How Can Magazines Stay Relevant in a Digital World?

16K Agency
Sep 17, 2015 · 7 min read

Author: James Towers, Founding Partner, 16K Agency — Stockholm, Sweden.

I feel that I need to start this piece with a disclaimer: I’ve spent a good deal of my career working for publishers on some of the world’s most well-known titles. I have a deep passion for printed communication — the feel, the smell, and the weight of holding your own copy of a magazine is a unique and important part of our cultural experience. It’s a considered purchase, one that you choose to make because you sincerely identify with the contents. You proudly display the copies of past editions in your apartment, and you thoughtfully scatter copies of Elle, Vogue or GQ on your coffee table. You pour a glass of wine, light a candle and Instagram the perfect scene, maybe with your bare legs in the shot and your feet snug in cozy socks. Wow… your life is so together, if your Instagram feed is any indication.

Although my passion for printed products runs deep, I recently left a plum job with a leading global publisher to start a digital media agency. The immediate question that arises, of course, is “Why?” Well, because print media, in its current form, is dying. Publishers will say it isn’t, but it is. I know it, they know it, and the agencies and clients know it too. However, that isn’t the end of the story.

The truth is that print can be saved, which is exactly what I’ve set out to do. Print appears to die a little more with each readership report release, but it shouldn’t. Furthermore, I don’t think we should let it happen. To that end, I’ve co-founded the 16K Agency in Stockholm, Sweden, to help publishers connect their printed products with rich, engaging digital content.

Publishers have incredible advantages, but how do they leverage them to attract the modern consumer? If we can answer that question, print might just have a chance.

The Problem With Print

Let’s first look at what’s happening to print on a broad scale. To put it plainly, the Internet is smashing it. Content is created at a faster pace than at any other point in human history. There is more content being created every few minutes than was created between the beginning of human civilization and the year 2003. Writing stories, editing, printing and distributing content in its current static form is simply not keeping up. There are certainly niches of the print market that are bucking the trend, but I’m talking about the publishing industry in general. People are consuming their content differently these days, which is wreaking havoc on the sale of magazines.

In 2015, buying a magazine is probably the slowest and most inefficient way to consume content. The Internet creates and distributes content in seconds, so by the time Donald Trump has finished his latest racial slur, the world has already consumed it. A magazine hitting the shelf a week later is covering old news; by that time, he’s likely gone on to offend women, the poor, journalists, ex-lovers and fellow politicians. Our attention spans have become fleeting and brief, the natural result of our oversaturated modern society.

What Are Publishers Good At?

Publishers create brilliant content. They have been creating brilliant content ever since the bloggers of today were just a spark in their parents’ eyes. Publishers have impressive teams of professional staff trained in sourcing, extracting and creating the best possible content, which makes them more qualified than anyone else to engage readers.

Furthermore, publishers have the mastheads and prestige that consumers recognize and respect. Names like Elle, Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Cosmopolitan, and Esquire are some of the most famous and trusted brands in the world for information and advice. These are key brands that have helped shape social culture for decades and the weight they carry when they create content should not be taken lightly.

When publishers produce and distribute content, it is considered trustworthy. Again, I’m speaking in general terms here, but publishers have mastheads that people turn to for content they trust. Anyone can create content and distribute it these days online, but established publishers have the most to lose if they don’t check their facts and get the story straight. Credibility is still valuable.

Media agency Carat in the UK recently released findings from their research into Internet content creation and consumption. The report showed an interesting trend developing within the UK’s online audience. Quite simply, people are feeling so overwhelmed by the amount of content available that instead of consuming more of it, they are retreating back to an average of 2–3 trusted sources and closing themselves off from the rest. Print publishers are already considered trusted sources, which is the key behind this whole endeavor. Print publishers, however, must play in the space where consumers are actually consuming content.

Print publishers already have top-level access and the contacts to get their content seen. Journalists have been plying their trade in the industry for generations, meaning that they have relationships, contacts, partnerships, agreements, sponsorships and ‘ears to the ground’ in places that un-trusted individuals can hardly imagine, let alone achieve. Print publishers have the ability to create truly exclusive content and they are true masters of that skill.

Publishing For The Future — What Can Publishers Do?

Print publishers have thus far had mixed success with their forays into the online publishing world. The obvious reason for this is the key issue: print publishers are always trying to protect their revenue stemming from the sale of magazines. They haven’t embraced digital platforms as aggressively as they should have; they’ve merely dipped their toe in the water, hoping that would be enough to stay competitive.

Print publishers are creating an enormous amount of top-quality content every day, but after the on-sale date of the magazine expires, that content is largely forgotten and likely never read again. A new edition eventually takes its place and the process repeats.

Print publishers need to connect their printed editions to rich, engaging, exclusive, digital content if they want to remain in the game. They are the admitted masters of creating content, but they need to distribute it more effectively. The two major magazine publishing groups operating in Australia have undertaken an exercise to close the gap between printed magazines and the online world. They’ve introduced an Augmented Reality platform that connects their physical editions to an exclusive, behind-the-scenes digital world that the consumer has just paid to visit.

Getting Smart With Mobile

Augmented Reality is allowing Australian publishers to link their physical magazine editions to engaging and relevant content via the reader’s smartphone. This is the bridge these two worlds have been waiting for.

For example, let’s say Elle Australia has an exclusive 1-day interview and photo shoot with Kate Moss. There would be hours of behind-the-scenes footage and content created during the day. Traditionally, this content was curated into a final edit for the printed magazine, which might have consisted of a 3-page interview and a cover shot. With this new approach, however, the publishers can now produce their printed edition featuring Kate Moss on the cover with the leading story, but they also have a treasure trove of additional content that readers can access by scanning the page with their mobile phone. The reader paid money to consume the exclusive magazine content, but now there is engaging, exclusive digital content as an added bonus. This approach has evened the scales, combining the convenience of digital media with the credibility and quality standards of print.

Added Revenue Streams

The Australian publishers have also seen their ‘connected magazines’ create a hugely positive influence on their bottom line. The flow of advertising revenue from magazines to digital channels over the last five years has been seemingly unstoppable until now. The irresistible data and quantifiable ROI of digital channels has shown magazines to be the ‘harder sell’ to agencies and clients.

Augmented Reality has enabled Australian publishers to offer their advertising partners ‘connected advertising.’ This means a print ad now maps reader interaction, engagement, demographics, user profile, and spend behavior. Hard data like this has never been available to magazines, nor their advertisers, and it’s proving that magazines offer incredible engagement with readers. Clients are now adding this technology to their print campaigns, paying the print publisher an additional loading on their media for the privilege and, in turn, connecting their physical advertisements with the digital world. Buying directly from the page of a magazine is now possible, which eliminates the gap between the physical and digital assets that advertisers must constantly migrate customers across.

The Rise Of Multi-screen

TV networks and advertisers know that no one just watches the TV anymore. People have at least a mobile phone or a tablet device with them that they’re interacting with throughout their time watching TV.

The same is happening with magazines. Readers have become used to constant connection and are hungry for more content — additional features and engagement that go beyond the printed pages of the magazine. They trust the content, because they paid for the magazine, so the opportunity exists for print publishers to further engage these consumers with trusted and curated exclusive content.

I Started My Digital Media Agency To Save Print

People these days are either thoroughly engaged or ultimately distracted. Magazines are an incredibly engaging form of media, but they need to ensure that consumer engagement continues seamlessly from the printed page to the digital realm. This hasn’t been possible until now.

Our agency has the mobile platform to help print publishers connect their magazines and start winning the battle of mobile marketing. Print publishers have too much exceptional content to offer to disappear, particularly since we know that consumers are crying out for the top-quality content that print publishers can provide.

About the Author:

James Towers is a Founding Partner of 16K Agency, a Stockholm-based media agency focusing on introducing a smartphone-based Augmented Reality platform for the media and retail industries in the Nordic region.

16K Agency

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