For magazines, another year of transition
In 2012 their focus continued to shift from print to digital
December 20, 2012
The defining magazine story of 2012, the closure of the print edition of Newsweek, foreshadows what may be the most volatile year for magazines yet.
More titles will shift to online-only, and even those that maintain their print editions will look increasingly to circulation and digital advertising to make up for the steep declines in print ads, which show no signs of slowdown.
News and celebrity magazines look especially vulnerable, as the web threatens to make their format obsolete.
Certainly it’s an alarm that’s been sounded before.
But the demise of Newsweek, one of the best-known brands in magazines and one of the biggest to fall victim to the digital stampede, has emphasized the looming problem like never before.
The industry is in deep flux.
“Although people will always–hopefully–want to read what we now call a magazine, magazines have to stop thinking about themselves in the traditional way and have to start thinking of themselves more as content providers, with the content being distributed on the platform most suitable for the content itself–print, web, tablet, smartphone, etc.,” says Martin S. Walker, chairman at Walker Communications, a print consultancy.
In the coming year, magazines will be focusing more and more on furthering their brands rather than simply selling a print product.
Expect more deals such as the one reached this month between Cosmopolitan and Harlequin. The two are collaborating on a series of erotic digital books, riding the popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but in a modern format. Cosmo is already pushing the books as the perfect mobile reading material.
Magazines are revamping their web sites to keep current with social media trends. Glamour, for instance, recently overhauled its site to give it more of a Pinterest feel, with bigger pictures and more emphasis on “sharing” images and articles on social networks.
Interactivity is also a hugely popular trend with the print product. Earlier this year Ladies Home Journal began relying on readers to generate much of its content, giving the magazine more of a blog feel.
For its December issue, Esquire turned every page interactive by using Netpage, an app that allows readers to use their cell phones to take a photo of the page and then interact with the content as they would on a tablet device.
“[Such developments] make magazines more relevant to a digital savvy audience/reader and provides larger audience and more upscale audience for advertisers,” Walker says.
That’s something magazines need right now, because ad revenue is not coming out of its tailspin.
Every major forecaster predicts that spending for the medium will be down next year. Pivotal Research Group predicts a 6.7 percent decline, after a 6.8 percent dip this year.
And ZenithOptimedia predicts a 3.2 percent decrease, after falling 3.4 percent this year.
In the short term digital gains will not offset the print losses in ad spending. Longer term, however, that may be a possibility if magazines begin gaining not only substantial advertiser spending but also circulation revenue from tablets and other online editions.
Tablet adoption is expected to reach 50 percent of the U.S. population by the end of next year.
“Nearly 40.0 percent of tablet owners accessed magazine content on these devices each month, a trend potentially redefining the digital market for publishers,” notes ZenithOptimedia in its year-end forecast.
The road to increased adoption of digital magazines will be bumpy, and Newsweek will not be the only casualty.
Readers predicted in a Media Life poll earlier this year that at least one celebrity title will fold in the coming year, and buyers are watching Time, the only traditional newsweekly still printing, closely for clues to its future.
Men’s titles and women’s service magazines have also been struggling at a time when so much fashion, lifestyle and entertainment information is available on the web.
But Walker thinks that a few categories will continue to thrive in print.
“Magazines devoted to long-form journalism, such as The New Yorker, and fashion and beauty and home furnishing magazines where print provides the best product illustrations” are in the best shape heading into 2013, he says.
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