by Georgia Bea Edkins
WIJ’s “What is the future of magazines – digital, print or both?” seminar hosted by the Good Housekeeping Institute and sponsored by digital magazine subscription platform Readly UK was a stimulating evening of sparky discussion about the value of print and digital magazines and how both can survive and thrive.
The panel chaired by the Editorial Director of Good Housekeeping and former WIJ chair, Lindsay Nicholson, included Helen Lewis – Deputy Editor of the New Statesman, Audrey Ward – Features Editor of the Sunday Times Magazine, Ranj Begley – MD of Readly UK and Nicola Rowe – Director of Membership and Circulation at PPA.
Whilst newspaper print circulation is in decline, with The Sun slipping below it’s 2m daily sale for the first time in 43 years in 2014 and The Independent and The Independent on Sunday announcing they will cease print editions of the publications in late March, thankfully, the future for magazines looks a little less turbulent with the number of launches up 31% last year.
A clear picture emerged of how different devices and platforms suit different times and places. Mobiles dominate the search for news in the morning, tablets are the preferred device for magazine content, while a print version may be the choice for a long train or plane journey.
Helen Lewis suggested that the New Statesman’s 14% increase in sales last year was down to millennials realising the importance of physical items. In the same way that books are becoming more popular following a frenzy of Kindle-mania not so long ago, print magazines are making a come back, with Nicola Rowe claiming they can provide the varying content that the consumer wants whilst also specialising in a particular area.
Readly UK Managing Director, Ranj Begley assured there was a place for print and digital magazines to run concurrently. Audrey Ward supported this when she said that although the Sunday Times online is behind a paywall, the data collected from the magazine’s online traffic shows which content leads to new subscribers and enables journalists to tailor content for their readership. The newly-relaunched magazine’s cover story about Taylor Swift was freely available online, prompting a lot of activity on social media – expect more free content from the Sunday Times in future.
One of the main issues that arose throughout this debate, however, was the problem with monetising digital content. Lewis claimed that mobile display advertising revenue was not enough to sustain long-form journalism, and echoed Ward when she suggested that a ‘pay-fence’ model, adopting a mixture of paid-for and free content rather than an outright paywall was the best way to finance digital content and maintain reader loyalty.
The five women were all very optimistic about the future of magazines both in digital and print and saw hurdles such as the monetising of digital content and the distribution of independent magazines as imminently surmountable.
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