Magazine ABCs: Terminal Decline or Bright Digital Future?
There are relatively few surprises within ABC figures any more. Every six months we see print circulations decrease further and further for the majority of titles. As media continues to evolve and platforms proliferate and develop, there will be no end to this migration of audiences to other touchpoints.Of course, there are a few success stories to trumpet. Easy Living in the women's sector has seen its print circulation increase 7% year on year, partly due to its new 'iPad-sized' format and partly due to a policy of aggressive cover pricing. Esquire is thriving under new editor Alex Bilmes and delivering the near miracle of increasing news stand sales, and Style at Home is growing rapidly by tapping into the new priorities of the austerity-era home improver. And, of course, the freemium titles like Stylist, Shortlist and Sport continue to top the circulation lists.But the overall picture is one of decline. Last week's ABC figures revealed a 1.5% drop in the total print circulations of audited consumer magazines for the last six months of 2012. The Home Interest magazine market was down 2.2% YoY, the Travel magazine market was down 13.8% and the Bridal magazine market down a catastrophic 27% YoY. Only the men's category as a whole remained static YoY and PoP.ABC now publishes audited circulations for digital editions too, but for most publications, the tablet hasn't yet proven the saviour that it was hoped to be.Certain publications have fared well with digital editions - Cosmopolitan and Glamour in the women's sector, Men's Health and GQ in the men's sector and Elle Decoration in the Home Interest sector, but for the most part, tablet editions haven't covered the falls in print circulations.But this situation is a little chicken and egg. Most tablet editions are flat, digital page-turning replicas of the print versions rather than all singing and dancing interactive editions. Publishers are often reticent to invest because there's no proof that the audience is there to justify the investment, but the audience may well not come if the quality of product isn't there.The problem may also be one of penetration, rather than of desire. Research from the PPA suggest that tablet ownership encourages trial of new publications and actual widens the overall reading repertoire - 52% of tablet owners have a magazine and/or newspaper repertoire, either in print or on tablet, which is wider than before they owned a tablet. And tablets editions are popular with advertisers too - as research has demonstrated tablet ads deliver greater recall than print and click thru rates that are stratospheric when compared to other forms of online display advertising.So perhaps all publishers need to do is invest in tablet editions and wait for the audience to come. Penetration post Christmas may already be 30% and this is expected to grow to 46% by 2016 (eMarketer). However, much of the growth is coming at the lower end of the market, which creates headaches for publishers in terms of designing for different screen formats and for varying levels of processor power.For these reasons, we expect digital editions to grow in popularity, but production costs may escalate too and we don't think tablet edition upsides will compensate for all of the print circulation shortfalls. The 2 major reasons for the falls in magazine purchase have been cost and lack of time, not problems that tablet editions can necessarily solve. And consumers can get the information they want from so many other free digital sources - the Mail Online for their celebrity gossip, various blogs and forums for fashion tips and advice - so long term decline in circulations is probably inevitable.But that's not to say that magazine brands aren't influential and can't become more influential. The challenge for publishers is to leverage the power of their brands to open up new revenue streams, and that's exactly what they're doing.They're innovating to drive more revenue from their advertisers by offering more innovative formats like the first video ad in print run by Marie Claire for Dolce & Gabbana fragrance. AR and QR are now readily used in print making it come to life and increasingly accountable. Click to buy apps are becoming more prevalent in the fashion mags after the success of Cosmo Genie App and then last May, Reveal's ‘See It Buy It' app.In short, the magazine industry is like the music industry 5 years ago - in a state of consumer-driven flux where old revenue models are starting to look outdated and new ones need to be invented.Consumers are filtering content to become their own editors and as a result over the next year we will see more closures in the print market and a trend of magazines becoming available only in the digital format. Brands that prosper will be the ones that are strong and innovate and keep the focus on trust, investment and 1st choice for consumers.