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Green-fingered publishers see growth in gardening and sustainability

Lockdown has changed many aspects of daily life, but some publishers have spotted an opportunity as interest rises in gardening and sustainable living.

From creating your own perfect outdoor space to wider issues around sustainability and climate change, Future plc, Aceville Publications and Bloomberg have all responded to a spike in search and traffic with launches to cater to green-fingered readers.

These trends have been highlighted further by Readly’s mid-year review. The digital magazine subscription service tracked which categories were being read across its 5,000-magazine-strong portfolio, with gardening topping the list of most read categories for January to June 2020.

The most read magazine issue of the year for the platform so far was Stuff’s ‘43 Smart Garden Gadgets’, which featured spaceship-shaped pizza ovens, afterburner BBQs, droid mowers, and NASA-inspired vegetable growers. 

Readly’s UK MD and CCO said that the rise was likely to be because people were looking for content to offset the hectic pace of the coronavirus news cycle. “We’ve seen readers turn to magazine reading to discover new interests, learn new topics, be entertained, and overall embrace practical solutions to the ‘locked-down’ world they have suddenly found themselves in,” she commented.

So what have publishers been doing as audiences for outdoor living grow?

Responding to search growth

Future plc is one publisher in the UK who has launched three new digital brands in response to search trends, one of which is GardeningEtc.com. The site’s key focuses will be on outdoor furniture, BBQs, landscaping, garden tools, garden play equipment and buying guides.

Commenting on the launch, Andrea Davies, the Group MD for content explained that the Homes team at Future realised that gardens and outdoor living would be an escape and expansion of the space people are confined to during the crisis. “This was evident in the research with searches for and spend on outdoor living skyrocketing,” she said.

Search has driven the launch, and search will drive the content as well, with SEO-optimised articles being based on observed trends and sector expertise. Future’s focus for the launch was speed, with the team applying audience and ecommerce methodology to build quickly.

The publisher is also hoping to attract a younger audience who may be now making their first serious efforts with gardening and improving their outdoor space. 

ECommerce in particular is a big growth area for Future, and so it is little surprise that GardeningEtc will focus on the opportunity available in recommending outdoor furniture or garden-related products. Product reviews and services will be delivered via Future’s eCommerce widget called Hawk, which uses an algorithm to deliver the best price to readers.

Some of GardeningEtc’s content

“Previously, outdoor living was covered occasionally by the homes press, but we believe this deserves a stand-alone platform that can host a constant stream of inspiring, helpful content,” commented Beth Murton, GardeningEtc’s launch editor.

Since launching at the end of June, the site has taken off, and is already three months ahead of projected audience target figures, according to Davies. With the summer holidays now in full swing and only a limited return to office life on the cards, this is a sector that is only likely to grow.

Virtual gardening shows

Future is not the only publisher to be taking advantage of the rise in interest in gardening. Special interest publisher Aceville Publications, part of the DC Thomson Media family, has seen readers flock to Grow Your Own Magazine, with traffic in excess of 500,000 visitors per month since lockdown began. It has also had a spike in interest in its podcast The Dirt, which has received over 47k downloads to date.

In response, Grow Your Own launched a brand new virtual gardening event called The Grow Show, which ran events, competitions, garden tours, DIY project ideas and more throughout June.

The Grow Show’s ‘virtual event’ map

The content is all still available on the site, where gardening fanatics can explore the ‘virtual show’ sections, from ‘Greenhouses & Builds’ to ‘Kitchen Garden’, ‘Flowers & Foliage’ and more.

The virtual show also offered a range of gardening brands with discounts for visitors, as well as downloadable growing guides for a range of fruit and veg, and tips to get kids interested in gardening.

From gardening to sustainable living

Gardening isn’t the only trend Aceville have spotted over lockdown. The publisher has also launched a new online consumer magazine ‘Live Green & Good’ in response to ethical consumer spending in the UK hitting record levels.

The title will cover a wide range of green-themed topics, from vegetarian and vegan recipes to the latest sustainable practices and an eco-home section on making households more sustainable.

Live Green & Good’s branding, via Twitter

For Live Green & Good, being online-first is a key part of their sustainability message. “We recognised that the way our consumers consume content is changing,” said Natalie Osborne, Aceville’s Head of Editorial. “They look online first for convenience, but also out of consideration for the environment. So we’re meeting them where they are with this great addition to our portfolio.”

Bloomberg has taken a slightly different approach with its own foray into sustainability. In June, they launched Bloomberg Green magazine, a quarterly print magazine dedicated to reporting on climate change, after the January 2020 launch of the online brand. 

Each edition will be printed on 100% recycled paper, and is “dedicated to driving global dialogue and thought leadership around these vitally important issues,” according to Bloomberg Media CEO Justin B. Smith, with the key audience being business leaders. 

“With Bloomberg Green magazine, we are expanding upon our commitment as the first multi-platform global business brand for the climate change era, and forging deeper connections with our partners and audience in new ways and formats,” he said.

Is the green-fingered approach sustainable?

The question for those publishers who have responded to this new trend is how long the interest in these new areas is likely to be sustained for. Certainly in the UK, there are a good few months of mileage left yet as the summer holidays begin. 

With holidays abroad a risk in current lockdown conditions, those lucky enough to have gardens will no doubt continue to get use out of them for socially distanced BBQs and meetings, and therefore will have a vested interest in keeping them ship shape.

The real test will be as winter approaches. Will the keen amateurs retain their interest as the weather gets colder and wetter, or will newly-refreshed outdoor spaces be abandoned until next spring? The jury is still out on how much we will return to our old habits and what of our new ones will stick. For these publishers, the gamble is on the latter.

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