Glossies struggle to retain shine
In recent years, Irish women’s magazines have had to cope with falling circulation figures while competing with social media – can they survive in the digital age, asks Amy O’Connor
Back in May, Look magazine published its final issue. The magazine was launched in 2007 and quickly established itself as one of the UK’s most popular glossy titles, shifting 300,000 copies per week at its peak. Over the last few years, however, it fell prey to declining sales and the decision was taken to shutter it for good, with publisher Time Inc citing changing reader habits as the chief reason for its closure.
Look’s final issue included an exhortation to readers to save women’s magazines from extinction. “Ladies, if you have a top read, go out and buy it, otherwise the closure of our beloved brands will continue,” it warned, before imploring readers to buy magazines such as Grazia, Cosmopolitan, Red, Marie Claire and others.
It’s no secret that it has been a tumultuous time for print media, with newspapers and magazines haemorrhaging readers and struggling to keep their place in an increasingly digital media landscape. Women’s magazines in particular have suffered enormously, with several titles forced to either switch to digital or fold altogether.
The likes of Company, Look, and More have all gone out of print in recent years while British Glamour has slashed its print offering to just two issues per year. Stateside, magazines such as Self and Teen Vogue have ended their print editions and become exclusively online publications.
Last month, Irish magazine U followed in their footsteps and announced it was ceasing publication of its print edition. The monthly glossy had been a fixture on Irish magazine shelves for nearly 40 years, but was no longer a “commercial proposition”, said publisher Ciaran Casey of Irish Studios. In a sign of the times, the magazine is now focusing its efforts on becoming a “digital- first title”.
Readers and industry figures alike mourned i ts exit, but editor Aisling O’Toole says the transition to digital was inevitable.
“Of course it was bittersweet to send the last issue to print, but to be honest by the time that happened the way we engaged with our readers had evolved so much it felt like a natural progression,” explains O’Toole.
“Online has definitely changed the way millennials consume media,” she says. “They’re impatient and they don’t want to wait four weeks for their next U fix. But what they want to consume remains the same, as does their loyalty to brands they know and relate to.”
In recent years, women’s magazines have not only had to contend with dwindling circulation figures and shrinking ad revenues, but they have also been forced to compete with social media and digital influencers.
“Women’s magazines have faced a drastic onslaught of competition in recent years, particularly through the popularity of sites like Instagram,” says Brooke Erin Duffy, PhD, author of Remake, Remodel: Women’s Magazines in the Digital Age. “The sleek images shared on sites like Instagram rival the stunning photography long associated with women’s glossies. Moreover, so- called influencers are considered more ‘ real’ or ‘ relatable’ sources of information and advice than traditional media sources.”
In order to stay relevant, women’s magazines have had to reconfigure their identities, she says. No longer is it enough to create a magazine from scratch once a month, but you now also have to have a robust online presence, busy social media channels, exclusive readers’ events, and killer branded content. The days of the humble magazine are behind us. It’s all about the cross- platform media brand now, darling.
So just how are Irish magazines faring in this new climate? And what can they do to remain relevant in an industry that is constantly transforming?
“The key to survival for women’s magazines, not just in Ireland, but globally, is to stay agile, adapt to change and consumer demands, while also staying true to the brand heritage and USP,” says Rosaleen McMeel, editor of Image.
Over the last year, McMeel says Image has instituted a number of significant design changes which have included increasing the physical size of the magazine and remodelling its layout. Likewise, it has developed the branded content side of the business and regularly host ticketed events for readers.
“We were once a 2D print product, but have now created a completely 3D experience communicating with our reader,” she explains.
This multipronged approach can be seen elsewhere, too. Stellar, for instance, has made a concerted effort to ramp up its online presence of l ate and will soon launch a beauty podcast called The Glow Up. Irish Tatler has also made the leap to digital in an effort to keep up with readers all month long.
“We stay relevant by being where they are: online and on social platforms, delivering great content in the same voice and with the same authority as the magazine,” says Shauna O’Halloran, editor of Irish Tatler. It’s not about print versus digital, but figuring out a way for both to coexist and complement each other.
wom‘ e‘ Where n’s magazines were once justifiably criticised for making readers feel bad about themselves, they are now more concerned with things like empowerment and inclusivity