After a decade of painful declines in readership and ad sales during the media market’s transition to a digital-first model, magazine publishing has finally seen signs of opportunity and a potential rebirth. The sharp increase in tablet units being sold and the concurrent growth of magazine subscriptions optimized for these devices point to a potential revitalization of this stagnant segment of the media ecosystem.
Some magazines have boasted digital editions since the late 1990’s, yet they represented a small, nascent subset of the market. Why is the opportunity different with tablets? The answer is quite simple. Magazines were always about high engagement between a reader and a content brand. The ultimate “lean-back” media consumption experience, magazines were the pinnacle of deep, rich content entertainment.
This was never going to be replicated on the computer. The computer (desktop or laptop) was a “lean-forward” user controlled experience from the start. The form factor and UI of the computer was never going to replicate the high engagement nature of magazines, and it never did.
With the introduction of the iPad in 2010, the market had its first electronic device that could replicate and even enhance (with features like video) the curated, tactile experience of a magazine. For the first time, true digital subscription growth against digital editions is accelerating. Tablet unit consumption in the US grew from 34 million in 2011 to 70 million in 2012 and the growth is expected to continue. Recent circulation numbers from the Alliance of Audited Media indicate we are now approaching around 2.4 percent of magazine issues being delivered electronically with the real growth coming to the tablet optimized versions.
Publishers have done well to optimize their products to take advantage of the unique functionality that tablets provide, and have made great strides in extending their brand promise in new, exciting ways. Hearst’s march to 1 million paid digital subscriptions has been well documented, and although they are not entirely there, it shows a market exists for magazines to thrive in this new device universe.
The device–and the audiences’ appetite to consume magazine content on it–opens the door, but to really take advantage, publishers must do more. While the content products have been optimized, very little thought has been given to the advertising opportunity within tablet magazine editions. Most digital magazines carry PDF’s of the ads that ran in print versions (a byproduct of a long-standing rule that lets digital circulation count towards print rate base fulfillment), and offer very little in the way of data or analytics on the audience’s engagement with advertising.
Advertisers need to be able to deliver tablet optimized advertising creative, at scale, with real reporting on advertising delivery and performance. Tablet magazine advertising needs to be planned, bought and measured as its own segment within the magazine ecosystem. If the happens, the interest and demand among advertisers will be there.
As the scale of tablet devices and magazine readers continues to expand, the opportunity is very real and immediate. Magazine publishers must get out of the way of their old models and embrace the new ones that can transform this game changing opportunity into the rebirth of an industry.