Is Online the Solution for Magazines?
Newspapers are bleeding red ink, and many mags are following in their footsteps.
Newspapers are bleeding red ink, and many magazines are following in their footsteps. Magazine ad pages are down by 9.5 percent so far this year, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, and 3Q ad pages were down almost 13 percent.
Like newspapers, should magazines be looking more closely at online as a source of readership and, eventually, revenue? If expenses can be trimmed sharply by cutting down on costly printing and distribution costs, perhaps publishers can get some financial breathing room.
I’m not advocating dropping print for the Web. I’m old school—I like to thumb through a paper or a magazine. But my preferences aside, the printed pages of magazines continue to make sense for some product categories. Selling the smooth lines of a new car or the beauty and sexiness of fashion items? It’s hard to beat the rich color of a glossy magazine page. And the Web experts haven’t yet figured out how to sample fragrance online the way scratch & sniff pages in a magazine can.
So there’s still a place for printed magazines.
Yet online content can draw—and engage—readers that many magazine advertisers crave. Magazines, though, need to do a better online job than most are now doing, where their landing pages are little more than ads for the print editions. Even if the online edition contains all or most of what’s in print, publishers have to give readers a reason to visit frequently, rather than only when the new print edition ships.
Newspapers have the advantage of a new edition every day, which can point readers to what’s online in a topical and timely way. The challenge for magazines is to reach out to readers more than once a month, using methods other than links in the monthly print edition. E-mails are a quick and relatively inexpensive way to reach out. Tie-ins with other media—newspapers, TV and radio, and their Web sites—can also bring readers to a magazine site more often. Even advertising unique Web content in other media can work.
Building a real online presence will take time and it will require a financial commitment. But magazine publishers must think long-term so they’ll have more to sell once we get through these tough times.