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Magazine publishing: up or down?

Magazine publishing: up or down?

In the digital age, are things looking good or gloomy for magazines? Economist brand platforms – which themselves represents a highly successful weekly magazine – argued both positions last week.

An article from The Economist’s print edition stated that magazine publishing has recently been suffused with a “new sense of optimism.” Most magazines rely less on classified advertising than newspapers, argues the piece, so they took less of a hit when the market moved online. They are capable of inspiring reader loyalty that is attractive to advertisers, continues the article, and they are harnessing digital technology in innovative ways.

The story acknowledges that the number of ad pages in US magazine has fallen for the third quarter running, but it asserts that digital advertising is an important growing market. “Once, digital ads would have been scant comfort. On the web they are typically worth a small fraction of what they were in print. But tablets, such as Apple’s iPad, could change this,” states the article, “there are signs that advertisers are accepting higher rates on tablets than on the web, because magazines on tablets are more like magazines in print: engrossing, well-designed experiences instead of forests of text and links.”

Precisely the opposite point of view is argued in a blog post about tablet editions of magazines for the Economist Group’s Lean Back 2.0 blog, written by Rishad Tabaccowala, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for VivaKi. Tabaccowala asserts, "tablets will hasten the demise of magazines and not save them.” Firstly, he says that tablets put magazine content on the same level as games and social media, which compete for the reader’s attention. Secondly, he argues that the iPad disrupts magazine publishers’ tight control over their distribution, and damages their ability to bundle content together. “The future does not fit the containers of the past. The magazine is a great way to bundle things in print, but a magazine on a tablet is just not going to make it,” writes Tabaccowala, who describes the state of the magazine industry as a “headache.”

Both articles cite evidence for their positions. The Economist's print edition says that in North America, more magazines were launched than closed down in 2011 for the second year running. It also cites the Association of Magazine Media, which says magazine audiences are growing faster than the audiences for TV or newspapers, and shows PwC data, which suggests that magazine revenue is growing in every region of the world, particularly in Latin America.

Focusing exclusively on magazines on the tablet, Tabaccowala, on the other hand, notes that Conde Nast is “slowing down on iPad development” with “circulation piddly everywhere.”

So far, so different. Yet the two Economist-brand pieces agree on one fundamental point: innovation and drawing revenue from new sources is vital to magazines’ survival. Tabaccowala urges magazine companies to “hire iconoclasts and challenge the dogma,” to partner with technology firms and to work with young people to re-think magazine formats from the ground up.

The Economist print edition argues that, to a certain extent, this has already happened. The article states that “wiser publishers” are drawing revenue from new streams, including offering marketing services, organising events, partnering with coupon websites like Groupon and licensing software. What’s more, publishers like Hearst are making the most of new technology to produce content in new formats, says the story. A recent article by Mashable about The New Yorker’s new web strategy reinforces The Economist’s point. 

Both Economist-brand articles also argue that quality print magazines still have life left in them. Tabaccowala urges publishers to “double down on print by making the magazine a truly tactile artifact (like Monocole), which people are willing to pay for or even pay more for.” The Economist print edition likewise suggests that magazines are still valuable as objects: “As long as there are coffee tables, people will want things to put on them,” it says.

Sources: The Economist, Economist Group Lean Back 2.0, Mashable

Image via Flickr (Creative Commons)


Hannah Vinter


2012-06-11 14:14

Shaping the Future of the News Publishing

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