Print Magazines: No Longer the Industry's Hub

By Silber, Tony | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, January-February 2016 | Go to article overview

Print Magazines: No Longer the Industry's Hub


Silber, Tony, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


AT THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE MEDIA CONFERENCE (AMMC) in New York in early February, Hearst Magazines President David Carey summarized the underlying mood of the conference when he said, "Who would have thought the magazine business was such a springboard to all these other media forms? We're seeing that."

That sentiment reflects the way the magazine industry views itself in 2016, right down to the name of the conference--which formerly was known more simply as the American Magazine Conference.

It's not a "magazine industry" anymore, it's an industry of powerful brands that all have a print-magazine component. The print magazine is no longer the hub of the wheel, but it remains an important point of engagement with audiences and an ad vehicle that produces resilient revenue.

At the AMMC, top magazine media executives didn't downplay print. They just stated that print is not what their business growth is about these days. The business itself evolved from a hub-and-spoke model with the magazine in the middle to a wheel with the consumer at the hub, and the magazine just one of the spokes--but a spoke that completes the wheel.

MAGAZINES AT THE NEXUS

Hearst's Carey elaborated for this story, telling Folio:, "I do believe that magazines are at the nexus of so many emerging platforms, uniquely so across the media landscape. In 2015, our U.S. magazine company was up in revenue, with gains from digital more than offsetting any declines in print. For some of our brands, the combination of digital, TV, and other extensions are now a material part of their profits. Esquire leads the pack here at Hearst, with the Esquire Network (via NBCU), Esquire.com (growing rapidly), product licensing, and more."

At Meredith, the story is similar. Tom Harty, president of the National Media Group, says the magazine industry has always been willing to try new things to further the connection between brands and audiences. "While not everything we do is successful, experimentation and innovation have never been lacking," he says.

Total revenue at the group, Harty says, has grown in the four years since 2012, even as reliance on print advertising has declined from 40 percent of total revenue to 35 percent, and digital has grown from 20 percent of revenue to 25 percent.

"It's always been confounding to me that legacy media is not considered as innovative as new media," Harty says. "For example, legacy media were among the first media to invest in mobile-first design. Several of our brands, including Parents, and Better Homes and Gardens, among others, were pioneers in this space. And in terms of licensed products, magazine media were among the first to connect the power of their brands with consumers in the retail environment. For example, both Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray have built highly successful licensed products for their brands, along with extensions including broadcast television, radio, and digital media."

Clearly, new sources of revenue are where the action is. In fact, the MPA, the New York City-based association that produces the AMMC, used to report ad pages for its members, the 250-or-so largest consumer magazines, but that's no longer the focus. Now, audience engagement is. For decades, the Publisher's Information Bureau (PIB) numbers of tracked ad pages and estimated rate-card revenue served as the measuring stick for the health of the industry in the aggregate and measured individual magazines against each other and against prior years.

PIB went away last year. The industry instead instituted what it calls Magazine Media 360[degrees], which tracks user engagement as measured in print and digital circulation, mobile and web users, and video viewings. It also has a related social-media report, tracking friends, followers and the like. Together, those metrics track user engagement--which, according to the official fine--is a better barometer by far than ad-page performance. …

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