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The Oakland Post

The survival of magazines in a digital world

Edward Zilincik, Staff Intern

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Advertising doesn’t make money for print media the way it used to. Why pay for news when it is online for free?

Daily magazine readership dropped 23 percent between the years 2010 and 2015, according to Fortune Magazine. Concurrently, magazine advertising revenues went down five percent, when comparing the third quarter of 2014 with the third quarter of 2015, according to journalism.org. There was an overall drop by ten percent from the third quarter of 2013 to the third quarter of 2015, as well.

Despite the decline in readership and advertising in the magazine industry, digital magazine readership increased from 3.4 million in 2011 to 12.7 million in 2015. Also during this time period, subscriptions to digital magazines increased from 13,174 to 35,974.

The decline in advertising is a sign of a trend that has been continuing since the end of last decade.

From 2006 until the end of 2009, the percent of magazine advertising sold overtime decreased by over 25 percent, according to stateofthemedia.org.

Advertisements for the 213 magazines tracked by the Publishers Information Bureau fell 3.1 percent between 2010 and 2011, according to the aforementioned “state of the media” article. The total number of advertisements fell from 169,552 in 2010 to 164,225 in 2011.

During that same time frame, 136 out of the 213 magazines tracked by the Publishers Information Bureau reported declines in the number of ad pages sold. One magazine (Bassmaster) reported a 45 percent decrease in ad pages sold during this time frame.

Judith Sawyer is a seasoned veteran of the advertising industry. Sawyer graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in psychology. But, she teaches advertising at Oakland University.

Sawyer parlayed her degree into a long and productive career in the advertising industry, which saw her thrive for over 30 years. Sawyer previously worked at such companies that included A.C. Nielsen Co., D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Ross Roy, J. Walter Thompson and Campbell Ewald.

She sees a lack of currency and timeliness as a reason to why the magazine industry and the magazine advertising industry have both declined in recent years. Sawyer says primary reasons include the industry’s coupling with the advent of social media, the online news industry and the 24 hour cable news network cycle.

“Magazines that depended on being current have already been affected,” she said. “U.S. News and World Report have been gone for some time, while Time and Newsweek have remained, but offer digital versions in addition to print that allow them to update info in real time and gain a revenue stream from their digital side.”

Despite the decline of print magazines, Sawyer still feels print has a future in the magazine industry.

“I believe that strong magazines in niche categories are more likely to survive because they reach a narrow audience less likely to meet all of their needs online, on social media, or in digital magazines,” she said. “There are those who still enjoy the feel of a beautiful, well published magazine, but print magazines have to find a way to offer an experience not available online.”

While Sawyer still sees a future in print, both as a viable circulation and for advertising, she feels that digital is the future of the magazine industry.

“Magazines will have to have an online presence and a business model that allows them to publish both digitally and in print to still make a profit,” said Sawyer. “Serving the reader is far more profitable in digital media where production, paper, and postage costs are not an issue.”

Sawyer’s premonition may be correct. The Digital magazine industry continues to grow at astronomical rates, while the magazine print industry and the magazine print advertising industry continue to stagnate or decline.

In a study of online news magazine websites, the average number of monthly unique visitors between the fourth quarter of 2014 and the fourth quarter of 2015 increased to an average of about 13 million monthly visitors per site, according to journalism.org. This article studied 12 magazines during that time period.

The article also found that, out of the 12 magazines studied, seven of them experienced traffic increases of 10 percent year over year. Mobile traffic also increased for 10 of the 12 websites that were studied.

Sawyer has seen this story before and feels the magazine industry will evolve and change with the times.

“When cable networks were introduced, they said it would be the end of broadcast networks,” she said. “Now we’re told that social media will be the end of traditional media, but I’ve seen much of this before and none of the things they predicted happening ended up dying as they said.

“These forms of media evolve, they change, some of them do die, but the medium itself survives after it figures out how to modify its business model to fit the new challenges. I expect magazines to be no different.”

If the magazine industry hopes to reinvent its business model, putting their eggs in the online and digital basket going forward seems wise. 

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