How Womens Magazines Are Innovating in the Face of Circulation Declines

How_Women_Magazines_are_Innovating_In_the_Face_of_Circulation_DeclinesThe January to June 2012 ABCs made for grim reading for most women's magazine publishers, with an average year on year circulation decline of 5.1% across actively purchased magazines.There's little prospect that this downward decline is going to reverse, so women'smagazine publishers are going to have innovate to maintain their revenues as advertisers take advantage of the alternative digital channels at their disposal. And many of them are.One reaction has been to try to bring some of the interactive benefits of the digital world to the printed page - an area pioneered by IPC's Marie Claire.For example, in a number of subscription copies of their December edition, Marie Claire ran an NFC-enabled ad for Nuffield Health. Readers with NFC enabled smartphones - which include models like the Sony Xperia and Samsung Galaxy but not Apple's iPhone - were able to access additional content, in this case a Nuffield 2 Day Pass, when they pointed their smartphones at the ad.Of course, connecting readers to online content via their smartphones isn't a new phenomena. QR codes in ads are common. However, NFC, like digital watermarking, offers the advantage of offering interactivity without having to disfigure the aesthetic of the ad. And QR code readers have to be downloaded whereas NFC is already native on many smartphones. However, consumer awareness and usage of NFC technology is at best embryonic and it's yet to be seen if this sort of innovation will yield any significant benefit in terms of consumer interaction to advertisers.In addition, Marie Claire's October edition ran a Dolce and Gabbana video ad for Pour Homme and Pour Femme embedded into their print ad. Readers could watch the video within the print ad - no need for smartphones, QR code reader or NFC - using ground breaking new technology. The initiative gained an appreciable amount of buzz, although whether the costs involved make it any more than a seldom used promotional device remain to be seen.Whilst its unsure whether these sorts of investment in print innovations will lead any sort of appreciable returns for publishers, one area of innovation which publishers are sure will reap rewards is their investment in tablet editions.Penetration of tablets in the UK had reached 11% as at Q1 of this year, according to Ofcom, and the release of a plethora of new products - including the iPad Mini, Microsoft's Surface tablet and the Google Nexus 10 - is only going to accelerate penetration in the run up to Christmas. 25% of ABC audited print magazines now have tablet editons and Conde Nast, which invested early in iPad editions for many of its core titles, is already reporting that circulation declines for print editions are already being more than offset by digital subscriptions via tablet.Recent research from the PPA also bought good news from publishers, with findings that 96% of tablet owners have read a printed magazine in the last year, demonstrating that digital editions were not replacing print but were seen by readers as an enhanced addition.. Findings also suggested tablets were reinvigorating their owners' appetite for magazines - with 68% of tablet owners stating that they had read newspapers or magazines on a tablet that they had not previously read in print.However, although tablets may yet be the saviour for publishers, salvation is not here yet. In the second half of 2011, cumulative subscriptions across digital editions of magazines totalled less than 1% of print circulations. And advertisers, although increasgly embracing tablet app advertising, are reticent to make significant investments in interactive ads until engagement stats are more forthcoming from publishers.In fact, it could be argued that publishers have focused too much on tablets, perhaps because it's a format with a revenue model which is familiar to them, and have neglected the opportunities that their other digital assets provide.For example, many magazine brands have greater followings via email and on social media platforms like Facebook than they do subscribers to their print and tablet magazines combined. However, according to a recent study from L2, the US-based luxury thinktank, less than 50% of publications have promoted an advertiser beyond their 2 core digital assets - their website and tablet edition. Even when they do, 85% of publications only extend campaigns to one addition platform - despite often significant following on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. This would seem like an opportunity missed to offer advertisers a truly integrated digital offering.Some publishers have made tentative steps to leverage these digital assets from a revenue perspective. Elle UK have experimented with driving f-commerce revenues via their Spring 2012 Trend Report App. And Cosmopolitan launched the Shopping Genie app back in April which allowed readers to purchase direct from both editorial and advertising pages, creating an affiliate revenue-stream from their partners who included Boohoo.com, New Look, Debenhams, MyWardrobe.com and Clinique.The future of womens magazines is clearly seeing themselves as more than a collection of printed pages, but as content creaters and curators that can deliver their opinions, expertise and recommendations to their target audiences over a range of platforms, both offline and digital.Those that not only embrace this trend, but that leverage existing assets and create new ones for the benefit of their advertisers, are the ones that will thrive.