Despite great circulation growth and increasing subscriber numbers, Healthy Life Media’s Green Ideas magazine has had to cease production this year. And this isn’t the only magazine to do so in recent times. Quintessential Wellington publication FishHead also called it a day, and this news comes as Fairfax sells on another one of its own magazines. We chat to Healthy Life Media publisher Pip Mehrtens about the end of Green Ideas and what it takes to succeed in the magazine industry when audiences are becoming increasingly fragmented, and opting for digital over print.
In 2012, Healthy Life Media aimed to tap into the increasing concern it said Kiwis had for the environment—and give them practical ideas for easy ways to live more sustainably and save money—by launching the monthly magazine Green Ideas.
This was launched after its successful title Healthy Food Guide, which began circulating in 2005 but sadly for Healthy Life Media, it didn’t attract advertisers in the same way.
“It wasn’t financially sustainable,” says Mehrtens. “Green Ideas was bucking the trends in many ways with excellent circulation growth, subscriber numbers were [also] increasing at a fast rate of knots. But retail sales were in decline (retail price was $4.90), and it wasn’t getting the advertising support it needed.”
Green Ideas annual paid circulation rose from 6,170 in December 2013 to 7,434 in September 2015, according to ABC.
Mehrtens says readers were "gutted" and in addition to Facebook feedback about the end of the magazine, “hundreds and hundreds” of emails have poured in, with readers expressing their regret at the magazine coming to a halt.
“A big chunk of people don’t read or buy any other magazines, and don’t believe they can get this information anywhere else. We’ve had many people offer what they hope might be a solution and had lots saying they’d pay double the price if that will help bring it back,” she says.
She says there were also several apologies of devastated people, admitting they were part of the problem. “They read the website and email, read it at the library, or read friend’s copies, but never bought it or subscribed themselves, even though they loved it. There were many apologies for, in the interest of sustainability, passing each issue around to many other people instead of encouraging them to buy their own copies. And of course a massive number of 'thank yous' for the ideas and inspiration, and the valuable, positive solutions-focused content.”
In the interest of not leaving behind too much of a carbon footprint, sustainability-minded Kiwis don’t buy a lot, she says. “Especially not ‘unnecessary’ things. Many still won’t even know Green Ideas exists. The readers we did have were living sustainably, so Green Ideas was read online, at the library, at schools, and shared with friends and family. All of these are wonderfully sustainable practices, so we can’t criticise them for that. We applaud every initiative to live more sustainably,” she says.
Despite the fact that a large audience was moving online to read the publication and sharing it around, Green Ideas practiced what it preached and did use paper from sustainable sources (FSC Certified) and vegetable-based inks.
But, it’s not all doom and gloom. Green Ideas will be continuing on as an online brand, and Mehrtens says the company hopes it can bring the printed version back one day.
“We will continue to help kiwis have a more sustainable future by passing on ideas and inspiration to live more greenly via the website, email database and social pages. But we’re really disappointed. We’re passionate about sustainability and believe it’s incredibly important to our future. Hopefully one day we can bring the printed version back!”
Along with the Healthy Food family, which also includes a TV masthead and a website, Healthy Life Media also owns and operates the Gluten Free Food & Allergy Show.
On a more positive note for Healthy Life Media, Healthy Food Guide is “in good health” says Mehrtens. “One of the business benefits of ceasing printing Green Ideas is a renewed focus on the Healthy Food Guide brand. Watch this space, we are continuing to develop the brand in new and exciting ways, to further deliver on our mission to inspire people to have a healthy life and sustainable future.”
The award-winning title is one of the country's most successful magazines and is also published in Australia and the UK, with syndications completed in Holland and Greece.
So why has Healthy Food Guide done so well, when Green Ideas has had to call it quits?
“Healthy Food Guide is successful for many different reasons, but a key component is that it has remained true to its ethos of having independent, evidence-based, credible information and advice, genuinely healthy recipes and practical shopping tips. Healthy Food Guide is often referred to as a sanity check, a trusted expert friend, a go-to resource for getting the facts. People know they can trust it,” she says.
Another magazine, FishHead magazine, which focused on the Wellington region abruptly shut down late last month with a statement titled ‘FishHead is dead’.
Publisher Jack Martin, who also publishes Nelson magazine WildTomato said in the statement: "It is with great regret that I've decided to stop publishing FishHead magazine. We launched in April 2010 and somehow managed to publish 55 issues."
It was surprising FishHead abruptly came to an end after a redesign in 2014, which the editor at the time (February 2015), Dan Slevin, said (in a StopPress comment) was a successful one that had grown the publication's readership.
“Wellington's FishHead magazine grew readership by approximately 25 percent in the last quarter to 39,000. Our readership is now consistently higher than our sister magazine, WildTomato … This growth is down to a successful redesign earlier in the year and improvements in marketing and distribution as well as a commitment to entertaining and informative local content,” he said in the comment.
“It's hard work getting attention for local lifestyle magazines among advertisers and agencies but I do believe this is one of the genuine good news stories out of the latest stats and I hope that readers of this site will pay closer attention to us over the next 12 months. There's great value in advertising to Wellingtonians in FishHead.”
We’re not sure what happened between then and now, but it is a shame.
(This writer, in fact, did an internship there a few years ago when she was bright eyed and bushy tailed, attempting to earn her stripes in journalism. So, I know how passionate the staff and its readers were about the publication.)
StopPress attempted to contact Martin about the end of FishHead but has not had a response.
@FishHeadMag I'm sad to hear of the closure. A loss for Wgtn media. I've enjoyed all the writing I've done for you over the last few years.— Sadie Beckman (@sadie_beckman) January 26, 2016
Absolute pleasure working with you Max. https://t.co/OY3MUvglu0— FishHead Magazine (@FishHeadMag) January 26, 2016
No jobs were lost because the magazine was "between salespeople".
WildTomato is also continuing to go strong according to Martin who said its finances were in good health and that it was “business as usual” for the magazine, which printed its first issue in July 2006.
Wild Tomato is almost a decade old, with its first issue being printed in July 2006.
While the title isn’t shutting down, Fairfax has confirmed it has sold New Zealand Fishing News to editor Grant Dixon and owner of recreational angling website fishing.net.nz Grant Blair.
Fairfax communications manager Emma Carter says the magazine has a proud history. “ … having been the Kiwi angler’s bible for more than 30 years, and Grant has been editor for 23 of them.”
Dixon said on his purchase: “I’m grateful for this opportunity and appreciate the support we’ve had from Fairfax in taking over the title. It’s an exciting time, and Grant [Blair] and I are dedicated to ensuring the magazine remains the undisputed leader in its field.”
Carter says Mark Kitteridge and Sam Mossman, both long-serving editorial staff, will continue working on the magazine and that ownership was transferred on 1 February.
NZ Fishing News annual paid circulation decreased from 17,121 in March 2013 to 12,470 in September 2015.
In December last year, Fairfax group executive editor Sinead Boucher has confirmed six of its "smaller niche" titles—including reigning magazine of the year NZ Life & Leisure—had been sold as it continued to focus on its "core audiences and verticals".
The titles were: NZ Life & Leisure, NZ Lifestyle Block, The Cut, World, NZ Horse & Pony and Ponies.
There has been speculation Boating magazine was in negotiations for sale, but Carter says Boating magazine remains in the Fairfax portfolio.
Boucher said earlier Fairfax had been in the process of integrating its magazines into its digital businesses last year and "this coming year  we'll start to see some of the plans and visions come to fruition from the public point of view".
Bauer chief executive and MPA chair Paul Dykzeul was extremely positive about the deals, saying that it was a great thing for the industry to see these magazines passed on to passionate editors and publishers.
"The Fairfax business is changing dramatically, and it's great for the magazine business and great for the individuals," he says.
"They'll be very passionate owners and they'll do great things for their magazines. It's a hell of a lot better than just shutting them down and walking away from them."
After learning about NZ Fishing News StopPress asked Fairfax why the publication was sold and what this means for Fairfax’s place in New Zealand’s magazine industry, but the publisher did not respond to these questions.
It seems to survive in the magazine industry these days, publishers need to put just as much focus (and investment) into their online assets as they do in their magazines.
Bauer sought to grow its Fashion Quarterly audience last year by launching FQ.co.nz, and using a whole lot of Kiwi designers to do so, in an artistic campaign through FCB to spread the word of its online abode.
The site reached 77,000 visits in the seven weeks after going live.
This followed an announcement that Bauer would be investing $1.2 million in a marketing campaign to announce the launch of its new digital properties, following its decision to join the IAB.
Bauer head of digital Michael Fuyala said the $1.2 million investment was in addition to the ongoing editorial, marketing and social funding support Bauer already gave to the titles that fall under its umbrella.
Last year’s New Zealand quarterly magazine readership and circulation figures from February show the struggle magazines are having, with most titles experiencing a gradual dip in readership.
And what does Mehrtens think it takes to stay afloat in this ever-changing media climate?
“Know your readers deeply,” she says. “Then deliver them the best quality content, in whichever format on whatever platform is right for your brand and your audience. Innovate, innovate, innovate and ensure you have multiple revenue streams.”