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The medium of magazines – a journey towards complexity?
Written by Simpatico PR
Posted on 14th August 2017

It used to be so simple. Once upon a time there were magazines. And magazines contained pages. Some of the pages featured words and pictures put together by the editorial team, and some of the pages contained advertisements sold-in by the ad team.

Readers bought the magazines, or the magazines were circulated to a controlled audience. It took a whole lot of talented people to make it all work but that, in an oversimplified nutshell, was that.

And it worked. More to the point, it still works. But today a magazine represents a whole lot more. What was once more simple is now infinitely more complex and, while an ink-on-paper product might remain at the physical or emotional heart of the offering, magazines are now (largely) multi-platform products, reaching more people than ever before and in more ways than ever before.

Monocle cafe
More than a magazine: The Monocle Cafe is just one of the brand’s many incarnations outside print.

Of course such change, at such a fundamental level and at such pace, brings with it both opportunity and challenge. Terminology, for example, is one area that has struggled to keep pace. We refer now to ‘magazine media’ and ‘magazine brands’ in an effort to reflect the new multi-channel world rapidly emerging from the chrysalis of a long and illustrious printed past – but it’s fair to say these terms do not necessarily provide the perfect answer to what is, admittedly, an awkward question (as some commentators have pointed out).

ABC – Highlighting an industry in transition

Higher up on publishers’ list of priorities is the area of audience measurement. For a long time, the twice-yearly ABC report, with its focus on magazines as either print or digital editions, has served as a scorecard for the industry’s performance.

Success stories abound within each release of figures, and last week’s August 2017 data release is no exception, with titles such as The Economist, Monocle and Women’s Health reporting circulation rises. But in recent years ABC Day has increasingly served to highlight the nature of an industry in transition, with its emphasis on print and limited focus on the growth occurring across digital channels.

A quick scan of the ABC headlines, for example, might tell you that Immediate Media’s Radio Times sells, on average, an impressive 622,773 copies a week. You might possibly dig a little deeper into the data to learn the title has grown its loyal and highly-engaged subscription base by 4% year-on-year to almost 278,000 subscribers. You are probably less likely, however, to know about July’s 28.8% year-on-year increase in unique users on the Radio Times website, and the brand’s total weekly reach of 3.5m – up 9% year-on-year.

But change is gathering pace in this important area. ABC’s digital database already provides a more fully-rounded audience view for brands who choose to audit their digital products, events, emails and social media as well as print. And 2018 sees the launch of Audience Measurement for Publishers (AMP), the new service from the Publishers Audience Measurement Company (PAMCo), the successor to the National Readership Survey (NRS).

In June this year, as part of this transition, NRS audience measurement figures were released with a blend of NRS and AMP print readership data for the first time, drawing on 75% NRS print data and 25% AMP print data. From next year, advertisers and agencies will have access to de-duplicated brand reach data across mobile, tablet, PC and print.

The benefits of a moving towards a more complete view of today’s multi-platform magazine audience are clear for publishers and advertisers alike – and it all sounds very straightforward – but with a variety of industry stakeholders involved and multiple technical standards to align, there is no doubting the challenges involved in navigating from the industry’s simpler past to its more complex – and brighter – future.

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