As in many industries, it appears magazine publishing is continuing to embrace the trend of increased integration of digital communication platforms with print. This integration trend will continue to have major impacts in 2020.
How and when printed content is utilized continues to evolve as publishers refine the print and digital balance that works best with their audiences.
In short, the two major trends in magazine publishing in 2020 and beyond will be:
- Using data to deliver targeted digital content.
- Using data to identify the print and digital balances that increase profitability.
Directions for digital publishing and marketing
In a content universe that changes as quickly as digital publishing, it’s not easy to see the big picture through the whirlwinds created by so many new apps and social media platforms. This makes it important to stay focused on publishing components that create a big picture.
For digital publishing and marketing the components shaping the future of publishing include content and big data.
Content – Making it relevant and selling its relevance
Since virtually anyone can publish these days, there are many more voices finding their way into the public sphere. Delivering that content to a target audience is key.
As Johanna Vondeling, vice president for international sales and business development for Berrett-Koehler Publishers, notes, “Now that digital content is popular and relatively easy and inexpensive to produce, millions of individuals and thousands of . . . media companies have leaped into the business of creating and distributing it.”
How can magazine publishers adjust to the glut of content? According to Ana Lobb, VP of Media and Publishing at MPP Global, it’s a matter of “taking a customer-centric approach to engage new subscribers and deepen their relationship with existing ones.”
Lobb suggests publishers are taking advantage of the realization that the choice isn’t “print or digital,” but rather “what mix of print and digital?” In spite of the impressive growth of digital publishing, it hasn’t supplanted print and, despite early concerns, digital isn’t expected to supplant print.
“The key,” writes Lobb, “is understanding how customers want to engage with the publication, and then making it as simple as possible to do so.” Ways to engage with customers could include:
- Mega-bundling: charging one fee for digital and print products
- Custom bundling: offering only those features the subscriber wants, such as video, special features, etc.
With the options magazine publishers now have for handling subscriptions, these bundling options seem increasingly attractive. Using paywalls, micropayments or memberships, publishers can:
- Offer a sampling of digital content with payment required for the full edition.
- Allow subscribers to pick and choose the digital content they want and pay for it piecemeal.
- Charge an annual or monthly fee for a membership that covers both digital and print editions.
With advertising revenue expected to continue dropping, magazine publishers will be looking at these options to fill the gap with paid subscriptions. The move will require strong engagement from subscribers, especially those who are used to getting their content for free.
Big Data – Finding golden needles in the haystack
Berrett-Koehler Publishing’s Johanna Vondeling writes, “Analyzing large data sets — so-called big data — has become a key basis of competition, driving growth and innovation.” This statement is certainly true for magazine publishers who are trying to increase reader engagement.
Big data provides information crucial to defining and approaching an audience. Unfortunately, it also takes a good deal of expertise to ferret out the information of real value.
Given the right expertise, whether in-house or contracted, analysis of big data can be of enormous help in finding ways to engage with readers.
Where print magazines are going in the digital age
As Beth Braverman puts it at foliomag.com, it’s clear that print has had a rough decade. But she adds this: “Many of the brands that have survived . . . appear poised for a profitable future by leaning into print as a pivotal part of their strategy.”
While Johanna Vondeling says that content producers now need to approach format as a secondary consideration in publishing, Braverman shows examples of print publications that have made delivery format a primary focus, evaluating format variations that sell more magazines.
Braverman finds that publishers who are succeeding in print are turning to niche audiences with lower publication frequency and improved quality. For example, she cites the Harvard Business Review, which has cut its frequency by 40 percent to bimonthly while maintaining a $99/year subscription, yet has still seen a 10 percent increase in subscriptions.
Popular Science rejuvenated its content strategy and business model by cutting its frequency from monthly to quarterly while raising subscription rates. The magazine also chose to use a better-quality paper stock and focused on enhancing visual content.
This may sound radical, but the results speak for themselves. Popular Science’s publisher has seen subscription yields rise 30% per year since making the changes to its other magazines, including Outdoor Life and Cycle World.
This growth statistic seems counterintuitive, but the surprises don’t stop there. The magazine publisher also reported that most of its titles exceeded their 2018 advertising revenue goals while many publishers in the industry experienced declines.
What the future holds for magazine publishers
If there is a lesson to be learned from all this, it’s that insights gained from data analysis can help publishers identify the content mix and the print and digital balance that resonates with and engages their readers.