Editors and journalists talk about how the magazine industry can survive despite fall in sales and publications migrating online.
Every February the Audit Bureau of Circulation releases the circulation data for magazines and magazine publishers in the UK over the July to December period. A glance at the data for February 2011 consumer magazines shows that the year-on-year percentage of sales by publishing houses has been falling drastically.
Only four out of the 12 publishing houses have registered a year-on-year percentage increase in sales, the highest being 0.7% (BSkyB and Dennis Publishing)
The reality is that, like newspapers, magazines sales, too, have dipped massively in the last few years. Computer Weekly and Accountancy Age join the list of magazines that have migrated to online-only magazines in the recent past.
Chris Wheal was the former sub-editor of Computer Weekly. He says that people misunderstand what the product is in a magazine:
Migration happening, but slowly
According to Wheal, ‘The biggest effect the internet has had on this is that it helps the advertiser reach a larger audience for the same amount.’
Gareth Weekes was the former news editor of Accountancy Age and spoke about how it relied entirely on its revenue for client advertising. He points out that today you can walk into any big company and get a customer loyalty magazine for free. But he reckons that for some publications the allure of multimedia works better to entice viewers online as opposed to the physical copy.
Clare Hopping, editor of Know Your Mobile, an online website owned by Dennis Publishing, agrees with Weekes, saying, ‘With digital, you can do micro-sites and resource centers. It can be produced instantly, so you can get there a lot faster than you can with print.’
But she doesn’t believe that online titles have an advantage over their physical counterparts, mainly because people still get attracted to glossy magazines, especially on journeys where internet access is a problem.
‘People want something to hold. You can’t access websites on a train or when there’s bad signal. Five years ago everyone was talking about how print will die out and how websites will take over but we haven’t seen that at all or as much as everyone’s been saying we’re going to,’ says Hopping.
Online blogger, journalist and author, Paul Bradshaw, says, ‘Though the audience and advertising for magazines is going online, readership has not been affected drastically because magazines are a more luxurious, higher-end product.’
Finding a Niche
Wheal agrees that magazines still hold an advantage, which they need to use wisely. He says that magazines can still survive, provided they carve a niche for themselves in the market.
He uses the success of The Economist as an example to prove that magazines can survive both physically and digitally so as long as you ‘have a strong brand and a niche audience that have a good excuse to invest time and money in your product.’
Before he became a best-selling author, Andy McDermott, worked as an editor for DVD review. He reiterates the importance of standing out from a crowd: ’Games and entertainment magazines will suffer because that’s exactly what you can find online. If you’re too general you stand the risk of losing out too quickly.’
Wheal’s solution is for magazines to clearly separate their online and print audience. He says that only the analyses, features and big discussions should be saved for the print magazine.
Though it clearly seems that magazines hold an advantage with their glossy formats and alluring headlines, they need to reinvent themselves and find a niche they can specialize in. Otherwise browsing speeds and 3G may eventually catch up with them.
Dr Roman Gerodimos from Bournemouth University shares the results of a social experiment which challenged its volunteers to be without any forms of electronic media for 24 hours.
The 2010 Ofcom Communications Market Reports states that the average Brit spends more than half of their waking day (between 9 and 10 hours) either online, on the phone or watching television. This means that we are glued in to some form of media or the other, often while doing our daily chores. We’re so used to living in a world where we’re controlled by media and technology that the thought of losing it for for a few hours seems impossible, let alone a day.
But at the start of the 2010 semester term, 530 first-year students from Bournemouth University pledged to give up all forms of media for 24 hours. They were joined by students from Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America. Dr Gerodimos was in charge of organizing the media black-out to the first-year students.
Re-discovering our love for books
‘When people have media taken away from them, they do things they would not normally do – like read books, meet other people and socialize,’ said Dr Gerodimos.
He said the biggest medium to have gained from this experiment was books as the students all seemed to go back to titles on shelves that lost priority over other more current-forms of media.
‘A lot of people were surprised to rediscover their love for books. They had this revelation of how much they liked their books. They sat down to read a chapter and finished a book. The way we use the media, we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to use books. It’s not like we more important things. We just fall under a habitual pattern. It sucks the air from other things.’
Shorter attention spans and multi-tasking
Andy McDermott, who has just sold his millionth copy with Empire of Gold, lives in his pad filled with gadgets – Playstation 3, Kindle, iPad and endless amounts of DVDs. From personal experience he, too, admits that things have changed drastically over the last few years.
‘My attention-span has definitely decreased,’ says McDermott. ‘I could finish an entire book in one sitting a few years back, today the same book takes me two days to finish because there’s always something else to do. Even when I’m reading a book on the iPad, I can’t concentrate as I’m always a swipe away from Facebook or some other app.’
‘The pattern in which we use new media, especially like internet and smart phones may indirectly affect our other activities. Its not like Facebook causes cancer. Its not like consuming a specific medium will have a direct effect. Its just that you have less time to do other things. You have more multitasking and less deep reading. None of my students have ever read a whole journal article without printing it off. That’s not what they see it for,’ says Dr Gerodimos.
‘When the medium is taken away it reminds them of books. You think you have loads of options in new media and a lot of choice with millions of websites, but realistically you visit the same 10-20 websites and then there’s a long tail. If you see the activities we’re involved in, it’s like 3 or 4 activities and then there’s a long tail, so it’s that choice/freedom which is very overestimated.’
Not everything we do online is meaningful
Even though the day was as eye-opener for media students, it was well received and many of them want to try it again. Some re-discovered their love for books, while others discovered their dependence on the media, but some students received the biggest anti-climax of their lives when…
‘Some people who were dying to go to Facebook but when they signed in after 24 hrs, they got the biggest anti-climax of their lives as they had zero notifications. This encouraged them to realize that not everything we do online is meaningful. This experiement helped them appreciate the benefits of everything we take for granted.’
Click here to read the worldwide study’s Top 5 Highlights.
Click here to read Bournemouth University students recount their 24 hours without any form of media.
Authors and publishing experts discuss the digitisation of the publishing industry and the exciting crossroad that we’re at.
For the first time since the invention of the printing press, America recorded higher digital sales than physical copies in February 2011. With the Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad doubling up as ebook-readers, its not rare for a UK child to not have a book.
‘Digital is the most exciting thing to have happened in many many generations for publishing,’ says John Mitchinson, a former publisher with over two decades of experience in the trade. His views are echoed by Dr James Pope, a media lecturer at Bournemouth University, who firmly believes that, in the years to come, books will come alive with interactivity.
The problem of piracy
But author Andy McDermott, who has just sold his millionth physical copy, believes that because things have mushroomed so fast, publishers face the challenge of systemising the process, so that things don’t get out of hand, like it did with the music industry:
Decreasing attention spans
But why are we becoming an increasingly digitised population?
‘Our attention spans are shifting. We want more immediacy and a bigger impact more quickly. That affects how we interpret things as well. It’s just human life evolving,’ says Tricia Walker whose book Benedict’s Brother is being converted into a movie.
But Dr Pope believes that we don’t have shorter attention spans, it’s just a matter of what keeps us interested: ‘If people did have shorter attention spans, then no one would go and watch a film because they last for about 2-3 hours. It’s just that the media and our behaviour have changed alongside each other.’
Mitchinson believes this will not affect the power of a good narrative: ‘Short attention span is part of the human condition. The modern age may have accentuated it because there are a lot more things to do but I don’t think it spells the end of the narrative. Things are adapting and changing and this is a good thing.’
Does this mean books are dead?
Mitchinson, one of the brains behind Unbound, says that digital books are not killing the physical copies. ‘What will happen is that physical copies will make great gifts, especially if they are beautifully bound and typeset, or else, they will have to be signed as collectible first editions.’
The rest of the authors on the panel, too, agree that digitized books and interactive websites are the way forward and that physical copies of books may just become collectable items.
McDermott, however, says that there will always be the rare exceptions: ‘One in 10 films actually makes a profit by Hollywood standards. But the profits they make are enough to make up for the nine that don’t. It looks like the book industry is headed that way.’
He adds, ‘There are obvious superstars like (J.K.) Rowling and (Dan) Brown who are guaranteed mega-sellers. The amount they make gives their publishers the confidence to put out things and take a risk with it.’ But, he, too, agrees that we are on the cusp of a digital revolution.
Mitchinson sums it up best saying, ‘Apps are redefining books and how one would read and interact with the text. It’s like Cortez looking out over the Pacific. We are right at the beginning of a huge adventure. It’s much bigger than even the invention of a paperback. This digital revolution really is like Gutenberg all over again.’