Magazine engagement grows during lockdown despite being deemed ‘non-essential’

It was a disappointing blow to the publishing industry when the New Zealand Government deemed magazines and their distribution ‘non-essential.’ However, despite this call, early reports suggest engagement has climbed as editors adapted their offering to overcome restrictions.

The non-essential ruling decision caused a lot of unnecessary hardship within the magazine and publishing industry, leading to speculation that the industry itself was on the decline. Yet the opposite seems true as Kiwis across all demographics have been renewing their love of magazines during the Covid-19 lockdown.

According to Nielsen, magazines are the most trusted media type, which reigned true in the crisis.

Figures from Nielsen (CMI Oct 18 – Sept 19) that showed 3.6 million Kiwis had read a magazine in the past year (85 per cent of all people 10+) up 2.8 percent year on year. We note these figures were collected before the closure of Bauer Media

Early reports suggest a spike in supermarket magazine sales over the Covid-19 period, and both online and social properties owned by magazines are booming, with some reporting up to 250 per cent audience growth across the lockdown period. 

Tony Edwards of magazine distribution company Ovato Retail told publishers at a recent webinar his contacts at the two big supermarket chains were reporting a big uplift in magazine sales – some days up to 50 per cent YOY – for the period leading into lockdown and the first week of lockdown. Youth titles and specialist titles performed especially well.

For the publishers behind these titles, it is not surprising that performance has continued to increase. Our magazine industry remains vibrant, rich and varied.

The MPA said in a statement that the publishers behind these titles are passionate, determined and light on their feet. They’ve worked for years to transform their titles: adding digital, video, social, podcasts and events to create true cross platform brands – and in recent months there have been plenty of positive signs for magazines.”

Even before lockdown, publishers and editors were adapting their offering to stay relevant to changing consumer habits. Now, during lockdown, this innovation to adapt has become more apparent.

Just before the lockdown began, dish magazine, run by editor Sarah Tuck was brought forward by the team working late nights in order to make the last print. This effort has been recognised by readers, with the issue seeing a 58.6 percent rise compared to the same time last year.

The dish team and many others saw this as an opportunity to increase their online offers and service their readers in new innovate ways while they were in isolation. Sarah Tuck increased her weekly email newsletter to three times a week, and reports website traffic has been “incredible – better than any time in the history of the magazine.” She worked hard at getting the content of each missive right – hanging off sending it out until after the 1pm updates each day. When the PM announced the lockdown end date, Dish was ready to link readers to a full list of restaurants they could use under Level 3.

The team at NZ Geographic magazines recognized the plight of locked down parents with school-aged kids, and responded with Together at Home, a digital resource using NZ Geographic content and activities for kids. They also launched Great Reads, an edited selection of the magazine’s best long-form content. Website traffic rose 250 per cent for the month, and the title gained 400 new digital subscribers.

At Wilderness magazine three lockdown stories, shared in the magazine’s daily email missive, attracted more than 4000 web visitors each, making them the magazine’s most popular stories of all time. The editorial team at Management magazine pulled together their first podcast – on how to look good in a Zoom conference. And Homestyle magazine got its 67,700-strong Instagram audience engaged with sharing images to show how their homes have become “unstyled” under lockdown.

Editors and publishers across New Zealand are innovative, ingenious and committed to servicing their readers and clients and have shown just how much by buckling down and doing what they could, even when being told they were not essential. Even now, editors are planning to overcome restrictions of the upcoming level three in different ways.

Sarah Tuck of Dish magazine has a makeshift studio, complete with lighting and blacked out windows, set up in the living room she shares with two adult sons.

Life & Leisure magazine, known for its beguiling bucolic covers, has changed direction for its next issue, due out this week, and commissioned an artwork instead of photography.

Now, as level three comes into place next week, a collective sigh is heard as magazine publishing and distribution is allowed to restart. Yet in a lot of ways the damage has been done, titles have suffered and many have been closed to the restrictions.

Bauer Media was closed week one of lockdown, and although speculation surrounds the parent companies reasoning behind closing the New Zealand arm, the struggles that they faced not being able to distribute was cited as a probable reason.

Alongside Bauer, Stuff reported that AGM is shutting Urbis, Houses and Interiors magazines, with publisher Nathan Inkpen attributing it to the gloomy prognosis for media even after lockdown ends. 

We hope that as Kiwis continue to bunker down with their favourite titles during lockdown, that appreciate for the work that goes into them will be acknowledged.

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