Editorial: Magazines will adapt to online challenge, not die

In an industry increasingly obsessed with all things digital, this week's fixation with the sales of paper seems faintly quaint. The magazine Audit Bureau of Circulations figures will be endlessly pored over and significant advertising budgets will be argued about on the basis of the results.

But how representative of a magazine brand's success are the figures? Most printed titles have an online presence and the internet, as opportunity and threat, preoccupies every publisher. Indeed, some are questioning whether printed magazines even have a future when so much of our media consumption now happens on the computer screen.

It's certainly a valid question to ask. Emap recently closed its teen title Sneak, blaming social networking sites and chatrooms for contributing to its demise, while ELLEgirl in the US has suffered a similar fate. There are some key magazine sectors where it is very easy to imagine digital publishing taking the place of traditional paper and ink. The teen sector and men's sector are prime examples, but so are the gadget mags, buying guides and hobby titles.

Even where there is confidence in the long-term future of a printed edition, publishers have stopped thinking in terms of "magazines" and are now looking at their portfolio as a collection of brands that live across a multiple of channels. Dennis Publishing's next project, codenamed Monkey, is being researched online. It will have mobile content and the printed magazine seems almost an afterthought. Similarly, Emap, adept at taking established brands such as Q from print to radio to TV to digital, is planning its next major launch to be a complete multiplatform brand from the off.

Even in magazine sectors where print sales continue to flourish, such as the celebrity weeklies market, publishers are fighting for ways to make the titles live online. The old model of simply replicating material from the print edition on a website is long gone and magazines such as Closer are finding spin-off editorial ideas, such as diets and recipies, to build into unique online content.

So are printed magazines simply suffering a lingering death? Some, certainly - but the tactile, emotional, leisurely appeal of the glossy printed page will endure for quite some time to come. Vogue just isn't the same on a PC.