The argument for magazines in the digital age
It's about the full magazine experience, not just print
May 29, 2013
It’s a time of change for all traditional media but perhaps most of all for magazines, which have seen the greatest number of print publications take the plunge into all-digital publishing and which have been aggressively pushing their tablet editions as the devices become more ubiquitous. At the same time, magazine ad pages continue to decline, though the slump eased a bit to start the new year, indicating to some the better health of the economy. All said, it’s not an easy time to make the case for the continued relevance of magazines, but that’s the argument being made by the MPA, which changed its name to the Association of Magazine Media several years ago. A new report from the group based on data from Kantar Media shows that digital and print media may be working better hand in hand. Of 58 titles surveyed during the first three months of the year, those offering print and iPad ads saw combined units rise 7.5 percent year over year, including a 0.2 percent gain in print and a 23.6 percent gain on the tablet. Mary Berner, president and chief executive officer at the MPA, talks to Media Life about the advantages of magazine advertising, which ad categories are holding up, and which ones are not.
What are the key attractive things about magazines that keep them relevant in a digital age? How much has that changed with the rise of the internet and digital editions?
To give you some perspective, the American magazine was the first published in 1741. So magazines as a category have weathered a ton over the years. And I believe what keeps them relevant through every age is the relationship with the readers. Magazines are unique in that they have communities of people that are passionately engaged around the brands.
The most significant change brought on by digital advancements is the transition from a traditionally print-centric focus to magazine media, which is a cross-platform approach.
Digital editions are important for publishers, especially tablets because they most closely replicate the print experience. And also they represent a lean-forward opportunity in terms of action-based engagement–you can interact with ads, share editorial, etc.
What’s the best argument for print magazines at this time?
I’d say there is no argument. Readers still love their print magazines. Ninety-one percent of adults read print magazines, so guess what percentage of 18-24 years olds read print? It’s even higher, 96 percent.
Also the top 25 magazines reach more adults and teens than the top 25 primetime TV programs. What that shows is there’s a shift in primetime TV, but to me it also says magazines remain a very visceral, tactile experience that people continue to enjoy.
What do you see as the strongest advertising categories for print? Why are they enduring?
There’s a trend showing that toiletries and cosmetics are up, and food/food products and technology. I think what’s interesting is toiletries/cosmetics hovers at the top of total ad spend in print magazines, and it also leads the charge for magazines toward recovery, and it’s showing signs of health right now.
What’s also interesting is technology is doing enormously well in print magazines. Companies such as Sprint and Samsung are among the highest ad-page gainers, and I think they know to support new products, that buying into the brand alignment and trust that you can buy into with a magazine brand is really important.
What are the weakest advertising categories? Where are you seeing the most erosion and why?
Probably auto, and I think that’s a reflective in a shift of automotive strategies. There seems to be more of a focus on promotions and leasing, etc., as opposed to branding.
What’s MPA doing to make the argument to support the magazine industry? What initiatives are you undertaking to support print publishers that you haven’t done before?
That’s been my goal, to change the whole conversation about magazines to one about magazine media.
The headline would be that regardless of platform, there’s no audience problem, but there is an advertiser perception problem. The challenge is at this point the industry isn’t getting credit for consumer engagement–from an advertiser’s perspective you can’t think of a medium where a part of the package of the experience is the ads.
People don’t go to TV to watch the ads. They don’t go online for the ads. Magazines are built around passions, so advertising fits.
As an industry we’re not recognized as technological pioneers, but after the pure-play digital operators, we’re pretty much the top media in terms of innovating for tablets. There’s a reason why Apple worked with the industry to make sure magazines were represented at the launch of the iPad.
What impact are you seeing with the media economy slowly getting better? What effect is that having on magazines and overall ad page growth?
I think we’re the first to report among media, so we’re also the first to reflect the softness when it happens. But the reverse is also true, and in the case of toiletries/cosmetics and food, maybe it’s a reflection of consumer confidence.
There’s kind of a tsunami of content coming at a consumer, and the oasis is a magazine brand you understand and trust, which is why I think apps are popping so much. For example, for a running app, you might trust one from Runner’s World before something that you don’t know what it is.
Do you see a time when the decline in ad pages eases?
I see a time when the health of magazine media isn’t pegged to a particular platform but the whole footprint.
Publishers don’t sell pages anymore, they sell the relationship with readers. And the relationships expand off the page, sometime way off.
Is there too much of a focus on ad page numbers when they’re released?
It doesn’t tell the whole story, its one leg of a three-legged stool. We need to report magazine media, not just print, because it’s not reflective of the whole industry.
The MPA has a new report out on iPad advertising. How quickly is that growing and what magazines are seeing the biggest growth for their tablet editions?
Even though it is early–the iPad launched three years ago–there are hundreds of apps. As consumer adoption of the devices grows, media companies will continue to invest heavily to make sure they are where the readers are.
But so far tablet advertising is in its nascent stages, and we’re all trying to figure out what the best practices are. We’re also trying to figure out a standardized way to measure audience.
Will digital subscription revenues start to balance out the decline in print advertising dollars?
I’m confident that magazine media companies will figure out a better way to monetize their digital opportunities. But there are other revenue streams, such as ecommerce and e-singles. But as long as people read print, advertisers will still want to reach them there.
We’re in transition right now, but what will remain constant is the engagement of readers with magazine brands, regardless of device or platform. Our job at the MPA is to find a way to measure that engagement.
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