Bucking the Trend: Some Brands Find a Pulse in Print, Desktop
While many believe print is in a long, slow death spiral, magazine formats have not fully ceded to video hegemony or mobile monopolization just yet. As we’ve been reporting in our monthly analysis of the Magazine Media 360º Brand Audience Reports since its inception, both digital video and mobile web have been the growth drivers for most legacy media that are embracing the transformation. But that’s not the whole story. In the enthusiast and niche interest categories especially, some print and print-like experiences are not only hanging on, but growing.
In our April data, just seven titles out of more than 150 tracked stand out because they’ve seen growth in both print+digital (a rollup of print and digital-edition circulation) and desktop/laptop digital. Most publishers are declining in at least one, if not both of these “legacy” buckets. For us, this anomaly was a natural story, so we visited with some of the brands that are seeing growth, to try and uncover their secret sauce.
Sharon Houghton, group publisher at Active Interest Media’s Outdoor Group, tells us there’s a special resilience in print for enthusiast publications. She points to Backpacker as evidence. It’s up 12.2% print+digital and up 42.8% in desktop YTD, versus 2016. But Houghton says there’s more behind those numbers. “We see an average read time of 43 minutes,” she says. “People are engaged.” The explosive growth on desktop is a direct result of a move to a new backend system to which AIM is migrating. “The results have been fantastic,” Houghton says, citing better UX and ad placement. “CTR has more than doubled, and viewability is up significantly.” In this case, the tech is following a specific strategy for AIM to move away from chasing scale and instead focus on engagement.
While Traditional Home focused on user experience, tech and enhancing engagement to support print and digital, Popular Science (+10.3% Print+Digital, +43.3%Desktop) says less is more when it comes to quality content. Success has been a direct result of editorial focus, suggests Editor-in-Chief Joe Brown. “This is our strategy working,” he says. “We’re simply telling better stories” and focusing on quality over scale. At PopSci.com, they are yielding more traffic from fewer posts. “In print, instead of chasing celebrity cover subjects, we’re tackling stories that we know resonate with people—and trying hard to be different from every other magazine on the rack.”
PopSci Online Director Amy Schellenbaum argues that higher quality pays. “More journalism means better engagement, more linkbacks and promotion from others in our industry and an improved bounce rate.”
Also key to PopSci’s growth is its outreach beyond the traditional core and to broader audiences across demos, gender and region. Brown adds, “We’re trying to be inclusive and speak not only to different genders and ethnic backgrounds, but also to the Americans between the coasts. According to ComScore’s numbers, 48% of our digital readers are now women. In August of 2016, it was 29%. This is on purpose.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Traditional Home still does a little of its marketing the old-fashioned way, but with a new audience. The brand saw 8.8% growth in print+digital year-to-date in April over the same period in 2016. Younger demos may be discovering print. Beth McDonough, publisher, tells min, “We continue to solicit paid subscribers through our direct-mail efforts, with an emphasis on tapping into new audiences. We have placed a recent focus on targeting Millennials, who share an appreciation for authenticity and craftsmanship—two attributes that have always been core to our editorial product and the projects/products we feature in our content.” The brand says the latest MRI report showed a 17% increase in Millennial audience for the magazine. And in this regard, the brand believes high levels of social sharing in the digital channel are paying off in brand awareness for print subscriptions.
Speaking of sharing—that’s part of the secret sauce Smithsonian (+10.3% print+digital, +16.6% desktop) behind some of the brand’s gains, across analog and digital properties. “The Smithsonian brand is all about engagement,” says Chief Digital Officer Bill Allman. “We connect with our users, activate their minds and spur their creativity. And engaged users are also sharers.” He cites True Social Metrics data published in the September, 2016, Boxscores that showed the brand enjoying a healthy .54 ratio of Facebook likes to followers, and a shares-to-followers ratio of .22, considerably ahead of many magazine brands across news, travel and popular science categories. Allman also says the digital properties help broaden the base. “Smithsonian.com is not a museum and it is not your grandfather’s museum audience,” he quips. His digital properties are half Millennial, where at museums “you see kids and their grandparents.” But part of the editorial mission is what Allman described as the brand’s unofficial internal motto: “Smithsonian.com: Make Yourself More Interesting.” This is where brand and sharing converge. It aspires to make its readers “the most interesting person in the room” when they go out. Smithsonian readers want to share the content they got from this brand. “We call it ‘Intellectual Bling,’” says Allman.