Magazines in China: The inevitable transition from print to digital

Tom Troland, formerly Senior Market Analyst at Meredith Corporation, presented the seminar’s focusing session on 20 October. Troland set out to paint a portrait of the challenges and opportunities developing for magazine publishers in China.

Here are some of the ideas from that session:

Powerful forces are converging to force change in how magazine content is produced, distributed and monetised

1. Physical media are giving way to the versatility and immediacy of mobile digital devices. All media are converging in one encompassing digital medium and must compete for attention against each other and against a host of other activities now at the fingertips of billions of interconnected people.

2. Consumers in huge numbers find great value and usefulness in the wide range of possibilities opened to them by digital access. For large parts of the day, mobile digital media are the only media in use.

3. The industry’s well-honed century-old “three-legged stool” business model (editorial content and distribution supported by revenues from subscriptions, copy sales and advertising sales) has declined steadily for more than a decade relentlessly challenged by shifts to digital mobile platforms. 

Tom Troland - Chart 2 - Mobile devices proliferate in China ()

China takes the lead in global digital media

Massive changes in China are reshaping the country’s culture. Three particularly powerful trends are converging that have given the country the leadership position in the installation, adoption and widespread use of mobile digital technology:

1. Urbanisation McKinsey reports that as many as 25 cities in China will enter the ranks of the world’s top 200 cities in terms of GPD by 2025. State of the art communications and transportation infrastructure are being built into the growth of all cities in China.

2. Mobile Ericsson reports nearly 1.3 billion mobile subscriptions in China in late 2014. Mobile devices have become the signature lifestyle tools of the growing number of Chinese commuters. ZenithOptimedia reported recently that “half of all time spent using media in China will soon be with digital media… up from a third two years ago.”

3. Affluent and aspiring Urbanisation opened a new world, giving tens of millions of Chinese the opportunity to learn new skills, to succeed in new industries and to prosper in new lifestyles. 

Tom Troland - Chart 3 - Inevitable shift ()

Novelist William Gibson observes that “Magazines are aggregators of novelty.” Urban, aspiring, mobile populations in the past would have made print magazines their medium of discovery. The trains they rode were “safe zones” for print sales and usage. Now, however, 4G and wifi access everywhere in China have passed the discovery role on to smartphones and tablets. 

Tom Troland - Chart 4 - BH&G branding model ()

Strategy for the decade ahead

Certainly in the short term, there won’t be a single new model that will bring immediate success for magazines. Real success will come from developing deep understanding of all the value that a magazine’s brand produces – not simply a transfer of its content into new platforms. Meredith’s Better Homes and Gardens, for example, has transformed itself over time into a branded “system” supporting important commitments in consumers’ lives. That has lead to a multitude of products, services and capabilities extensions. And to sustained profitability. 

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