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Magazine circulations: always read the small print

16 Aug 2019  |  David Pidgeon 
Magazine circulations: always read the small print

Every six months the ABC issues the latest circulation figures for the consumer magazine market and dutifully journalists begin looking at who was up, or - as is more likely these days - who was down.

It's certainly true that the vast majority of consumer magazines continue to decrease in circulation and every now and then we even witness the sad demise of what was often an iconic brand.

Yet there is still a positive story to tell about magazine media - a little exhaustingly, it just all too often requires some nuanced reading of the figures, some additional data to sit alongside them, and some background reading about the effectiveness of the medium too.

Firstly, many of the magazine brands now manifest in numerous ways - through awards, live events, TV shows, clubs, e-commerce platforms, social channels; you name it. So even beyond the 'true brand reach' that PAMCo delivers with its cross platform readership figures, many of these magazine brands are enormous when taken in their entirety.

The Economist, for instance, is a dense weekly magazine. But it's on Snapchat too. Stylist shifts more than 400,000 copies, but now also has its own TV show.

This means circulation figures - which at their heart have a specific trading function - should never be read in isolation for they only reveal part of what is usually a much more complex picture.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that when circulation figures are high - like they were in the past - they are conveniently used by everyone as a short-hand demonstration of scale and success; but when the figures are heading south they become the primary deliverer of an often false narrative of brand decline.

These are caveats and nuances that do not make it into headlines, much less the copy of articles about magazine media, but it's essential practitioners of marketing understand what is really going on by digging a little deeper.

Magazines also form part of a hugely complex, rich and evolving media landscape and should be viewed by marketers as an essential part of the marketing mix rather than some legacy silo.

The way audiences interact with content has changed and looking at ads purely via scale in print is now much less relevant. Instead, marketers should take note of the relevance of magazine brands, the environment they offer and the trust people have in them.

Here it's worth resurfacing Magnetic's 'Pay Attention' campaign. Magazines are read in a highly immersive way, with few distractions - particularly in print. Given ads are considered part of that experience and have been curated to fit within the media environment, there remains a sound case for keeping the adspend flowing.

So yes, print doesn't fly off the shelves like it used to, and yes, some titles just can't cut it any longer, and yes, publishers must keep their wits about them. But many still do, and while the audiences might not always be high, engagement levels certainly are - and that's surely what advertisers are searching for.

@David_Pidgeon

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