Why What Worked For Magazines In 2007 Won’t Work Today. A Very Strong First Six Months In The Land of New Magazines. A Mr. Magazine™ Musing.*

June 26, 2015

The numbers are strong for the first six months of 2015: 411 to be exact. 118 with frequency and 293 specials and book-a-zines. Major publishers are rediscovering the power of print.

samir2015 If the world of magazines and magazine media has changed at all in the last seven to eight years, and we all know that it has, then why does the industry insist on continuing to create magazines as though we’re still living in the year 2007? It’s a conundrum that, quite frankly, I fail to understand. We all know that we live in a digital age, not even Mr. Magazine™ will argue with that, but we also know, according to research from some of the largest publishing houses on the continent, that print is still a valued friend that the buying public will not turn their backs on. In fact, from Bauer’s Simple Grace to Meredith’s Parents Latina, the big players are back in the print game with vim and vigor.

Below are but a few new titles from major publishing companies that have launched new print titles within the last six months:

•Bauer – Simple Grace
•Harris – Ballistic
•Hearst – Trending NY
•Hoffman Media – Enjoy Every Day
•I-5 Publishing – Dogster and Catster
•Meredith – Parents Latina
•National Geographic – History
•Rodale – Organic Life
•Smithsonian – Smithsonian Journeys

And for the first six months of 2015, the numbers are standing strong and proud (with more details and comparisons next week):

• Total New Launches: 411
• Frequency: 118
• Specials: 293

IMG_8285 It’s not the ingredients for the recipe that need to change, we’re adding distinctive and enticing elements to the pot; it’s the way we’re mixing that delicious stew in the same old way, which is continuing to produce magazines as though the year was 2007 instead of 2015.

What do I mean by that? First of all, before the Internet explosion magazine media was complacently successful following the ad path and content trail set years before. And it worked. After 2007 and Web mania, that model ceased to be profitable or proficient. And the prophets of print gloom and doom had a field day crying, “Print is dead,” all the while publishers were holding their collective breaths and fearing the worst.

When TV was invented, radio didn’t die; when a popular brand such as “MASH” or “Dallas” lived its lifespan and died a natural death; the entire television industry didn’t curl up its toes and jump in the grave with it, of course not. So why with the advent of digital, did print publishers allow their ink on paper child to hang its head, pack its bags and go into exile, or in some cases, commit suicide?

Fear and the lack of understanding that digital wasn’t going to replace print; its mission was to promote and co-exist with it.

But we as an industry must learn print’s place in today’s digital world. Print must have that collectability factor that we never worried about before, because if you want to know how to replace your doorknob, you can bet your shiny new keyhole that Google can tell you that information quicker than next month’s issue of your favorite DIY magazine. You, as a publisher, instead should concentrate on showing your audience the most dazzling and up-to-date doorknobs on the market today, or the oddest places people install doorknobs on their doors, or…well, you get my meaning. Content-driven information that excites the reader and causes that little niggle in the pit of his/her stomach as they’re about to toss that magazine, once read, into the trash; now that’s the collectability factor.

I have outlined nine roles print media can play in today’s magazine environment:

1. Be curators of content. There’s too much content and a scarcity of curation. Print can say: we’ve done the research for you, now here are the answers. The uniqueness of print’s ability to validate those responses by using the trust factor of research and explanation is incomparable.

2. Be analyzers of data. Google knows more about me than my wife. We must analyze the data so we know our audiences. Rather than focus groups, take10 readers to lunch. Listen to their challenges. Then feed their hunger. The lunch table most publishers should use when offering their audience sustenance is social media. Nowhere can you gain a better understanding of your reader’s wants and needs than social media platforms. Once again, digital and print working together.

3. Be creators of solutions. Amid so much conflicting content, validate information for readers. Let them depend on you by being one step ahead– preview the near future.

4. Be masters of opinions. Start conversations and lead public debate – you are the authority. Then, importantly, let the audience know they’re being heard, even if you don’t agree. This can happen through social media or the interactivity of your print audience, preferably both.

5. Be makers of experiences. Share and create experiences that lead to engagement.

6. Be suppliers of addiction. Nobody needs a magazine, so you need to make readers dependent on you. Dispense the drugs the audience needs. Change their wants to needs. Today everyone wants and needs stability in our sometimes crazy world; they need a reason to hope and believe that tomorrow is going to be better than today, so Bauer gave us “Simple Grace” to hold onto. They saw the want and the need of this type of content in our world.

7. Be witty storytellers. Fulfill your readers’ needs, but don’t forget the cliffhanger to make them buy the next issue.

8. Be provokers of emotions. Create content that stirs emotional reactions.

9. Be innovators in print. Let’s keep doing things differently.

Exercising these nine stratagems into the way we stir our pots will mix things up a bit and change the texture of our stew in a positive way.

Many people thought the onset of digital with all its many devices was going to change the world of magazine media, and in some ways, it did. For one it showed us that bells and whistles don’t really matter; in the world of devices, digital and otherwise, there is really only one thing that matters when it comes to magazine reading; it’s called content.

In a recent interview I did with Martha Stewart Living Publisher, Daren Mazzucca, he elaborated on that sentiment when I asked him why Meredith decided to remove all the bells and whistles from its digital entity and make it a straight replica of the magazine:

“I think it makes the most sense. I believe that tablet access for all brands has kind of flattened out a bit; if you look at two or three years ago when we all believed that tablets were going to soar and some believed they would replace print, but that hasn’t been the case. The paper format is still the primary vehicle that women want to engage with. They curl up with it, take it with them, and tablets have pretty much plateaued in the marketplace.”

Today, in 2015, it’s more about the experience than ever before. We are all bombarded by notifications of information on a minute-by-minute basis and sometimes when your Smartphone seems to have a life of its own, those notifications can become second-by-second. It’s a fast-paced, never-slow-down existence that we lead.

However, there does come a time when all of us want to disconnect from our digital realities and just have a lean-back experience with a glass of wine and our favorite magazine.

Travel+Leisure’s Editor-in-Chief, Nathan Lump, said it best about the lean-back experience in a recent Mr. Magazine™ interview:

“I think for me, it’s really true in the sense that when you think about it, we have so much information at our fingertips; no one necessarily needs to read a magazine in order to learn things, so those that do are obviously making a very conscious choice that they want to give a certain amount of their leisure time to that experience.”

And without a doubt, we have to make sure that experience is phenomenal and merits a return visit to our publication. Let’s be provokers of emotion and reaction. Take the topic your audience is crying out for and then make them emotionally care about the words you’ve put together.

And always be print innovators; we have to continue to do things differently and not be afraid to take the path less traveled – even if that path takes us over the rainbow and far, far away. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto – and we have to remember that…

*The above is an updated version from my article that I wrote for the Magazines At Retail conference earlier this month.

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