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Recently, I had the privilege of attending the ACT7 Experience, a conference led by Dr. Samir Husni, founder of The Magazine Innovation Center at The University of Mississippi. Dr. Husni, or Mr. Magazine, as he’s referred to in the industry, is a leading advocate for ink on paper mediums. His conference gathered 100+ industry leaders from every corner of the magazine business—legacy media companies, new magazine brands, newsstand distributors and leading retail experts, printers, circulation experts, and more—to discuss the future of the magazine industry and debate some of the challenges we collectively face.
When you read ink on paper, more parts of your brain light up than when you read digitally, because you stimulate four senses—eyesight, smell, sound, and haptics (touch). Eyesight is a given, as paper provides valuable real estate for visual imagery with high production quality. Sound and smell are a bit more nuanced, although I encourage you to pay attention to your fellow patrons the next time you are at a newsstand or paper store: you’ll be able to spot a paper lover if they’re indulging in a whiff when they think no one is watching. Haptics are what really set paper over the edge, making it an effective, stimulating platform that boosts engagement and recall. Again, look around at your fellow paper lovers: you may notice them physically petting a beautifully printed or textured piece.
Why are haptics so important when it comes to magazine reading? While we may not be the top species from a vision or auditory perspective, we are number one when it comes to haptics or touch. We’ve got 2,000 receptors in our fingertips alone, logging whatever we touch in our brain—be it a smooth, cool piece of silk or a rough, aged elm tree. When you feel the quality of soft touch on paper, your relationship to the piece changes because it feels luxurious, expensive, and you value the piece and brand more. Your blood pressure and heart rate also decline as a result of touching print on paper, signaling to your brain it’s time to slow down and read all the words. On paper, we read for content, context, and language, seeking the narrative. Because we read that way, we are able to secure the information in our long-term memory. Comparatively, in the digital space, we’ve become skimmers. This is because the minute we pick up a device, we know there is a tremendous amount of information we need to get through, so we skim, looking for bullets and keywords.
Intersecting a consumer with paper helps foster a relationship with the brand, increasing brand perceptions, brand desirability, and valuation of the product or service being advertised.
A lot of retailers think that declining magazine sales at the newsstand is attributed to users turning to digital media and not because of the recession. They’re not wrong to think that consumers are turning more and more to digital media, but they’re not turning to digital media in favor of print media. Rather, consumers often turn to digital to fill needs they previously went to big box retailers to fill. As such, consumers are going to the store less and have smaller basket sizes in favor of ordering and buying online from online retailers, like Amazon. Magazine sales are down in brick-and-mortar retailers because sales in general are down in brick-and-mortar retailers.
We are moving toward a subscription-based economy, with Amazon Prime having an estimated 80 million members spending an average of $1,300 per year. But it doesn’t stop there! Consumers have subscription services to food delivery services like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh, clothing rental services like Rent the Runway or Gwynnie Bee, and even monthly automatic refill subscriptions for everyday CPG items, like razors from Dollar Shave Club.
With an average of 90% of magazine readership coming from subscriptions, magazines are poised for growth in a subscription-hungry economy, but it might not be in brick-and-mortar stores, especially as we see share of big box retailers declining as well as brick-and-mortar closures.
Read our whitepaper about how print is not dying, but thriving.
2016 saw 210+ magazine launches, meaning a new magazine was launched nearly every business day. In the last five years, we’ve seen legacy publishers launch new titles like Hearst’s HGTV Magazine or Meredith’s Magnolia Journal to engage an audience that wants certain types of content on ink and paper. We’ve also witnessed niche audience brands and regional brands enter the scene including ROVA, a magazine dedicated to reaching Millennials on the road (who, by nature, have a predisposition to print media); Good Grit, a magazine dedicated to an elegant and progressive reflection of Southern culture; Take, a magazine featuring in-depth stories of people in New England who are shaping culture; or Jarry, a magazine that explores where food and gay culture intersect.
When faced with the question of why launch a magazine, these passionate publishers did not flinch. They find their audiences want great content (and even want to save their issues to have a complete collection). They also believe there is an element of digital fatigue with certain audiences moving away from screens entirely to live more mindfully.
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