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Why inflight magazines will continue to fly (despite Wi-Fi)

Headquartered in London, Ink Global is the largest publisher of inflight magazines in the world, producing magazines for 25 of the world’s largest airlines reaching the eyeballs of 656 million passengers annually. Editorial Director Kerstin Zumstein explains to Piet van Niekerk why she believes print magazines on aircrafts will be around for many years to come.

Next time you board an aircraft on holiday or business, chances are you will reach for the magazine in the seat pocket in front of you. And chances are, it will have been produced by Ink. Doomsayers have been predicting that the inflight magazine industry will fall from the sky as soon as Wi-Fi is allowed on aircrafts. Not so, argues Kerstin Zumstein, Ink Global’s editorial director. 

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“The inflight magazines we produce at Ink add an upgraded, emotional quality to the passenger experience that only print can offer. Even the airlines that offer Wi-Fi on planes, such as Norwegian or United Airlines, still request quality print magazines from us. Not only because passengers enjoy leaning back and reading good travel stories on board, but often our magazines are also taken from the aircraft to be perused at home or during their travels.  

“The key is the quality of the content. As it stands, inflight magazines have to compete with passenger’s own devices, as even the airlines without Wi-Fi access are allowing passengers to use tablets and inflight entertainment systems during taxiing before takeoff and landing now. So our editorial has to grab the reader with well-researched, original and primarily entertaining stories and visuals. And once they do, the print products offers an uninterrupted reader experience that you only really get on a plane. We often speak of a captive audience but it’s more than that. Our research has shown that passengers, whether business or leisure, are already planning their next trip while on a plane, so readers are open to aspirational travel content.”

The success of Ink’s magazines since the company was founded back in 1994 is due to this underlying philosophy: you need to effectively deal with the complexities of producing a mass market magazine while you are in the strictest sense also producing a business-to-client customer publication.

“Inflight magazines are unique because on the one hand they must reflect the brand of the individual airline but at the same time, you have this hugely diverse readership. While most successful print products these days are rather niche, produced for members or subscribers, inflight magazines are read by a huge bandwidth of passengers from ages 18 to 70 with all kinds of professional and social status. We are confronted with the challenge to find something for everyone while staying true to the brand requirements of each specific airline.”

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Most would consider these confines limiting to editorial scope and creativity, but Zumstein rather likens this to an opportunity to “go much bigger” on content and ideas. “We pride ourselves on the fact that every magazine has a clear vision that ties in with the individual airline. We don’t run travel clichés or share stories, we always look for a genuine journalistic angle. And that’s where Ink has been leading the market and actually actively transforming the entire inflight marketplace. Good inflight magazines are far from being travel brochures.” 

To achieve the depth of content and design that will engage passengers, Ink invests in individual editorial teams each dedicated to a specific airline tasked with producing a magazine with it’s own signature style. 

“Our teams are truly international.” Zumstein references her Spanish team in charge of Iberia’s two inflight magazines and digital platform as well as her German team in charge of magazines for both airberlin and Germanwings/Eurowings. “Most of our editors have news or current affairs backgrounds, taking a strong journalistic approach. They are not content managers regurgitating PR content but constantly looking for original and topical story ideas – not least because of the healthy competition between our teams internally, they dig deeper all the time.”

Even with Wi-Fi installed on every aircraft in the world, “I don’t believe the inflight magazine will die out”, says Zumstein. “Of course, that doesn’t mean that we’re not also producing digital content for our clients. We tend to look at all content as platform-independent, often creating material to run across all platforms, be it print, digital or videos on the airline’s IFE. But still I feel a screen simply doesn’t do justice to a gorgeous photo essay. Only a generous print layout can convey that sense of place. Everywhere else in publishing world, editorial budgets are being cut. We, however, are sending our journalists and photographers around the world to capture unique stories, best appreciated when leaning back and indulging in a beautifully crafted magazine, printed on paper and held in your hand.”   

This would explain why Ink’s magazines have won numerous international awards in recent years, including best overall editorial, travel magazine of the year, best cover, best branded content, best art director and best photography across industry events in the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

More about Kerstin Zumstein:

Kerstin Zumstein is the Editorial Director of Ink, the global leader in travel media. She manages Ink’s London-based editorial teams, overseeing magazines such as Easyjet’s Traveller, Iberia’s portfolio, n by Norwegian and Eurostar’s Metropolitan. In 2015, Zumstein launched the new airberlin magazine, of which she is Editor-in-Chief, after successfully running the German desk and editing GW for Germanwings since 2010 (now WINGS for Eurowings). 

Previously, Kerstin Zumstein edited ‘onoffice' magazine, Europe’s leading workplace design title, for Media 10, which she launched in 2006. Zumstein is also the co-author of the book Total Office Design published by Thames and Hudson in 2011.

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