Why is Harper’s Bazaar outperforming the monthly magazine growth index?

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In August, the audience for magazines in the United States grew 4.2 per cent year-over-year to 1.67bn, according to the most recent MPA Magazine Media 3600 Brand Audience Report. While any growth in the publishing sector is good news, it is important to point out that most of this growth is coming from the mobile web, where the audience grew by 42.4 per cent to over 440m in August 2015. In the same timeframe the audience for print and digital editions shrank by 5.6 per cent, while the web (desktop/laptop) audience declined by 1.1 per cent. This is a downturn from the July numbers, where the web audience grew by 3.2 per cent.

These statistics tell a good news, bad news story. While the overall audience size has grown, there is much work to be done by publishers to keep and grow their audiences as technology continues to turn this industry on its head.

One publication that appears to be thriving in this new digital age is women’s fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, which saw a whopping 45.9 per cent year-over-year audience growth in August 2015. This placed them 3rd after Forbes and Nylon in Magazine Media 3600’s monthly growth ranking.  This growth came in spite of a 21.9 per cent decline in their print and digital edition audience. This is because their web audience grew an astonishing 233 per cent over August 2014 and their mobile audience was not far behind with growth of 139 per cent. The Harper’s Bazaar audience across all platforms is now 8.78m.

Traditional print magazines like Harper’s Bazaar are taking advantage of the opportunities presented by technology to grow, including:

  • Deeper engagement: Magazines now have a plethora of tools to drive user engagement, including serving up personalised content that matches reader interests and making it easy for readers to buy what they see. 
  • Getting to know readers: Technology allows publishers to collect a broad range of information about their readers, including interests, what they are searching for, and what kind of devices they are using to access content. This data can be leveraged to grow revenue by making the right offer available to the right person at the right time and at the right price.
  • New platforms: According to Statistica, the average person in the US accesses the internet from 2.9 devices. This ongoing device proliferation creates new channels for content owners to reach a larger audience.
  • New revenue sources: Digital magazines have the opportunity to create new revenue sources, including native advertising and well as targeted ads that are linked to ecommerce sites. 

What Harper’s Bazaar is doing right

A key to the success of HarpersBazaar.com and its ecommerce site ShopBazaar.com is its leader, Joyann King, who is leveraging her digital experience from InStyle.com, ELLE.com, Glamour.com and SELF.com to translate this iconic luxury fashion brand for a digital audience. ’The biggest challenge is being loyal to the magazine’s heritage while staying relevant in the digital space’, says King.

Under King’s leadership, Harper’s Bazaar reigns as a top magazine brand on Pinterest with 4.6m followers.  The publication uses Pinterest to learn what inspires its readers and to boost traffic to HarpersBazaar.com. By understanding what readers pin, King and her team are able to refine and enhance their editorial strategy to deliver inspiring content. And by ensuring that all content is pinnable, their online readers become editors and distributors of site content.

With 1.2m followers on Instagram, Harper’s Bazaar is also finding creative ways to use this platform to drive reader engagement. A great example is the annual “Fabulous at Every Age” reader search. At the end of last year, for the first time, readers were able to submit entries using Instagram and the hashtag #FabAtEveryAgeContest.

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King and her team have also launched a new online section called #TheList, a daily trends round-up that is also a vehicle for native advertising and offers integration with the ShopBazaar.com ecommerce platform.

The growth of the magazine’s mobile audience is also no accident. According to Khalid Meniri, the founder and lead creative director of SixAgency, an award winning interactive agency that designs and develops native apps and website solutions, Harper’s Bazaar is approaching mobile from a different perspective. ’It is a well-established brand that’s wisely using mobile to expand their audience and attract a younger demographic of readers’, he said.  A great example is the magazine’s ‘fashion emojis’ campaign: fun, interactive content that speaks to a younger crowd, delivered to their preferred device. 

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To better meet the needs of their mobile audience, the digital team is working with advertisers like online retailer Net-A-Porter to let consumers customize their experience through interactive display ads on HarpersBazaar.com’s mobile optimized site. These shoppable ads are powered by Streamwize’s ’fractal content’ technology, which creates browsable boxes on a website for deep in-page engagement with brands.

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Net-A-Porter’s ad, for example, includes a search bar which invites consumers to enter a keyword to create their landing page experience. When the consumer clicks on the search bar, the phone’s keyboard appears so they can type a keyword into the box using the phone’s predictive text capability, simplifying the input process. In this way, Net-A-Porter and HarpersBazaar.com are collaborating to give readers a rich experience before they navigate away from the content site.

The magazine is also using this technology to drive print readers to its own online store. Items tagged with a ‘B’ in the magazine can be bought on ShopBazaar.com. In addition, brands can buy placements in the print magazine, the digital version or as dedicated boutiques on ShopBazaar.com. The September issue, traditionally the biggest of the year, includes such placements for a mainstream shoe store, a high-end jeweler and an international airline.

An understanding of the Harper’s Bazaar brand and its modern audience is driving King and her team to use technology creatively to attract new readers and keep them engaged on their platform of choice. Should the rest of the industry follow suit? Yes. But will they do it in time to retain and grow readership as consumers continue to embrace the growing range of alternatives that are available? That remains to be seen.

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