In 2018 several popular printed magazine titles closed their doors, with others adjusting their frequencies, which to many appeared to be a tell-tale sign that the magazine industry is in trouble. While this is an oversimplification, it does serve as a reminder to publishers and magazine titles to take a closer look at what can be done better in order to respond to the changing landscape.
This the view of Peter Metcalfe, Group Executive: Sales & Marketing Novus Holdings, who believes that the magazine industry is not wholly under threat, and that there are lessons to be learned and best practice insights that may deliver clues as to what the industry needs to do to remain sustainable.
“It’s easy to blame a ‘market decline’. But magazine publishers have to look at what they can do to futureproof themselves, such as becoming brands with a multi-channel focus, with content continuing to play a central role,” explains Metcalfe. “Successful magazines are able to deliver exceptional content and translate it to different audiences through multiple touchpoints that include both digital and print – as they no longer can afford to have a single-channel focus.”
He adds that the way audiences consume print and digital media is not about an and / or approach, which means that creating meaningful content that adds value to the life of the reader will always be relevant.
“To ensure that the reader keeps coming back month after month, an intimate understanding of what the reader wants, who they are, where they are and what they need is required. Doing this at different touchpoints and at all levels of the business will keep the brand’s revenue constant.”
Deloitte estimates that by the end of 2020, the proportion of subscription to advertising revenue for publishers will be 50:50 in digital. According to research by the International Federation of Periodical Publishers (FIPP) and CeleraOne, as recently as 2012, this split was 10:90.
Metcalfe says that a publication that has managed to successfully operate within a brand ecosystem is the is the Pick ‘n Pay Fresh Living Magazine.
“Fresh Living has done exceptionally well to move from the shelf into the hands of the consumer – every month more than 500 000 Smart Shoppers pick up a copy of the magazine if they swipe their loyalty card. This is an excellent example of a successful, integrated marketing approach. While the magazine is free to subscribers, customers still must make a conscious choice to put it in their baskets, for the stock to move,” says Metcalfe, explaining that consumers will only do this when the value proposition is high enough, which it is in this case. “In addition, the content is absolutely targeted to the Pick ‘n Pay shopper. The magazine has demonstrated an acute awareness of what its customers want and need, and then creating quality custom content to match this.”
Research suggests that there is a direct link between the Pick ‘n Pay stock profiled on the cover of the Fresh Living Magazine and sales for that month, demonstrating the unique influence that the magazine brand has on the value to customers.
Another successful example is the Foschini Group, who have, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations of South Africa, a solid hold on the Youth category with their publications ClubX and Kids Super Club, which showed a growth in circulation.
“These publications target different ages within the youth category, and they are a good example of how understanding your audience well and delivering content that adds value to their life, can ensure success.”
Metcalfe says that one of the challenges magazines have is global content: many publications rely on global content, which does not always fully resonate with local audiences.
“When global titles came to South Africa they were able to add constructive debate to issues relevant at the time, such as women’s rights, or freedom of expression, for example, which resonated with the South African audience because no one was talking about it here yet,” says Metcalfe. “Today magazines have to repurpose global content to make it relevant for the South African audience, as digital media means that consumers are today much savvier and in the know. This is in addition to magazines needing to create meaningful local content from scratch.”
He says that magazines have a unique advantage in that they evoke a positive feeling in the reader, with global research suggesting that consumers have a more favourable reaction to printed advertising compared to many other media platforms.
“The reader makes a conscious choice to pick up a magazine to access its content. Readers will always pay for quality content – no matter the channel, and if the product is sub-standard, like any business, it won’t survive. Recognising this will help the magazine industry remain agile and continue to play an important role in today’s media landscape,” concludes Metcalfe.
Novus Holdings recently added two magazine publishing houses to its stable, 3s Media and Famous Publishing. Moving into the publishing space was a natural progression for the Group, given that it is an extension of its core business being print. The Group believes that the acquisitions will enhance its insights into customer needs as the publishing and printing industries continue to transform, and potentially align its business with the challenges faced by smaller publishes.