The undead: positive signs allow mag publishers to flip bird to naysayers

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of per capita magazine consumption in the world. And, despite plenty of crowing from the online sector about increasing revenue—and more than a few digi-evangelists still predicting the demise of paper—the domestic magazine market continues to grow. Of course, there are positive signs across most media as the economy starts to get a bit of a spring in its step, and some of the increases are more sizable than that of magazines and newspapers. But the increase in both readership and ad revenue in the supposedly antiquated print media sector seems slightly more notable because of the widely held belief that it is being eaten alive by the voracious online ‘printivore’.

Not surprisingly, ACP Magazine’s general sales manager Paul Gardiner says prophesies of this imminent death are greatly exaggerated, often come from those in the “online fraternity” and are out of step with the latest stats.

“What do you classify as print media? You can’t put newspapers and magazines in the same category. Magazines are still one of the few ‘paid for’ media and that should be really important to the advertiser. It’s that same old story, do you want to be shouted at or do you want to have a conversation with the consumer?”

He points out that overall ACP’s total circulation is up by two percent compared to four years ago.

“Some of our titles have dipped in circulation but at the same time we have added more titles in the market—segmentation vs fragmentation.”

Gardiner’s confidence is supported by stats released in New Zealand and the US that show magazines in both countries are on the upward swing after a couple years of serious knee knocking. This good news also comes hot on the heels of data showing largely positive readership numbers for the industry.

Starting at home, stats sourced from Nielsen’s Adquest show between July and October this year’s total gross advertising revenue for mags increased by 10.5 percent (unlike some other media, the NAB and the NPA don’t release quarterly ad revenue figures). Interestingly, all the old school mediums are up, with surprisingly whopping increases of over 50 percent for cinema and outdoor.

In the land of the free, magazines are back in fashion with a whopping increase in ad pages sold. Sitting pretty on the top ten list for US magazines is Vogue with an increase of 318.99 ad pages hocked to advertisers between January and December this year.

The other nine magazines to make the list put out by minonline.com are: StyleWatch, Elle Decor, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, InStyle, Real Simple, Chicago and Parenting Early Years (we’re sure Y&R NY and the US mag publishing industry will be claiming the rise is because of the very good, if a little defensive, pro-magazine campaign that’s been running this year).

“You have to understand that magazines are coming back from an extremely low ad base in the US, much more than we have experienced in New Zealand or Australia,” says Gardiner. “Some of the key industry categories that are core to magazines have come back strongly as the US economy bounces back. For example, automotive was up 45 percent in the third quarter of 2010, toiletries and cosmetics, food and apparel have also performed well.”

Martin Bell, chief executive of Tangible Media can also point to year-on-year readership and circulation increases for all of the company’s titles. And he believes these gains are also evidence of an ongoing trend towards a greater interest in, and engagement with, specialist niche media.

“As consumers, our overall media consumption is growing, but we need ways to cut out the dross and access the information that has meaning and relevance to us in our personal and professional lives. Magazines that engage with readers about very specific interests and passions, whether it is fishing, live music or a business discipline such as marketing, have increased relevance in this new media landscape,” he says. “More than ever we are time poor and as consumers our media choices are based on trusted relationships with magazines—and websites—that cut through the noise. It’s an environment that advertisers are increasingly drawn to as they also seek to be heard above the din of media noise.”

However, Bell says the days of magazines chocka full of traditional brand advertising are gone. “We’re seeing increasing demand from advertisers to reach their markets and stakeholders in new ways. Creating unique content for clients—from case studies through to bespoke websites through to their own customer magazines—has been a huge growth area over the last 12 months. We can use editorial disciplines to package up their story in a way that offers real value to the reader. For example, reader research on our advertorial showcase section in Idealog and NZ Marketing shows it is one of the most popular sections of the magazine. This content can then extend into many different mediums, like the advertisers own website or sales collateral.”

It’s all about “staying close and strategically relevant to your client”, says Bell.

Gardiner describes 2010 as a “successful year” for New Zealand magazines, especially considering the still improving economic climate and the “pressures on discretionary income”.

“From a circulation and readership perspective we have seen magazines bounce back from the recession. ACP Magazines has over 80,000 more readers now than a year ago. We have also seen over the past year that if you can get it right we can still grow the magazine market. We have launched three new titles into the market over the past 18 months (Lucky Break, Football and GoodHealth) and all of these have been successful in terms of circulation and ad revenue.”

And Gardiner reckons the fine weather is set to continue in 2011.

“We are already seeing strong forward bookings for 2011 based on strong category growth in the market,” he says.

To keep attracting advertisers, Gardiner sums up in one word what magazine publishers need to focus on: “creativity”.

“My view is that there has been a dip in the standard of magazine creativity over the past three to four years, this is reflected in the lack of magazine awards dished out at events like the Axis awards. We have launched a creative service into the market to help advertisers maximize their creativity around sponsorships and advertorials with magazines.”

Executive director of the Magazine Publishers Association, Jon McClintock, echoes Gardiner’s call for creativity by saying magazine publishers need to make strong content the priority, rather than getting “too tied up on the ranking of advertising dollars”.

He describes 2010 as “tough and educational” and says while we’re “not out of the woods yet”, the total media landscape is looking much better. “At last we have stopped dribbling on about green shoots,” he says.

McClintock believes magazines will always have appeal and generalisations about the print media are based on a “lack of understanding of the craft of the magazine publishing model”.

Citing stats from the July 2009 to June 2010 Nielsen report that show 88 percent of New Zealanders read magazines, he says such numbers have “an automatic appeal to advertisers”.

“Niche titles are very strong in New Zealand and they have a direct contact with a reader to an advertiser’s advantage. Another major factor of appeal to advertisers is that magazines have the unique ability to multiply the media impact. Magazines add value to the advertisers investment when magazines are added to any advertisers media plan.”

Sports magazines have experienced a 11.4 percent readership increase in the year ending September 2010, up from 898,000 in 2009 to 1,014,000 readers this year. And there’s also been a 10.1 percent increase in the number of main household shoppers reading women’s lifestyle magazines this year, compared with the previous year. Home, garderning and entertaining magazines are reaching 785,000 household shoppers, up by 60,000, or 7.65 percent, compared with September 2009.

Gardiner says the new research metrics for magazines being launched by Nielson in 2011 will provide “new information on magazine readers such as engagement and intention to buy and time spent reading should provide magazines with an advantage over other media”.

Sweet mag stats:

  • Over 7000 titles servicing a nation of 4.2M people.
  • 2009; 41,410,750 magazines sold at retail
  • 11 copies per head of population
  • 75 percent of magazines sold in NZ are published in NZ.
  • 3.7 million New Zealanders read magazines in July – June 2010 Nielsen survey.
  • 63.5 percent of New Zealanders buy magazines when they shop for groceries.
  • 12 million grocery baskets each year contain a magazine – which is more than wine, chocolate and ice-cream.

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