Feature

The Year Ahead for ... Magazines

Claudine Collins fears publishers are relying on apps, so they must take time to get them right and be aware they may not make huge revenues.

As we leave 2010 behind, I think that many publishers will breathe a sigh of relief.

There was an uncertainty last year about circulation performance and also advertising revenues but, by and large, it was an OK year - not great but not terrible either for most.

Generally speaking, revenues were up with the major publishing houses (although total magazine revenue was down) and circulations by genre were pretty static - with the exception of the lads' mags and teen market.

There weren't that many launches (you wouldn't have expected there to be) but there were around 300 closures - not mainstream consumer mags, but closures nonetheless.

2010 saw the continuation of prolific multi-packing and copious covermounting to keep circulations up. Agencies and advertisers are now questioning the worth of the multi-packed issues. One title is multi-packed with another title that has a much higher circulation and is completely at odds with the target audience we want to reach, and this is when clients and agencies have an issue.

Looking to the future, the big question we need to address is: "What actually is a magazine?" The answer isn't as obvious as you might think. Is it just a printed product or - with the proliferation of iPad apps, websites, even TV channels being launched from magazine brands - does the word refer to more than just the print version?

The dictionary will tell you that a magazine is "a publication that appears at regular intervals and contains stories and articles etc". You could argue that a "publication" is something that is published whatever its format and that does not necessarily mean print. Magazine publishers will no doubt say that, nowadays, magazines are brands in their own right, and therefore content providers, providing entertainment, expertise, a sense of community and advice in whichever format the consumer sees fit to consume - and quite rightly so.

Last year we saw magazines emerge on the iPad to varying success. Some titles are engaging and exciting and others are clunky and annoying. This isn't a race and you have to ensure that the app works, downloads and updates quickly and doesn't rile your reader, otherwise you will have lost them forever. So my advice would be to take the time to get it right - do not rush into it, just to get it out there.

I am, however, perturbed that some publishers are pinning all their hopes on the iPad/tablet as the great saviour.

The experience is very different and people consume apps on their tablets in a completely different way to their printed magazine. I have to say that my first reaction to the Vogue app was one of wonderment - I loved the interactive front cover showing the behind-the-scenes story of the photoshoot of Emma Watson and I thought some of the interactive articles and ads were amazing.

However, wading through 350 pages on an app is hard work and not the indulgent "me time" that magazines are all about. Thick monthly magazines with long articles just won't work on the iPad because it's too unwieldy and more of a chore than a pleasure. One of the other issues is that once on an iPad/tablet, it is easy to be distracted by other features and to start jumping around, which isn't conducive to the feeling of unrivalled engagement and being engrossed and absorbed that printed magazines engender.

What I am confident about, though, is that the publishers will adapt, change and adhere to the wants of the consumer over time and will get it right.

The printed magazine should be about pleasure - an indulgent read that one can relax and savour; the app should probably be, at most, a 20-minute snack, whatever the content, and the website should be about community and advice and so on. There needs to be a clear role for each platform so that they complement one another, and publishers need to work out how the consumer will interact with each of them to get the best out of their brand and out of advertisers' budgets.

The magazines that succeed will be those with the strongest brands that can deliver content through various channels and nurture a "total audience" value. A person who interacts with a brand through the printed product, website, app, Twitter etc is a valuable consumer but we need to know just how valuable and how to harness that person in the most engaging way.

So, going forward to 2011 - what can we expect? Addressing print advertising effectiveness will be paramount.

Clients' budgets are still being squeezed and with the growth of brand extensions, magazine publishers will need to be more transparent about the "total net audience" their brand is delivering if they wish to keep advertisers. In order to quantify effectiveness properly, the industry will need to address questions about overall reach, duplication and multiple consumption. The publishers that address this head on will reap the greatest rewards.

There will be a concerted effort to push subscriptions again this year.

Newsstand sales are getting increasingly difficult and expensive to increase but once you have drawn in a subscriber, their lifetime value is incredibly beneficial to the publisher.

By sector, I think the celebrity titles will continue to struggle. The strong brands will survive but the weak will suffer. The classic women's weeklies will probably remain relatively static and we will see the same overall with the women's monthlies. But I still feel that there is room for another monthly magazine for the over-40s woman.

As for men's magazines, well I just don't feel there is much of a future for lads' mags in their current format, but the success of the more health-oriented titles may be a clue as to what the male market wants now.

That said, trying to get a man to go out of his way to buy a magazine is going to be a challenge in itself so I will be interested to see what the future of Gazetta is.

Going back to the iPad, while it is a fantastic invention and I do love it, it is still niche and not affordable for the masses so, for 2011, it is not going to be a big revenue earner. While the phenomenon will continue, and it is vital that publishers have to be thinking about and implementing their multiplatform strategy, please let's hope that they do not take their eye off the ball and forget that it is their printed product that, for 2011, will still be bringing in the money.

Claudine Collins is the joint head of investment at MediaCom.

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