On the challenges magazines face in 2011
Will digital editions really take hold?
January 12, 2011
Print had been in such a slump that many declared the iPad the savoir of the industry when it debuted last year. That may or may not prove to be true, but tablets such as the iPad will have an even bigger impact on magazines in 2011 as publishers come up with new apps and other ways to extend their brands. Magazines are also looking to sweeten their advertising pitches in other ways. Last year saw a rise in buys of so-called high-impact ads, on heavier page stock or with premium positioning, according to MagazineRADAR. That came as magazines pulled out of a terrible 2009 slump to post a slight gain in revenue and remain even in ad pages during 2010. Martin S. Walker, chairman at Walker Communications, talks to Media Life about what to expect from magazines in 2011, why the introduction of the iPad was last year’s defining story, and how the newsmagazine category will hold up this year.
What was the defining story in magazines during 2010?
Apps. The advent of the iPad and apps, with publishers looking to the “savior of the magazine business.”
What will be the three things to keep an eye on in magazines in 2011?
The number of different tablets that are going to become available and what kind of competition they’ll give Apple and the iPad.
With the ability to sell subscriptions, which the Android apps will offer, will it start making a difference in the number of people reading magazines on apps? What happened when they first came out, all the techies downloaded the apps, but they’re not renewing them. Wired had 100,000 people download their first app, and they’re down to an average of 10,000 to 15,000 now.
The other thing you have to keep an eye on is social networking and how magazines can integrate what they’re doing with social networks.
The third big thing is an extension of what’s happening over the past few years where magazine are essentially marketing partners to advertisers. In a sense they’re no longer in the magazine business, they’re in the media and communications business, offering advertisers a variety of venues in addition to magazines.
What do media buyers and planners need to know about magazines in 2011?
Media people unfortunately get mired in numbers–just the research numbers. And this is an old story. They tend not to look at the individual uniqueness of the magazines. That’s always been a big issue.
We are coming out of a recession that left a lot of media battered and struggling to recover in 2010. What’s the outlook for magazines in 2011? Will it be a better or worse year than 2010, in terms of spending, technology, status, perception, etc.?
2011 will be better than 2010, and 2010 was a little better than 2009. It will be some time, however, before it gets back to 2007.
Also, with all the competition from other media, certain kinds of magazines will no longer fare very well, newsmagazines, for example. They no longer offer what people used to go to them for. TV, the internet and what have you have become the vehicles for getting your news. Magazines that were data-driven will lose out, and this is nothing new.
What developments will you personally be most interested to see with regard to magazines this year?
If they stay around long enough for me to retire [laughs], which is closer than I’d like to admit.
What I’m seeing and I like is a much closer connection between the business side and editorial side of magazines. It’s not that advertisers tell editorial what to do, but there’s no longer a wall between advertising and editorial. But both sides understand the goal is to make money while respecting the integrity of the magazine.
How much of an impact will the iPad and other e-readers have on magazines this year and the coming years? Do publishers have a better idea of how they will incorporate them than they did the internet, which seemed to take a few years to wrap their heads around?
They think they have a better idea. And they’ve made a decision that they’re not going to give it away like they did with the internet. Most publishers now realize they can’t take the print product and put it in an app. They have to create something else that’s viable but different and uses the features an app allows them to use.
But I think no one really knows yet what exactly will work and what won’t work.
Do you think the number of magazine shutdowns will continue to drop this year after spiking a few years ago?
When you talk about shutdowns you sort of have to define it. Do I think fewer major magazines will shut down? Yes. But the total number will remain constant, there are tons of smaller magazines you never hear about that close.
I thought Newsweek would close, but it’s found new life, and U.S. News has given up on the magazine and is doing supplements. If Hearst buys the Hachette titles, will they keep both Harper’s Bazaar and Elle? I don’t know.
But I don’t see any large magazines folding at the moment. Those that were going to folded in 2010.
How much of magazines’ ad page decline was due to the recession and how much was due to the decline of the industry itself?
I would think more to the recession than to the industry. Both obviously impacted magazines”new technology offered people ways of spending money in addition to or instead of magazines, but the economy didn’t help.
All the research shows magazine are an integral part of brand-building, and a lot of the new technology is like promotion rather than advertising. Once you’ve made a decision to buy a product, it motivates you to do something now. But the internet doesn’t always help you build a brand.
What’s your opinion of the Newsweek-Daily Beast merger? Will it keep Newsweek more relevant?
Well, it gives Newsweek a shot at being real. It brings some talented people into the fold. Tina Brown is a talented editor, and I’m sure she has a vision for it that’s different than the current vision.
How dim is the future for the struggling newsweekly category generally? Can they readjust successfully for an electronic age?
Newsweekly magazines largely have a lot of circulation, so they won’t disappear overnight. But I think they’re desperately going to need to search for ways of staying relevant. In a weird way calling them newsweeklies is probably a bad name, because they’ll probably become something different.
They’ll be much more interpretive, more big-picture and less news, because there’s no way a weekly can be current.
On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being unhealthy and 10 being very healthy, where would you rate the magazine industry?
Well, it varies by magazine, company and genre. If I had to talk about the whole industry I would say maybe a 6. But some titles would be 9s and some would be 2s.
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