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› Future of Magazines
  • Published on June 28, 2017

Less than a decade ago the future of magazines appeared to be both solid and certain. Magazines provided a way to reach a highly targeted audience. Advertisers that wanted to reach male sports fans could turn to Sports Illustrated from the Time family of publications, or to reach runners turn to Runner’s Word from the Rodale family, and these types of specializations existed across hundreds of specialized markets. While the increase in online media consumption has led to a decrease in print readership, this isn’t the only issue facing magazine publishers. The magazine industry has been disrupted by changes in how readers consume media, the formats of content they prefer, and how advertisers reach their desired audience.

Future of magazine advertising impacted by shift of ad spending online

Specialized advertising no longer requires reaching audiences while they read specific content, which dramatically impacts the future of magazine revenue. Online ad networks such as those run by Google offer user profiles, allowing for specialized advertising to reach users anywhere online. Through advertising targeting, a sports fan can be targeted while visiting a weather website or reading the local news, while a pet lover can be targeted for advertising on websites that are totally unrelated. This, combined with the amount of time consumers spend on computers, has caused more ad dollars to shift online. Google now brings in more revenue from advertising than every magazine combined – but not just every magazine, you could add the advertising revenue from magazines, newspapers, and radio networks together and Google still received more advertising revenue than the combined group, taking in more than $80 billion in ad revenue.

Future of magazine publishers shows more consolidation

The future of magazine publishing will include fewer brands and publishers, which is already starting to occur. Earlier this year Time, Inc. explored selling itself after being spun-off from the Time-Warner group. While it considered a sale to lifestyle magazine publisher Meredith, the sale didn’t occur and Time announced layoffs of 300 of their staff this past week. The layoffs impacted across many job functions, including more than 50 editorial jobs. A few days after Time announced its layoffs, Rodale, another major magazine publisher announced that it is considering selling itself. The independent publisher of Men’s Health, Runner’s World, Prevention, and many other magazine titles appears to be encountering the same challenges as Time. Magazine publishers will likely consolidate to leverage economies of scale, combining production, marketing, website hosting, and editorial operations across imprints and brands.

Future of magazines print editions

As consumers shift to online media consumption, magazines will need to follow them there to remain relevant. In some cases, this may involve creation of apps and better online experiences, in others it involves magazines shifting from print content they own to content syndication through services such as Apple News. These services may provide pennies on the dollar, and thus may require implementation of paywalls for some content in an effort to convert users to subscribers. This model is already used by more news-centric publications such as the New York Times and Washington Post, and magazines are likely to follow this in order to recover lost subscriber revenue. Magazine publishers will also need to monitor their online activities more closely. They may learn Google Analytics or other web analytics tools to better target their content and understand their audience.

Magazines future includes events and sponsored content

Successful magazine publishers will diversity into events and awards that leverage their brand identity and awareness. In some instances, this may support their brand through increased publicity, while in other cases these will be revenue generating events that align with the publications expertise. A technology-focused publication could host a technology event, while a fitness publication would host events that appeal to their audience while showcasing their expertise. Magazines are also likely to increase the use of sponsored content, which may be developed exclusively for a specific business, or underwritten by a brand. As this occurs, expect a further blurring of lines between editorial and advertising.

With reduction in traditional readership and in advertising revenue, these future of magazine publishing holds many changes which are likely occur quickly over the coming years. While this shift may appear to have a negative impact on technology vendors such as Adobe that support publishers, most have shifted their focus to corporations and businesses and away from magazines.

About the author

is president of American Graphics Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the creator and editor of the Digital Classroom book series. At American Graphics Institute, he provides strategic technology consulting to marketing professionals, publishers and to large technology companies including Google, Apple, and Microsoft. He delivers workshops relating to digital marketing, web analytics, SEO, and SEM. He is also the author of more than 10 books on electronic publishing tools and technologies, including the Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies. Christopher did his undergraduate studies the at the University of Minnesota, and then worked for Quark, Inc. prior to joining American Graphics Institute where he has worked for 20 years.