Magazine readership preferences confirm the continued primacy of print.

pileIn my line of work, I receive many magazines and other publications covering not only the marketing and advertising field, but also the industries and markets of our corporate clients.

Every time one of these subscriptions comes up for renewal, I’m strongly urged to choose the online/electronic offering instead of the print edition.

I know why, of course. Between the printing, postage and shipping considerations, magazines and other printed media represent the most involved (and the most costly) form of delivery.

And there’s also the issue of “currency” and “recency,” with breaking news being covered much quicker and more efficiently online.

Still, I generally opt for print for the simple reason that a physical magazine, newspaper or newsletter is easier to browse and to read. I like the “linearity” of a print magazine and find magazine reading less satisfactory online.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m very happy digital versions of the print editions exist. I love the fact that I can go online and access an article of particular interest that I may wish to archive in electronic form, or pass along to friends and colleagues.

So, consider me an “all of the above” sort of person. Still, there are times when I think that I represent a more traditional way of thinking about consuming news articles — one that’s decidedly losing popularity.

But then … we see the results of a new digital magazine market study, published by Mequoda Group, a media consulting firm.

The survey, which was conducted in July 2015 among ~3,650 Americans adults age 18 or higher who have access to the Internet, found that digital magazine consumption has now reached ~43% of print magazine consumption.

So digital is rising.

But the Mequoda research also finds that ~70% of American adults who have access to the Internet have read an average of three print magazine issues in the past 30 days. (2.91 print magazine issues, to be precise.)

Here are the findings for print magazines read over the previous month:

  • Read one print magazine: ~18%
  • Read two: ~19%
  • Read three: ~13%
  • Read four: ~8%
  • Read five or more: ~13%

At the same time, ~37% of American adults who have access to the Internet have read an average of 2.37 digital magazine issues over the past month. Here’s how that breakdown looks:

  • Read one digital/online magazine: ~14%
  • Read two: ~8%
  • Read three: ~5%
  • Read four: ~3%
  • Read five or more: ~7%

What this means is that in 2015, print magazine readership activity outnumbers digital by a 2-to-1 margin.

The Mequoda research tested five reasons why people might prefer reading digital versions over printed versions of magazines. Of those who read digital magazines, here are the percentages who deemed those reasons “very important”:

  • Offers immediate delivery: ~42% consider very important
  • Portability / easy to carry: ~40%
  • Environmentally friendly: ~40%
  • Cheaper than print: ~39%
  • Thousands of titles: ~35%

The bottom line on this topic appears to be that the demand for print delivery of periodicals remains significant … and that publishers who elect to shift to “all-digital” delivery stand to lose at least some of their reader engagement.

Even so, I have no doubt that publishers will continue to push electronic delivery in the hopes that print can eventually fall completely by the wayside.

The full report is available free of charge from Mequoda here.

So Many Magazines … So Little Time?

Who wants easy, unlimited access to thousands of publications?

magazinesYou might not, but millions of other people do, apparently.

And the crowd is getting ready to increase more, most likely.

As if there wasn’t enough material to read already, some online publication bundlers are making sure that people have unlimited access to the world’s most important periodicals for one low price.

This week, The Wall Street Journal blog reported that Magzter, a company that provides a single access point for more than 5,000 magazines published around the world, has now introduced a service plan it calls Magzter Gold.

logoIt’s an “all-you-can-read” option that gives subscribers online access to approximately 2,000 publications – many of them top-circulation magazines like ESPN, Maxim, New York Magazine and Forbes – for a flat rate of just $9.99 a month or $99.99 per year.

And access to this huge repository of publications is quick and easy via desktops, laptops and tablets, plus iOS and Android phone apps.

There’s also a plan called Magzter Gold Lite, allowing access to the subscriber’s choice of any five magazine titles (which can be changed from month to month).

The cost of that subscription?  $5 per month.

These two new programs are aimed at increasing Magzter’s subscriber base, which already numbers more than 4 million active monthly users.

Magzter isn’t the only company offering online access to a family of publications.  Other providers like Readly and Next Issue also offer programs encompassing the stable of magazine titles belonging to various different publishing arms (Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, Time).

But none of them have anything like the sheer number of titles Magzter is offering.

Readers of my generation (over the age of 50) grew up with print magazines and are preternaturally drawn to the tactile sensation of reading a physical magazine.  But I suspect that publication bundlers like Magzter represent the tip of the spear rather than simply a passing fancy.

The question is whether the changing mode of delivery ends up destroying the actual product that Magzter and others are able to peddle.  After all, were it not for the print magazines to begin with, what would these aggregators have to sell?

If what it boils down to is offering fee-based premium content that is no longer tied to a print magazine because the publication is no longer available in hard-copy form, will the quality of that content continue to be as high?

In many — perhaps most — cases, I think it’s doubtful.

If the print magazines that underlie the digital product offerings disappear, it wouldn’t surprise me if millions of readers fall away from subscription services in favor of trolling the Internet for similar content that’s easily available for the bargain price of … goose egg.

For those who are using access services like Magzter or Readly today, would you recommend them to others?  Is it the wave of the future?  Please share your perspectives with other readers here.

Media properties’ new formula: Publish … re-publish … and publish yet again.

RepublishingAs media properties have moved away from finite schedules of daily, weekly or monthly publication to something more akin to 24/7 content dissemination, it’s becoming quite a challenge to deliver new content.

The reality is, building a digital media property in today’s “always on” world that can successfully deliver new, original content on an ongoing basis is quite costly.

In fact, it’s economically unfeasible for many if not most publishing enterprises.

This explains why readers have started to see a parade of news items that have been reused, recycled or repurposed in an effort to present the items as “fresh” news multiple times over.

This is happening with greater regularly, and it’s seemingly getting more prevalent with every passing day.

Here’s a representative case:  Business Insider.  This finance and news site has doubled its traffic over the past several years.  Business Insider now attracts more than 12 million unique visitors each month – each of them presumably interested in consuming “fresh news.”

But for content that is fairly “evergreen” in nature, Business Insider is perfectly content to serve up the same (or nearly similar) stories two … three … four times or more.

For example, one of its stories, “Facts About McDonald’s That Will Blow Your Mind,” has been published no fewer than six times over a span of three years.

The various iterations of that article varied very little each time.  Sometimes there were a different number of facts presented (usually 15 or 16).  Business Insider even published the identical list twice in the same year, using the exact same headline while revising only the introductory paragraph.

Beyond the fact that publishing essentially the same article six times within three years took some of the burden off the news-gathering and writing team, it turns out that topics such as this one really do engage readers — time and again.

Business Insider’s first iteration of the McDonald’s article attracted more than 2.5 million views.  And overall, the story has been clicked on more than 8 million times.

(Of course, the final time the article ran, the story generated only around 400,000 views, so at some point the law of diminishing returns had to come into play.)

articleI like another example, too:  Cosmopolitan Magazine.  In April of this year, it published an article titled “25 Life-Changing Ways to Use Q-tips.”  That story generated only 44 shares — hardly earth-shattering results for a media property with over 3 million subscribers.

But then Cosmopolitan promoted the article on Pinterest in May … and also on Twitter in May and again in June … and on Facebook in early May and again there in early June.

Whereas Cosmopolitan’s original posting of the article on its own website didn’t result in much engagement to speak of, just the two Facebook posts resulted in nearly 1,500 shares.

With these kinds of results being generated, it’s no wonder publishers have decided to “publish … re-publish … and then publish again.”

So the next time you have a sensation of déjà vu about reading an article, chances are, you’re not dreaming.

Print magazine startups: Hope springs eternal.

print publicationsI’ve blogged before about the number of print magazine launches versus closures in the age of the Internet.

Now the latest report from media database clearinghouse Oxbridge Communications shows that when it comes to this most traditional form of media … hope springs eternal.

In fact, Oxbridge is reporting that in the first half of this year, new magazine start-ups outstripped those that ceased publication – and by a substantial margin.

The Oxbridge database, which includes U.S. and Canadian publications, shows that 93 magazines were launched in the first half of 2014, versus just 30 that were shuttered.

True, this represents a lower number of start-ups than is the historical average … but it’s also a lower number of closures.

What specialty audiences are being targeted by these new pubs?

In the continuation of an existing trend, there’s growth in new “regional interest” magazines such as 12th & Broad (aimed at the creative community in the Nashville metro area) and San Francisco Cottages & Gardens.

Food and drink is another category of growing interest, with publications like Barbecue America and Craft Beer & Brewing hitting the streets for the first time.

And why not?  Despite ever-changing consumer tastes and interests, all of us continue to share at least one fundamental trait:  We eat!

But on a cautionary note, the smaller list of magazine closures do include two vaunted “historic” titles:  Jet (Johnson Publishing) and Ladies’ Home Journal (Meredith).

These closures underscore the point that the magazine industry shakeup continues – and who knows what other famous titles might cease publication during the second half of the year.

As for the biggest reason behind the magazine closures … isn’t it obvious?  It’s decreased advertising revenue.

Continuing a trend that’s been happening for the better part of a decade now, Publishers Information Bureau reports that total magazine ad pages declined another 4% in the First Quarter of 2014 as compared to the same quarter of last year.

For the record, that’s 28,567 ad pages for all U.S. and Canadian publications.

While that figure may seem like a healthy total, it’s not enough to sustain the total number of publications out there.

The harsh reality is that print journalism remains dramatically more expensive than digital production.  Unless a magazine can obtain enough subscribers to justify its ad rates, the only other way it can survive is to cover its costs via a “no-advertising” business model.

The vast majority of subscribers will never pay the full cost to produce a print publication.  And with more free information resources than ever available to them online, many people aren’t particularly inclined to commit to even a subsidized subscription rate.

Indeed, the wealth of free information means it’s more difficult these days even to get qualified business readers to subscribe to free B-to-B pubs that target their own industry or markets.

What changing dynamics would portend a shift in the downward trajectory?  It would be nice to anticipate a bottoming-out followed by a turnaround.

Unfortunately, if the past five years have demonstrated anything, it’s that there may be no “natural bottom” when it comes to diminishing advertising revenues in the print magazine business.

Print Publications: Hanging In There?

Print magazines are hanging in there.There’s one thing you can say about print magazines: They’re not giving up without a fight!

The latest evidence of this comes in statistics released by Mediafinder®, a magazine tracking service run by Oxbridge Communications. It turns out that in 2011, there were 239 print publications launched in the United States and Canada. That’s a 24% increase over 2010, when 193 magazines were launched.

And at the other end of the scale, the number of magazines that ceased publishing in 2011 decreased over the previous year: 152 versus 176.

Actually, new magazine startups as well as closings are down significantly from just a few years ago. The worst year was in 2009, when a whopping 596 print magazines closed (but also 275 were launched).

Reviewing the stats, it’s not hard to understand the dynamics as to why print magazines have been on the ropes. For starters, magazine newsstand sales have dropped by nearly 50% over the past decade. And ad pages in consumer magazines fell more than 30% just between 2006 and 2010.

And in 2011 year-to-date, ad pages are continuing to track a smidgen lower (-1%), but at least the trend is now nearly flat rather than steeply downward.

To be sure, magazines have tried different tactics to stem the slide. One of the more interesting moves has been by the publishing firm Meredith Corporation, which announced a plan in the summer to begin guaranteeing that advertisers’ magazine buys will yield an increase in sales for their products or services.

Dubbed the “Meredith Engagement Dividend,” the program represents a new level of accountability for “analogue” media, which long relied on fuzzier metrics like audience reach and before/after market research.

The publisher’s new program is available to advertisers who commit to a minimum level of advertising impressions annually across multiple Meredith magazine titles. It works by correlating Meredith’s magazine readers with Nielsen’s Homescan (National Consumer Panel) service. That’s the same marketing research resource many top consumer products firms use to measure their product sales.

The Nielsen/NCP database of ~85 million consumer magazine readers is used to correlate the effect magazine ads have on resulting product purchase behaviors.

Meredith claims the research shows that advertisers in four key categories – household goods, beauty products, OTC drugs and food – have increased their product sales an average of 10% via ads placed in the Meredith publications. That claim is based on measuring the sales impact of “higher frequency” ad campaigns that ran during 2009 and 2010.

It’ll be interesting to see how the performance of print magazines evolves over the next few years. For now, the steep slide appears to have ended, but there’s no real evidence of a turnaround. The question is whether publishers can adjust their operating models to continue to work within the new, lower level of business activity.

Maybe they’ll succeed. You know … hope and change and all that.

Magazine advertising finally sees an uptick … sort of.

Print Magazines
An uptick in print magazine advertising -- however modest -- appears to be occurring.
Could it be that print magazines are finally on the positive side of the “U” in their recovery? The most recent stats on print advertising activities suggest that this may be so – if only slightly.

In statistics released this past week by Publishers Information Bureau, this data aggregator found that across all of the magazines tracked by the bureau, print advertising rose ~2.5% during the first quarter of 2011 compared to the same period last year. While not large, it is a gain, which is better news than most publications have had in quite a while.

PIB charted advertising growth in seven of the twelve advertiser categories it tracks, with the following segments showing increases year-over-year:

 Apparel and accessories
 Automotive
 Cosmetics and toiletries
 Drugs and remedies
 Financial, insurance and real estate
 Media and advertising
 Technology

As for the other categories, advertising was roughly even in women’s fashion and beauty magazines, while advertising categories that continued to decline were retail, food, home furnishings, and travel.

More specifically, how did some of America’s largest and most famous magazine brands fare? The answer is: “It depends.”

BusinessWeek: +49%

Elle: +15%
Vogue: +11%
Glamour: +6%
The Economist: +4%
The New Yorker: +4%
Time: +3%

 InStyle: -4%
Cosmopolitan: -9%
Harper’s Bazaar: -11%

Newsweek: -31%

There are explanations behind the outliers’ advertising performance. BusinessWeek has undergone an extensive redesign since its purchase by Bloomberg, and major resources have been poured into the publication to raise its profile and editorial muscle.

At the other end of the scale, Newsweek has struggled in the wake of its purchase by nonagenarian Sidney Harman, the retired chairman of Harman International Industries (Harman/Kardon) and husband of Jane Harman, executive director of Wilson International Center for Scholars and an ex-congressperson from California. Bringing Tina Brown onboard as “celebrity editor” at Newsweek hasn’t paid big dividends yet – at least in terms of advertisers returning to the magazine.

Does the uptick in advertising mean that print magazines are out of the woods yet? Hardly. Let’s not forget that the improved advertising figures are coming off of 2010’s low base levels that are nothing short of ugly. Print advertising is slowly emerging from the worst business environment faced by magazines since the Great Depression, after all.

But at least the direction is now “up” …

“Mag Drag 2009”: Year-End Update

Earlier this year, I reported on the sorry state of print magazine publishing as illustrated by the spate of closures reported up to that time.

Now that we’re wrapping up 2009, we can see the full scope of the damage. MediaFinder has tallied up more than 370 magazine titles that have folded over the course of the year. And the number is closer to 450 if you also include magazines that ceased to publish in print form and went to an all-digital format.

Interestingly, magazine closure stats for 2009 were actually a bit lower than in 2008 and 2007. But this year saw the demise of some pretty important titles. Among the more noteworthy casualties were:

 Country Home
 Editor & Publisher
 Gourmet Magazine
 Hallmark Magazine
 Modern Bride
 Nickelodeon
 Portfolio
 Teen
 The Advocate
 Vibe

As we move into 2010, will these trends continue, or will magazine closures level off? It’s too soon to say, but some prognosticators are forecasting a slight uptick in print magazine advertising revenues, so perhaps the worst is behind us.

But coming off of a disastrous 18-month period when print advertising revenues have tanked 25%, 30% or more, it’s hard to see how some magazines can continue to survive at the new, depressed revenue levels which will likely be a fact of life going forward.

And what about newspapers? For them, 2009 was even more depressing, with a record number of bankruptcies filed including the companies that own the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Sun-Times, Minneapolis Star/Tribune and a number of other iconic newspaper brands. At the end of the year, though, some firms had managed to resolve their bankruptcy proceedings thanks to cash infusions, labor concessions, or selling out to new owners.