Well I for one sincerely hope not. I write this while looking at a stack of magazines almost as tall as I am (bear in mind I’m 6’2), and thinking back to what made me purchase the magazines in the first instance. I recall my thirst was driven by fashion, the desire to know what is going, and when, new styles new designers, intriguing photography, new trends, an opportunity to align my opinions and ideas with those of the experts. I remember the feeling when I secured my first L’Uomo Vogue, when I found an English edition of UpStreet magazine and the football edition of Big magazine (aptly featuring Andrei Schevchenko) in a quirky furniture store in Rome, the anticipation and preparation before each read, and the satisfaction when I found that revered new information and the exquisite photography, instantly justifying the magazines’ purchase. This is why I read magazines, but I’m sure those in the realm of computers, or car lovers have their own, although not altogether different, criteria for magazine selection/satisfaction.
2009 signalled a difficult year for magazines; when the recession struck the economy, invariably one of the first budgets to shrink was the advertising allocation, affecting all mediums of advertising, not just the magazine format, but all forms of print Television, Radio etc. As a result, the advertising market experienced a “significant” shift this year as companies spent more money on the internet than on television for the first time. Spending on internet advertising grew 4.6 per cent in the first half of 2009 to hit £1.7bn, as stated by digital marketing trade body Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) in their September 2009 report. According to the IAB the internet has now become the UK’s largest advertising medium, accounting for 23.5% of the total market. IAB cited the ease of tracking the return on investment, increased internet usage and the sophisticated advertising techniques online as the key reasons for this shift. While classified advertising in print publications has been declining, it grew by a tenth this year online.
As such magazines were/are forced to adapt rapidly to survive, offering Advertorial (Editorial to sit alongside paid Adverts) a dual benefit to encourage companies to tough it out with them. The problem with this is while it’s beneficial to the companies, it’s detrimental to the reader and it costs the magazine something that’s hard to place a price tag on- integrity. The internet is more and more becoming a blogger haven; a platform for all disgruntled users, avid fans, sceptics, optimists, in fact anyone with access to a computer, to voice their opinions. Bloggers have the air of integrity as they are not seen to be led by any particular establishment, or by any hidden agenda. Whether this is completely true is another discussion altogether, but the point it does raise is that it is now more important than ever that magazines retain their integrity in order to survive, and Advertorial doesn’t help. Readers trust the writers as experts and value their opinion and honesty, and the readers can see through disingenuous promotion. Just as TV has evolved to incorporate the interactive features, so must magazines evolve in their own medium to ensure longevity and avoid relegation to the ranks of mediocre.
So what is next for magazines, where do they go from here? Well a good start would be to return to the reason that they are able to command substantial Advertising fees in the first place, their readership. Firstly don’t insult the readership by hiding paid editorial amongst genuine content, use a blogging technique and clearly state the content has been paid for. Your reader’s will appreciate your honesty, and it also adds more weight to the text that isn’t paid for. Focus on content quality and not on the money (at least for a few issues) and your readership will grow and loyalty will improve. If you’re struggling for content, it’s probably a sign that the gap between new issues is too short, make it bi-monthly, quarterly, seasonal; good quality content will be rewarded by loyalty, improved readership, and the ability to command higher fees for advertising. Magazines need to remember what they have that the internet does not – tangibility. Magazines need to find new ways to use the senses to engage the readers in a way that cannot be replicated online. For example, a feature on fragrances in a magazine when purely descriptive, can quite easily be replicated online, however if you were to couple each description with a ‘sniffable’ area relating to that fragrance, I suddenly find more of a reason to buy the magazine. Another option would be to integrate touch into the reading experience; when discussing the trends for the season and textures, you could have a card with sample textures so that the reader can engage it as they read. Finally, reassert yourselves as the experts, no bias, with strong, honest opinions, so the reader can relate.
‘Why do I care?’ you may ask. Well I’m a fan of the tangible, the experience of finding information, not just the information itself, the physical souvenir of my journey through time; I’m a fan of magazines, I don’t want to see them die.