Why mag­a­zines mat­ter

The Insider - - PUBLISHING -

There’s never been a time in his­tory when we had more choices than we do to­day. In our in­dus­tri­al­ized world, we have vir­tu­ally un­lim­ited op­tions in terms of where we live, work, play, shop; what we eat, drink, wear, read; how we com­mu­ni­cate, cre­ate value, crit­i­cize; and how we spend our most pre­cious re­source — time.

On the sur­face, all this choice seems like nir­vana, espe­cially when com­pared to what our par­ents had. But as psy­chol­o­gist and author, Barry Schwartz, warns in his book “The Para­dox of Choice”, in re­al­ity, neg­a­tive ef­fects come with mul­ti­ple choice.

1. It pro­duces paral­y­sis rather than free­dom.

2. The more choices we have, the higher our ex­pec­ta­tions.

3. The higher our ex­pec­ta­tions, the less sat­is­fied we are with the re­sults of our se­lec­tion.

With pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, the lack of choice made it like­lier for peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence more pleas­ant sur­prises. How­ever, to­day, be­ing pleas­antly sur­prised is much harder to achieve be­cause we have be­come cit­i­zens of “per­fec­tion is our ex­pec­ta­tion” — mak­ing Schwartz con­clude that the se­cret to hap­pi­ness is low ex­pec­ta­tions.

Now, I’m not out to en­dorse his rather un­set­tling as­ser­tion, but I have to ad­mit that choos­ing what con­tent to read, lis­ten to, and watch can be stress­ful and chal­leng­ing, espe­cially on­line.

Thank­fully, al­go­rith­mic cu­ra­tion through ma­chine learn­ing helps per­son­al­ize op­tions for us based on our in­ter­ests, re­duc­ing the anx­i­ety that comes with our grow­ing de­mand for in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion and the para­dox of choice.

So what has any of this got to do with mag­a­zines?

Un­like other forms of con­tent (e.g. news­pa­pers, tele­vi­sion, so­cial me­dia, etc.) mag­a­zines are al­ready fil­tered for us by the na­ture of their niche-ness — a dif­fer­en­tia­tor that helps di­min­ish the para­dox of choice symp­toms by con­nect­ing read­ers di­rectly with their pas­sions.

In 2017, Time Inc. UK re­search iden­ti­fied key pas­sion points and per­son­al­ity at­tributes of pas­sion­ate peo­ple. They learned that, on av­er­age, pas­sion­ate peo­ple spend US$230 on their pas­sion ev­ery month (10% spend close to US$700).

Mag­a­zine Net­works also did an in-depth study look­ing at read­er­ship of mag­a­zines in Aus­tralia. It found en­gage­ment lev­els most other forms of me­dia would die for.

The po­ten­tial of pas­sion-based pe­ri­od­i­cals isn’t lost on agen­cies (e.g. JWT In­tel­li­gence, R/GA), brick and mor­tar brands (e.g. Wal­mart, Four Sea­sons, Mar­riott, and Coca-Cola) and dig­i­tal pure­plays (e.g. Uber and Airbnb). All of th­ese seg­ments have launched their own mag­a­zines to cap­i­tal­ize on op­por­tu­ni­ties to grow more di­rect en­gage­ment with clients, em­ploy­ees, and con­sumers through con­tent mar­ket­ing.

One of my fa­vorites comes from Costco — a mem­ber­ship ware­house club that pro­vides se­lect, brand-name mer­chan­dise and ser­vices, typ­i­cally at lower prices than retail out­lets. Costco Con­nec­tion en­ables an on­go­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the brand and its 64 mil­lion mem­bers — a ve­hi­cle by which it can con­tin­u­ally com­mu­ni­cate the value of the an­nual mem­ber­ship. Close to 90% of mem­bers re­new their mem­ber­ship each year.

Ev­ery month I look for­ward to re­ceiv­ing the mag­a­zine (not the on­line ver­sion, which is how I read most of my news, but the print edi­tion) for many rea­sons. Costco Con­nec­tion:

• In­forms me about both their prod­ucts and re­cent trends across a va­ri­ety of in­dus­tries (tech­nol­ogy, fi­nance, health, travel, etc.).

• In­spires me to look be­yond my typ­i­cal choices in food, menus, recipes, and even books.

• In­flu­ences my pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions by clev­erly cu­rat­ing thou­sands of items based on price points and con­sumer test­ing.

• Chal­lenges me through its monthly In­formed De­bate sec­tion where ex­perts weigh in on of­ten-com­plex so­cial is­sues, pro­vid­ing both pros and cons and also opin­ions from read­ers.

I’ve of­ten thought it would be great if more pub­lish­ers of­fered this type of col­lab­o­ra­tive con­tent for their au­di­ences. I truly be­lieve it would be wel­comed by read­ers and not overly ex­pen­sive to pro­duce.

In 2015, Costco Con­nec­tion was the largest cir­cu­la­tion print monthly mag­a­zine in the US. To­day it has ~12.7 mil­lion print sub­scribers across nine in­ter­na­tional mar­kets — an au­di­ence fore­cast to spend more than US$26B at Costco stores alone in 2018. It is a con­tent mar­ket­ing pow­er­house!

Speak­ing of mar­ket­ing…

It comes as no sur­prise that the mag­a­zine in­dus­try is strug­gling to main­tain, let alone grow, its ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enues.

Why the big dif­fer­ence?

Be­sides feed­ing peo­ple’s pas­sions, a num­ber of fac­tors come into play.

1. Mag­a­zines had and con­tinue to have more, and of­ten bet­ter qual­ity, na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing/branded con­tent

There was quite a bit of neg­a­tive press with na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing a few years back for good rea­son. Al­though a num­ber of is­sues raised more than a few eye­brows, the main cul­prit for con­cern was the lack of trans­parency — a se­ri­ous faux pas that helped feed mis­trust in me­dia.

But things have changed quite a bit since then with tighter la­bel­ing con­trols and bet­ter con­tent. Ac­cord­ing to Time Inc.'s 2017 com­pre­hen­sive study that gath­ered in­sights from 17,000 Gen Z, Gen Y, Gen X au­di­ences, ~66% of con­sumers now trust cus­tom con­tent more than tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing.

Which is prob­a­bly why branded/spon­sored con­tent has be­come a ma­jor rev­enue gen­er­a­tor in the mag­a­zine mar­ket. By 2020, 40% of ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enues in mag­a­zines is fore­casted to be na­tive.

But what’s in­ter­est­ing is that only 56% of mag­a­zines are cap­i­tal­iz­ing on na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing though ag­gres­sive pric­ing — 44% seem be leav­ing money on the ta­ble. Cu­ri­ous.

2. With mag­a­zines, it’s eas­ier to di­ver­sify ser­vices/of­fer­ings

Ac­cord­ing to a Reuters In­sti­tute for the Study of Jour­nal­ism sur­vey, the av­er­age pub­lisher now has six non-reader-paid rev­enue streams, in­clud­ing dis­play/mo­bile ad­ver­tis­ing, new forms of sto­ry­telling (mul­ti­me­dia, chat­bots, in­ter­ac­tive, pod­casts, video), branded con­tent, events, ecom­merce, affiliate, re­lated busi­nesses, prod­uct li­cens­ing, and ex­pe­ri­en­tial. Speak­ing of ex­pe­ri­en­tial, have you tried The Economist’s in­sect ice cream yet?

Mag­a­zines have been diver­si­fy­ing their rev­enue for years, with a num­ber achiev­ing note­wor­thy returns, par­tic­u­larly in the area of brand li­cens­ing.

Mered­ith-li­censed retail prod­ucts saw US$22B in sales in 2016. Den­nis in the UK gen­er­ated US$43M in 2017 through its car buy­ing website — double what it made the year be­fore.

62% of me­dia ex­ec­u­tives to­day say that of­fer­ing new paid-for prod­ucts and ser­vices is one of their top three strate­gic pri­or­i­ties. But given how ev­ery­one seems to be piv­ot­ing back to pay­walls lately, it may sur­prise you to learn that cu­rated ag­gre­ga­tion is con­sid­ered to be the most com­mer­cially at­trac­tive model.

3. Mag­a­zine brands are trusted more than other forms of me­dia

Ac­cord­ing Edel­man’s lat­est barom­e­ter, trust in me­dia to­day is at an all-time low in 17 coun­tries.

But not all me­dia is cre­ated equal; there are sig­nif­i­cant vari­a­tions in at­ti­tudes to­wards spe­cific me­dia brands. Be­cause mag­a­zines are fo­cused on a spe­cific pas­sion or topic, a dis­cern­ing au­di­ence tends to be more aware of the sub­ject mat­ter and of­ten feel like they are the bet­ter of judge on whether an ar­ti­cle is stat­ing the truth

or not. And ac­cord­ing to an AdSense study, mag­a­zines’ deep-dive ap­proach to writ­ing (of­ten due to the depth of re­search un­der­taken) helps cre­ate higher lev­els of trust with con­sumers.

Be­sides be­ing well-re­searched, mag­a­zines are also seen as more tar­geted, more in­for­ma­tive, more re­lat­able, less bi­ased, and more hon­est. And that trust trans­lates to ad­ver­tis­ing as well.

4. Mag­a­zines have more ev­er­green con­tent which drives more traf­fic

While search en­gines do re­ward new, top­i­cal news, they also re­ward qual­ity ev­er­green con­tent that pro­vides help­ful and rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion to au­di­ences. This in­cludes peo­ple-first, how-to ar­ti­cles, lis­ti­cles, prod­uct re­views, tips and tricks, in­fo­graph­ics, etc.

Mag­a­zines such as Busi­ness In­sider, Fast Com­pany and New York mag­a­zine rec­og­nized this op­por­tu­nity a num­ber of years ago and are reap­ing the re­wards by turn­ing old into new.

The at­trac­tive­ness of ev­er­green con­tent is also a great in­cen­tive for ad­ver­tis­ers to cre­ate more use­ful and less pro­mo­tional branded con­tent for their tar­get mar­kets.

No rest for the win­ners

Mag­a­zines have a lot go­ing for them, but their fu­ture is still fac­ing many chal­lenges. In the US alone, there are well over 7,000 mag­a­zines in cir­cu­la­tion and, ac­cord­ing to MPA, 700 new mag­a­zines were launched in 2017.

The in­dus­try, like so many oth­ers is feel­ing the ef­fects of in­for­ma­tion over­load com­bined with our re­duced at­ten­tion spans — a com­bi­na­tion that has re­sulted in less time be­ing spent read­ing mag­a­zines.

Con­sol­i­da­tion is an­other threat we’re see­ing now and will con­tinue to wit­ness for years to come. Some of the highly re­garded pub­li­ca­tions that garner high sub­scrip­tion prices (e.g. The Economist and The New Yorker) will likely pre­vail, but even they aren’t en­tirely safe. No one is 100% im­mune to the im­pacts of con­sol­i­da­tion.

For mag­a­zines to be sus­tain­able for the long term, pub­lish­ers must re­mem­ber what makes them great to­day and build a new fu­ture on top of those strengths.

1. Be au­di­ence-fo­cused to help mit­i­gate the para­dox of choice.

2. Have strong ed­i­to­rial and ad­ver­to­rial teams that pro­duce high qual­ity, rel­e­vant con­tent and ad­ver­tis­ing.

3. Work at re­tain­ing peo­ple’s trust.

4. Di­ver­sify rev­enue streams to of­fer more en­gag­ing ex­pe­ri­ences to au­di­ences.

5. Of­fer use­ful, ev­er­green con­tent for sus­tain­able SEO.

In to­day’s rapidly evolv­ing dig­i­tal land­scape, where first-movers and win­ner-takes-all dy­nam­ics de­mand con­tin­ual in­no­va­tion, mag­a­zine ex­ec­u­tives must move boldly and be­come “dig­i­tal rein­ven­ters” who are will­ing to play out­side the mar­gins.

They also must also be agile and quick to adapt to the ac­cel­er­ated changes that come with rev­o­lu­tion­ary tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments and so­ci­etal trans­for­ma­tion.

And they must be able to shed the shack­les that come from hold­ing on to the past and op­er­at­ing in si­los — two im­per­a­tives that will en­able the con­tex­tual aware­ness needed to de­tect and re­act cor­rectly to mar­ket dy­nam­ics that can ei­ther help or hurt their busi­ness.

It’s been said that peo­ple need to be re­minded more than they need to be in­structed, so please let me re­mind you of this, “Mag­a­zines mat­ter, but peo­ple mat­ter more. Fo­cus your busi­ness on peo­ple first and con­tin­u­ally build on your core com­pe­ten­cies to de­light them with the right con­tent and ex­pe­ri­ences, at the right time, through the right chan­nels, at the right price.”

But mag­a­zines, with a 2016-21 CAGR of -.05%, aren’t feel­ing the plunge quite as much as news­pa­pers slid­ing at -4.315%.

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