It still feels a bit weird not to be involved in the magazine industry when the ABC figures are released – although I’m getting used to examining the RAJAR figures for radio instead.
The thing is, the ABCs feel a bit odd this year, with the period-on-period and year-on-year increases feeling a bit hollow considering magazine sales grew 0.3% from last year – but that year was a historic low of 23.8 million. At the start of the decade, 30 million plus was the regular figure. And although the recession has played a part in sales, the decline started in 2005.
Looking in more detail at the top 100 titles, it’s dominated by Sky and supermarket titles. 51 of the titles posted declines year-on-year and the same number dropping period-on-period.
There are some positives for magazines in the homes, business, current affairs, and women’s sectors – although the ‘classic’ women’s magazines and several of the newer ones dropped. And it seems covermounts are more important than ever… the biggest drop was OK! magazine, which dropped 20.2%
But the men’s market trumps that with FHM down 18.1%, Nuts down 22%,Zoo down 27.9%, and Loaded down 26.3%. Free magazine Shortlist grew, as did Stuff, BBC Focus, Men’s Fitness, Esquire and Front. But two of those only grew by 1% or under (and Bauer Media is planning a new glossy men’s mag?)… That market fall is only matched by the decline in TV mags. Only two magazines didn’t drop in that area.
And out of all the publishers, BBC, Dennis, Conde Nast and Shortlist were up on last year.
It’s still a situation where slightly down or flat figures are still ‘the new up’
So where are the readers going? A lot of people have commented on the changes in the media over the years…
- The recession – not just disposable income, but the perception of value in times of economic hardship.
- The internet – free, accessible content which matches many of the print markets –including digital editions of the same titles. And all kinds of alternatives for entertainment from social networks to video sharing.
- Mobile – see above, although the potential of paid apps means free content might be harder to find…
- TV on demand – allowing you to fill up your leisure time more effectively if that’s your choice.
- Gaming – whether social, console, mobile, or PC, gaming is a huge market and a big source of entertainment time.
- Wifi – suddenly the internet is more accessible when you’re travelling – by train for example. Add in laptops and tablets.
Presumably by coincidence, Steve Rubel suggests one route that media companies should take for the future, regardless of the format their content is delivered in.
It would be interesting to compare with book sales to see if the desire for more in-depth information is holding strong, but the last figures I can find are from January 2010, with a drop of almost 7% for print books in 2009. Meanwhile ebooks have overtaken hardbacks on Amazon US.
I think it’s a sign that mass-market print titles, and profit margins, will never return to the pre-2005 levels, whatever anyone tries. The future for a sustainable print business in the long term is most likely to be much, much smaller runs of higher quality issues which are special in some way by commemorating events or providing in-depth information and experiences. But even most of those are going to face a massive challenge, particularly from tablets. I’m not a huge fan of Apple’s iPad, but I’ve found it’s great for content consumption, as is the Kindle, and as, no doubt, at least some of the Android tablets will be.
Then look at the likes of Flipboard and Pulse – two recent iPad-friendly apps which do a great job of presenting user filtered, or user’s social graph-filtered news and information. Or the semantic technology used by the likes of the idio platform for a while now.
I firmly believe the media companies who are performing best in the market, and show the signs of continuing that trend are the ones that most closely resemble tech organisations, and which are diversifying in everything to find out what works now whilst there is still some money left on the table.
Something that really made me chuckle in this context is an article on Giga Om, in which Paul Graham, the founder of tech incubator Y Combinator, convincingly explains the reason that Yahoo has struggled is that it turned into a media company at the end of the 90s. That’s not to say Yahoo can’t be successful, but the fact that one of the largest websites and digital advertising networks moved too close to becoming a media company must worry anyone who isn’t trying to innovate their media company at the moment.
Speaking to someone earlier today about their ambition to become a journalist, I could only advise them to put digital first, spend time learning at least the solid foundations of coding, SEO and social media marketing, and consider starting up something themselves rather than pursuing a print job – I’m just not sure there will be many around soon, and probably a lot of them will be extremely small start-up operations with a 20k circulation for an extremely niche product.