Marketing Knowledge Blog | 9 min read

What are the challenges that magazine publishers face today?

header image for publishers

Recently we sat down with Bloovi, a digital media publisher that shared previous issues with their workflow but also how they found a solution that optimized their collaboration and improved the ROI. Listening to their story, we realized many challenges that both traditional and digital publishers face.

What is the current state of publishers today and what are their main struggles? Did digitalization kill magazines or is there still time to revolutionize the way we interact with them? Let's dive in...

Table of contents:

  1. Media brands are hot stuff
  2. Ah, the good ol' pre-digital era
  3. Transition to Magazine Business Model
  4. The digital (e)state of publishers
  5. So, is print really dead?
  6. There is always a silver lining

Media brands are hot stuff

On September 16th, 2018, Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, bought Time magazine from Meredith Corporation for a staggering $190 million. This incredible offer came just in the right moment for Time Inc. whose profit went downfall in recent years. In March 2018, Meredith Corporation announced that over the next 10 months they planned to lay off 1,000 employees. Picking up one of the most famous publishers publications ever, everyone is waiting to see how Benioff will help Time flourish in this digital era.

Time will tell, Marc - time will tell...

Mr. Benioff is not the only tech billionaire to show interest in media brands. Jeff Bezos, the founder, and chief executive of Amazon, bought The Washington Post in 2013. Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, in 2017 acquired a majority stake in The Atlantic magazine. This shows us how, in a way, publishing is not going anywhere - it just needs a make-over. And that can surely be directed by new technologies and guided by visionaries.

Ah, the good ol' pre-digital era

Ok, let's rewind back to a time before Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and smartphones (millennials, feel free to skip this part🤷‍♀️). Our relationship with news and the media was through a publisher. We’d gladly confide with a newspaper editor to curate content for us that would broadly align with our interests. Buying a magazine was a special moment, to enjoy reading it over our cup of coffee and then put away with the other previous issues that were always there, ready to be picked up again.

Today, however, this nostalgic relationship with all the traditional media, like TV, radio, and especially publishers is completely different. The relationship with our long-term trusted publisher is now an open one, kinda like "let's see other people". Our interest all of a sudden exceeds the bundle of pages that stare at us in the news shops, simply because we can access more content wherever and whenever we want. The rituals of reading changed from those "special" occasions to an always-connected modus operandi, where we’re exposed to different mediums and accessing content day and night.

the book used here Seeds Planted in Concrete by Bianca Sparacino
Photographer: Thought Catalog | Source: Unsplash

Transition to Magazine Business Model

Soon the publishers woke up and realized the party is over and everybody else went surfing the digital wave. Including their previous readers.

After a decade of disruption following the evolution of digital content, the old model of advertising no longer works. To survive publishers have had to be more innovative when it comes to revenue. The familiar print publication slowly but surely expanded to the new business model that builds on a printed magazine format and then layers on some financial transactions and traditions (advertising, subscriptions, newsstand sales). When combined, revenues from advertising, subscriptions and newsstand sales should generate more revenues than expenses. If revenues come from other sources, the business model starts to become something other than the magazine business model.

The digital (e)state of publishers

The wave of innovation keeps going over the heads of publishers who don't know how to swim in the digital space. A harsh fact is staring them right in the eyes: over half the world’s population is now on the Internet. People are glued to their devices, trying their best to stay up-to-date - and magazines need to step up their game.

So, from a digital perspective, let's have a look at challenges magazines and digital publishing face today:

1. Dependency on advertising for revenue

“Magazines don’t make sufficient money just by producing a magazine,” says David Rose, publisher of Lapham’s Quarterly. “You have to do all kinds of tricks and goodies to make it break even.”

Magazines, whether they be online or on paper, have always relied heavily on advertising as their primary source of revenue. Within the last decade, print publications saw a loss of 40 billion dollars in ad revenue, whereas digital ad revenue grew 18% of about $50.18 billion in 2014 alone. 

The concept of digital advertising is similar to that of print advertising: the better the position, the more it costs.

The biggest problem today to any publisher’s online revenue represents the fact that readers increasingly seek free content and ad blockers became more popular. Challenged by Facebook, Google, and more flexible online competitors, many digital magazine publishers admit that they don't always know the best way how to leverage advertising in digital editions.

change in global advertising spending
Research done by Deloitte in 2015

Recently one of the biggest media groups in Belgium, the Mediahuis, announced how they will do some major cut-offs in their organization and 82 people will lose their jobs. This story doesn't come as a shock, and unfortunately only proves how publishers can't solely rely on ads to survive.

2. Reaching new readers and keeping the old ones

Even though some digital magazines seem to finally be getting it right for some magazines the audience is simply not responsive. Whether readers have lost interest, don’t want to pay or just don’t know the magazines are there, publishers are facing huge challenges cutting through the noise and shouting loudly enough about their beautiful and interesting digital editions.

By all means, magazines don't have to necessarily work as digital editions, but with the good strategy they can find the right balance between the two mediums to help produce a steady revenue flow. Just think, where your audience "hangs out"? Where they share posts, read opinions, communicate with their peers? Not knowing these answers or not sharing your content on all online channels limits your reach - which brings us to the next challenge...

Photographer: Charisse Kenion | Source: Unsplash

3. Keeping up with ALL the online channels

Even before the rise of social media marketers, the world of online content had been piling up for years. The rapidly growing number of channels to share information online continues to make it more competitive for publishers to reach and retain their target audience. Publishers need to connect with their audience as much as they can – both on a website and other online channels, like content hubs and social media.

National Geographic has over 105 million followers

National Geographic, for example, expanded beyond their print magazines and moved into social media. Today, NatGeo has the most popular magazine social media account with over 105 million Instagram followers!😳

Even though having millions of followers on social media doesn’t directly influence the ROI, it will definitely build brand awareness and loyalty with consumers, which in turn helps create sales leads. 

4. Analytics, baby!

There is a serious fear of data and analytics that publishers need to overcome (learn it from the marketers!). Publishers can have insight for each article, they can capture the leads by asking to subscribe or join their newsletter. By enabling publishers to see how engaged its audience was with an article, and then diving into the data that makes up the engagement score of each article, the easier it will be for publishers to set up the right strategy.

storychief analytics
Within the StoryChief dashboard, all your analytics are in one place.

So, is print really dead?

Considering many publications are converting also to digital version, could the future be bright for magazines? I would say that old-school-printed-out magazines, as a sustainable business model is dead with zero chance of revival. Still, there is hope because every challenge the publishers face is a solvable equation - all except one: the habits of their readers.

Death by scrolling

We, the esteemed audience, are spoiled with so many different options, used to the accessibility to various sources of information, and fall victims to mass content production. The smartphone became our introduction to everything available right here and right now. Screen time became all-the-time and since we also don't need to commit to one platform, we have a certain sense of 'freedom'. However, in the end, we get overwhelmed with all the information and visuals. This cool thing called the digital wave brings both, the good and bad stuff to the shore.

The publishing workforce also struggles with their own challenges. Modern journalists have to be genuine storytellers but they also have to keep SEO and keywords in mind. Photographers may have the best cameras and be extremely talented, but still, they have to compete with so many other great photographers on the market. Designers and illustrators have to find their own unique style that will differentiate them but also resonate with the right audience.

New Yorker always had an iconic illustration style
Every challenge mentioned above is a solvable equation for publishers if they adapt. Like with everything and everyone, if you don't adapt you don't survive.

The publishing industry isn’t dead per se. It’s just different.

There is always a silver lining

I truly believe our love affair with magazines won't die. We still buy them, we like to turn pages and we like to put them on display in our homes because they show who we are, or who we secretly desire to be. They give us information, they feed our dreams and even help us feel better. There is something romantic about that whole moment when you sit down, unwind and read a good magazine from cover to cover.

“Eventually, they’ll become like sailboats,” says Kurt Andersen, a former editor of New York. “They don’t need to exist anymore. But people will still love them, and make them and buy them.”

Sailboats or cruise ships, we are eager to see what the future brings to publishers, both printed and online. Only time will tell. ⏳

Pretty, pretty magazines, want 'em all

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