The latest magazine circulation and readership figures came out last week, replete with a few significant changes to the research methodology and mostly downward-trending numbers. But, as ex Saatchi & Saatchi big wig and current Assignment Group don Peter Cullinane discussed at the Nielsen Innovation Seminar this week, magazines still have a very good story to tell because they have higher levels of engagement than other mediums, something a few publishers are trying to tap into with recent changes to their products.
To paraphrase Cullinane, not all eyeballs are created equal. Despite the ease with which digital can be measured, many of them, like click-through rates, are superficial. Magazines, however, give consumers context and, as ACP's neuroscientific study in Australia last year showed, context is key if you want the advertising to be more effective. Content is still king, he says, and magazine advertising creative could do with some improving, but the engagement levels of readers are crucial, which is something media folk need to understand and is something the more indepth Nielsen CMI research is attempting to address.
Next is certainly aiming for more engagement with its relaunch issue. As well as thorough redesign, a new masthead and a different size, it also ran the results of a survey completed by almost 1600 New Zealand women for its first ever Body Issue (check out the results here).
"Putting women in the nude on the cover has certainly created some good talkability. And there's been some great feedback from our readers and advertisers so far," says ACP's Fiona Lyon. "Can't wait to see the sales figures next week."
Lyon says they ummed and ahhed about printing three separate covers for the relaunch issue, each featuring one of the three nude ambassadors—Robyn Malcolm, Amanda Billing and Sonia Gray—but they eventually decided on running three different covers inside the same magazine.
Lyon says the spruce up, which was done inhouse by the art department, is an attempt to improve the numbers (the latest ABC figures show average net paid circulation is down to 37,837 from the apex in 2005 of 67,564 and readership is fairly static on 349,000), but also to differentiate it from ACP's other monthly Australian Women's Weekly, which posted readership growth of 18,000 year on year and has claimed three consecutive annual readership increases.
She says the significant changes to the masthead aim to give it a more premium, sophisticated feel that will attract a younger readers between the ages of 30 and 40. And a more international editorial focus (new editor Sarah Henry took over in November) is also part of that strategy.
North & South—which clocked in with average net paid circ of 23,661 in the latest audit, down from its peak of 36,461 in 2004, and was down 30,000 readers to 269,000 compared to last year—has also decided the time is right for a design change.
"We thought it was time for a masthead refresh—and something that better reflects our all-New Zealand content," says editor Virginia Larson. "We believe it has a subtle but distinctly Kiwi look. Our art director, Jenny Nicholls, worked with graphic designer Alistair Lang (Homemade Pictures) on the new masthead. He came up with four or five concepts and together they worked up the winning design."
Publisher Lisa Ralph says it’s a subtle change to the outside eye, which should minimise any disruption at retail and amongst the subscriber base. But internally, it’s a significant step, "like the artist’s closing signature on the canvas they have been working on these past years".
"Retail sales have been really strong for the past quarter, thanks to some great cover stories by Virginia’s team, so it’s a good time to push the go button for this change," she says. "... All of Virginia and Jenny’s work in reshaping this magazine comes together under a masthead they are both very happy with. Jenny Nicholls is an outstanding art director – I think the best in the country. North & South has long been known as New Zealand's leading current affairs title, with too many awards to mention, and since 2007 Jenny’s direction has also made it a premium branding environment, a real pleasure to read with its photography, design and illustrators etc giving a cadence and elegance not often seen in current affairs magazines. This masthead I hope will signal to the agencies too, who maybe know it so well, that North & South is always shifting, with the country, with our readers – it’s fresh."
Elsewhere in magland, while finding a business model that works in the online realm is still proving problematic for most of the magazine sector, some publishers are doing their best to combine the power of print with the utility of digital.
Sue Hoyle, the publisher of Upstart Magazine, which won the magazine of the year award in the youth and pop culture category at the 2010 magazine awards, has just launched a new website for the magazine, complete with the Upstart Online toy shop.
"It's taken a lot of work but I got there in the end. I'm kicking off the shop very slowly by only stocking a select number of items from those that are advertised in each edition of the magazine and as I develop my supplier agreements with key advertisers."
The idea is simple enough: kids can read the mag in print or digitally on the website and then if they wish to purchase an item, they can click straight through to the shop.
"I have often had parents and grandparents wanting to know where to purchase many of the latest items featured in the mag, so I'm aiming to provide a convenient, quick and easy purchasing option for them."
Every year, Variety supports more than 10,000 New Zealand children and their families and since 1989 it has given more than $13 million to sick, disabled and disadvantaged children.
Editor Sarah Stuart says the partnership is a “perfect match” and the magazine will work hard to help Variety’s message reach more New Zealanders.
“So many fantastic people work with Variety to help New Zealand children and their families in so many ways, both big and small. We want to tell everyone about that work, and spread the message that all Kiwis can be part of this wonderful charity.”
New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, while aiming to create awareness for all of Variety’s activities, will focus especially on the Variety Future Kiwi Kids programme, helping disadvantaged children overcome life’s challenges. This includes individual and group scholarship programmes, the Future Kiwi Kids endowment fund and various educational initiatives.