2017 could be the year of resurgence for magazines

Innovation and audience-led solutions will be the key to success for magazines in 2017. While print media as a whole hasn’t been attracting the right sort of headlines, with falling audiences and sliding revenues creating a sense of overall decline, I wouldn’t write off the magazines sector.

In fact, 2017 could be the year it re-emerges as a viable medium with a long-term future. Clearly, there are challenges and the prospect of further consolidation could mean uncertainty. However, the sector has a sense of buoyancy as magazine publishers are looking at innovative ways to engage their audiences, leading to a deeper brand experience.

This, coupled with improvements in measurement that will finally catch up with multiplatform behaviour, means there will be a better growth story for magazines. One area that is giving magazines a boost is a focus on specialism.

With more than 130 launches in 2016, the outlook is positive for specialist products. Segments such as leisure interests, children’s and men’s lifestyle all saw double-digit circulation growth.

Current affairs titles, including The Economist and The Week, also saw improvements during an epic year of news, from Brexit to Trump.

The resilience of the luxury segment has been impressive and shows no signs of abating. Vogue’s successful centenary celebrations, Glamour’s move to full size and the 20th-anniversary (and biggestever) issue of Wallpaper* are all examples of the robust health of the luxury end of the market. In 2017, this ground will be hotly contested as news brands set their sights on the same advertisers.

News UK laid down a marker by relaunching Luxx for The Times and poaching Lorraine Candy, editor-in-chief of UK Elle, to be luxury content director.

However, in my view, there are still too many magazines on the newsstand. It would be beneficial to see the closure of weaker titles such as InStyle in the UK, which shut its print edition in October, so that publishers can breathe greater life into those that remain.

This would allow for a more positive and compelling focus on the titles that will attract stronger support from advertisers.

Magazines are exploring brave, dynamic distribution models to secure the future of their print titles. Getting the product into the hands of the right people, whether they are prepared to pay for the magazine or not, will continue to be key.

Significant changes from Cosmopolitan (cutting its price to £1), NME (going free) and Elle (letting readers pre-order a print cover of their choice “on demand”) resulted in big circulation increases and proved that pricing and distribution really can change a brand’s fortune.

Alongside innovation in print, it will also remain critical that magazine content is made available on more new platforms. Cosmopolitan has established first-mover advantage with Snapchat, reaching readers each day on Snapchat Discover. I expect to see more demand for this platform in 2017 from magazine publishers, providing Snapchat can keep pace with the resource required.

Events and brand extensions have emerged as a new revenue stream for publishers that understand their audience and are intent on building stronger relationships around passion for the brand.

Experiences such as Stylist Live, Radio Times Festival and Empire Live attract paying audiences and bring them closer to the experts they care about. These events will be bigger and bolder in 2017, with smaller pop-ups also getting in on the action. They also offer big commercial partners highly engaged audiences.

The Esquire Townhouse with Dior is a brilliant example of a commercial partnership that will genuinely deepen relationships. Magazines that think like brands across every touchpoint will be the ones that build even stronger connections with their most valuable readers.

A related point is the rise of the magazine content studio. Those that have already launched include Hearst Magazines UK’s Made, Immediate Media’s Imagine, Time Inc UK’s The Foundry and Shortlist Media’s recent addition, Family.

Significant resources, data and technology are being committed to make multiplatform, measurable content an everyday reality for advertisers. This augurs well for 2017.

The opportunity to monetise audienceled solutions, driven by data insight, has accelerated growth within publishers’ commercial teams. Finding more innovative “portfolio solutions” for brands is the key to unlocking bigger budgets for publishers and will deliver more scale for advertisers.

Significant progress will be achieved when we see collaborative relationships develop across publisher portfolios. This is where Magnetic, the marketing body for consumer magazines, can help to harness the opportunity for clients. It is vital that publishers are able to show demand and audience data across the many platforms on which magazine brands now exist.

By the end of 2017, we should see Pamco, the Publishers Audience Measurement Company, introduce Audience Measurement for Publishers, replacing the National Readership Survey in providing audience figures for the published media industry.

This is an exciting development – albeit a long overdue one. The rigorous methodology of AMP – which combines a digital panel with 35,000 face-to-face interviews – will allow publishers to monetise de-duplicated audiences across all of their platforms.

It should be a leap forward in enabling cross-platform planning for a substantial number of brands for the first time and providing a more accurate picture of consumer demand for magazine content. Much will depend on the nature of AMP’s launch but, if it is effective, it will have a profound impact in terms of improving inventory management and commercial relationships.

This boost for the sector is one of the many reasons to be excited about magazines in 2017.

This article appeared originally in Campaign.

The author is Sarah Hennessy, managing director at MEC.

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