How magazine companies must change

There’s nothing wrong with magazines, they’re just getting smaller. But recent campaigns underline the extent to which – for all the hot talk of ‘reinvention’ and ‘transformation’ – many magazine publishers are still living in the past rather than changing for the future. Arguably, they are choosing to ignore three painful realities:

  1. There is no one thing called a ‘magazine’. The production, marketing, economics and competitive landscape of celebrity weeklies, specialist-enthusiast monthlies, and women’s lifestyle magazines could not be more diverse. All they have in common is print and even this has been colonised by retailers and service companies which are gifting content once available only in paid-for magazines. Alongside the web, this ‘content marketing’ has helped to accelerate the overall trend towards free magazines and has shattered a once-successful business model.
  2. Print is now an ancillary medium for almost every audience. The primacy of magazines has been (mostly) supplanted by digital, broadcast and social media, especially among millennials. While many magazines can still thrive in print or digital, most will be smaller parts of the media-mix for readers and advertisers.
  3. Magazines continue to lose advertising. McKinsey estimates that the global advertising share of consumer magazines will have fallen from 6.7% to 2.7% during 2009-19. In an overall advertising market that is forecast to grow by an average of 5% annually, magazine print advertising is predicted to decline by 6% over the next four years. In the UK, magazine advertising fell by 9% in 2015 and is forecast to decline a further 4% this year. And there may be worse to come: influential US venture capitalist Mary Meeker asserts that print media as a whole still gets up to four times the revenue justified by its audience – and, therefore, has much further to fall.

It all reinforces the pressing need for change in the culture of magazine companies. More than anything else, they must become ‘channel-agnostic’ providers of media, information and entertainment rather than “magazine-first” publishers. Their competitors are, increasingly, those involved right across digital-only services, retail, video and audio – not traditional publishers. Magazines have always enjoyed strong, personal relationships with readers, and publishers must find new ways to monetise them, not least among estranged younger audiences. It’s not going to be easy.

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