item or visited a place after reading about it in a magazine and 61% agreed that magazine media brands help them spark ideas.

A passion for platform specific content

It is important to note that unlike most media who employ a 'platform agnostic' content approach, the content strategy of many magazine publishers is platform specific. The content fits within the specifics of the magazine's brand umbrella but is crafted and expanded to best fit the characteristics of specific platforms.

The point here is that channel proliferation, rather than cause decline, is the reason why brands that get it right can achieve growth.

Magnets for communities

There is another vital distinction between magazine media and other content suppliers - its ability to create rich content in environments that are highly valued by communities. As we discussed on our 'Not all content is created equal' panel at Ad Week Europe, commercial partners need to trust established brands because they know their audiences inside out and the potential impact their brand can have on that audience.

Revisiting our 'Rules of Attraction' study, it shows that 71% of the 'super-user' sample (defined as consuming magazine content via print plus at least one screen) credited magazine media with giving them ideas and inspiration and 38% of magazine media consumers acted on ideas within their preferred brand. It also holds true that the more channels readers interact with, the stronger the traditional print magazine associations such as escapism, relaxation, inspiration and influence are.

The demand for magazine media content is growing and media brands' ability to grab attention and create absorbing and immersive experiences that inspire action are at an all-time high, so the influence of magazine media is clearly stronger than ever - that is why the future is bright for magazine media.


Sue Todd is chief executive of the new marketing agency for magazine media, Magnetic.

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