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Magazines turning the page on print decline

Cindy Nguyen / June 12, 2014 11:46 AM

As with most print media, Australian magazine sales are declining. 

Access to content usually found in magazines is now a lot easier, with readers favouring digital content on tablets, computers and smartphones. This is either free or at a lower cost than purchasing a hard copy version.

Yet readers collect printed issues, often relishing the tangible qualities reminiscent of a book collection or library, so magazines have longevity too. But will Australian magazines compete with digital media?

In a report published by The Australian in February, magazine sales are at a decline of around 11 percent, with digital sales still not making up the difference in revenue. 

Despite declining sales, there is still a beacon of hope to revive the industry. Marketing and media researcher Guy Consterdine said in a research report, “Printed magazines remain a significant form of publication, but only one of many." The report showed “most large magazine publishers will eventually evolve to the point where the majority of revenue comes from digital platforms instead of print, some have already reached this situation or are close to it."

If magazines are unable to adapt to the digital demand, they risk financial failure. While there may be a demand for printed magazines from some readers, the longterm revenue for publishers will be from digital sales.

Magazines often offer a personal connection to readers. They become the equivalent of an “informed friend”, leading to a trusting relationship between readers and publications. A survey conducted in Australia showed “magazines stand apart as the personalized medium; the medium people turn to when they are seeking to indulge themselves in their favourite interests." The influential power of magazines is often underestimated in the media because they are often associated for being used as a tool of entertainment and relaxation, rather than a strong platform for information, analysis, longform journalism and therefore a niche advertising interests.

At last week’s Mumbrella 360 conference, Pacific Magazine’s director Peter Zavecz said it was unfair to lump magazines in the same category as newspapers. Zavecz thinks “Magazines are different. It’s curated content. Magazines are a more engaging sort of format than newspapers.” Both face issues with sales, but clumping together newspapers and magazines as a declining print industry does not focus specifically on their individual issues.

Advertisement is one of the major elements to generate magazine revenue. According to Guy Consterdine's report, “magazine readers have a much more positive attitude towards advertisements than users of other media.” He says consumers of print media have control of what they’d like to view and identify with. Unlike advertisements found on television and radio, advertisements in magazines are less intrusive. Readers can easily focus their attention on another aspect of the page if the advertisement doesn’t appeal to them. This applies to both digital content and print content.

For the magazine industry to generate sustainable revenue, there needs to be a focus on digital content. Vice now has a dominant presence in the magazine industry and provides an example of effective digital expansion across multiple platforms. According to the Financial Times, Vice generated revenue of about $175 million in 2012.

i-D Magazine, owned by Vice, recently expanded their online and print presence to Australia and New Zealand. Launching their video-driven website i-d.vice.com in the US and the UK in November of last year (the website now has a live Australian homepage), i-D not only replicates the content found within the hard copy magazine, with readers now able to watch a video or slideshow directly alongside written content. According to i-D editorial director, Holly Shackleton, the i-D website "is so much more than a magazine", marking an "exciting new chapter" for the media industry.  

Id _vice

i-Dmag                                               Photo credit: i-d.vice.com
     i-D invites audiences to read, watch, look and listen to magazine content 

Readers have personal connections to magazines. But with the rise of digital content, readers want more than printed pages. Interactivity between print and digital is integral.The combination of websites, digital editions on devices and print magazines means consumers can actively particpate and engage with magazine content. For magazines to generate a significant following, publishers need to create content across platforms. For Guy Consterdine, “It is the beginning of a golden age for readers – and for those publishers who learn to harness the new opportunities." If the Australian magazine industry can harness the potential of the medium, it too can thrive. 

Check out Margaret Gee's other media news