Print & digital media will coexist for many years to come

Pamela Mardle
Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The recent release of ABC figures regarding net circulation of magazines between July and December 2011 painted a dark picture for the print industry. The bloodbath across men's lifestyle magazines, which saw Loaded numbers fall 30% to 34,505 over the past year shocked publishers and printers alike, but the total circulation numbers elsewhere reveal that this doom and gloom outlook is somewhat superficial.

Tim Holmes, director of magazine courses at Cardiff School of Journalism thinks that the future of print is bright for certain genres. "Luxury magazines can charge a high price to give readers an experience," he says. "Throwaway magazines, such as gossip weeklies or puzzle magazines, will continue to be a staple of train journeys; while indie magazines are often made by people who love traditional print design and there’s a lot of playful creativity to be had with paper."

The ongoing rise in distribution costs will be a factor in forcing publishers to reconsider their delivery methods. Sheetfed magazine printer Pensord’s head of estimating and costing, Louise Williams, says she has seen publishers cut print runs and paginations in some sectors, which she believes was to drive down the ever increasing cost of distribution and paper.

However, Denmaur’s marketing director, Peter Somerville, argues an alternative means of cutting distribution costs would be to reduce paper weights rather than push down paginations. Somerville predicts that increased use of lower-weight papers could be an immediate solution to "drive down distribution costs" and muses that, perhaps after this period of cutting costs as priority, publishers may balance out cost and quality, printing shorter runs on better-quality paper.

He said that demand in the paper sector was declining nonetheless, as expected in the current climate, while a Denmaur survey found that the majority of the print industry respondents thought that print runs may drop 30% and paginations by 10% in the near future.

While cost control continues to be a key issue, the rise in digital offerings may also be accountable for some of the drop in paper demand. Williams believes that clients could be turning to digital to deliver content in a more cost-effective way. "Print still has a place," she stresses, "but we are losing a lot of magazines to digital. Some new launches are purely online."

Different needs
The proof is in the pudding: digital editions have quadrupled since June 2011, rising from 16 to 72 magazines reporting digital replicas. The men’s lifestyle sector led the pack, as Men’s Health published the highest number of digital edition readers – a total of 7,779 – followed by GQ in third place with 5,731.

Bauer UK group production director Frank Ryan says: "Digital editions are great, but only specific ones that can handle that type of data. It offers more to the reader and extends the brand. But there is no real need for some publications to move into digital, such as women’s magazines."

Holmes also believes that digital can coexist alongside print "for a fair time yet", but adds that "when things change, they will change very quickly, like CDs replacing vinyl".

However, the strict definition of digital editions according to ABC (see below) suggests that there are more electronic versions circulating than have been reported. Only replica editions are accounted for in the audit, meaning that many digital publications differing more than 5% from the print counterpart are not considered in the ABC figures.

To combat this issue, publisher Future’s latest redesign is aimed to get its magazines resembling their online counterparts. So far, however, only three of more than 60 Future titles have had the tablet treatment.

MagCulture creative director Jeremy Leslie says digital editions are a long way from having an effect on the print industry. "People making apps are testing the water to see what the future holds rather than using them as an income distributor at present," he explains.

Pensord’s Williams agrees. She says that while publishers are not yet cashing in on digital offerings, the expansion adds value to the brand, acting as a necessary promotion tool. A Deloitte report found that a mere 5%-7% of offline advertising is being transferred to online publications, suggesting that digital products are not yet bringing in substantial revenue for publishers.

The ABC figures have a huge impact in the print industry at every biannual release, but while the immediate perception of the most recent audit is that of a bleak future for print, the bigger picture suggests sustainability across the magazine industry and its sectors. A framework seems to be evolving where digital publications build on their print counterparts, rather than devaluing them, which can only be good news for printers that are willing and able to help publishers deliver their content consistently across all platforms, including online, mobile and, of course, print.


ABC FIGURES: HIGHLIGHTS

  •   Magazine sales increased by 1.4% since last year, reaching a total net circulation of 1.2bn
  • The top three titles were customer magazines for Tesco, Asda and The National Trust
  • Sales of pre-school and pre-teen titles jumped by 27%
  • Private Eye recorded a 25-year circulation high, up 10% at 228,112
  • Women’s interest topped the market and sub sectors cookery and kitchen, weeklies, and lifestyle and fashion had the highest net circulation
  • Circulation of Loaded dropped by 30% in the past year
  • Digital editions of magazines rose 400% since the last audit period, bringing the total circulation to 72 compared to 16 reported in June 2011
  • The men’s lifestyle sector had the highest circulating digital editions: Men’s Health topped the chart with 7,779, and GQ came in third

READER REACTION

How do ABC figures affect the print industry?

Jeremy Leslie
Creative director, magCulture.com
"There is an element of people saving on what is seen as a ‘luxury item’, but it cuts both ways. Some are treating themselves to a magazine rather than a big shopping trip. iPad versions are one of a whole host of things affecting print, but it is relatively insignificant. The internet gives free access to content, and that is having a considerable effect across all genres. The New Yorker expects online subscriptions to overtake print in less than 10 years, but that would be exceptional. If other magazines follow suit, there would be significant changes in the world of print."

Louise Williams
Head of estimating and costing, Pensord
"We have seen a decrease in print runs, but more so in paginations. I think publishers are concerned about the cost of paper and distribution, which increases if paginations are higher and the publication weighs more. It looks like digital is the way forward. There is so much cost in distribution, can we afford not to go online? Publishers are still not cashing in on digital offerings, but it adds value to the brand. Printers need to keep up with this to sell themselves as a whole. Print still has a place, though. You can’t replicate that feeling of flicking through a magazine.

James Povey
Marketing director, Polestar
"It is great to see that the current rhetoric about the demise of print is wrong. Net circulation numbers are only marginally decreased since last year and advertisers still see print as a worthy medium. It is heartening to see such a firm indication that print is still being read, especially in terms of the increase in pre-school and teen magazines. It goes against the perception that young people aren’t reading. There does not need to be a conflict between print and digital – they can run alongside each other. We are working with clients on digital offerings in tandem with print."

You can read Dr Samir Husni's comment here

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