Biggest Lesson from Magazine Media 360°: Print Continues to Captivate Readers

Although the President and CEO of the Association of Magazine Media (MPA) Mary Berner has witnessed a massive rise in digital media — from social to video and everything in between — she still sees a robust print economy that remains relevant to all types of readers. Berner helped create Magazine Media 360° Brand Audience Report last September. The report shares audience growth numbers across all major media formats and has offered new insight into the kinds of content readers want most and what channels are driving the largest audiences. In the following interview, Berner shares what she’s learned over the past year managing Magazine Media 360° and why print remains an attractive platform for readers.

At the Yale Publishing Course (YPC) in July, Berner will dive deeper into these topics and offer insight on ways the Magazine Media 360° report can benefit publishers’ audience development strategies.

YPC is a week-long educational program that assembles a faculty of magazine industry leaders to share forward-looking strategies. Additional program details and registration information can be found here.

What important insights has MPA gained about the magazine media industry since launching Magazine Media 360°?
Magazine Media 360° was launched last September to capture consumer demand for magazine media across multiple platforms and formats — a first for any media.

Before Magazine Media 360°, the narrative about “magazines,” as defined by solely the print format, was consistently negative, and largely inaccurate. With Magazine Media 360°, we can confirm, with credible third-party data, that our relationships with consumers across multiple platforms and formats (including print) are strong, enduring, and expanding.

Why is it important to track audience across these platforms?
It is important because tracking the print format alone gives an incomplete — and therefore inaccurate — picture of consumer demand for magazine media. And in the wild west of omni-channel media, consumer demand is the essential indicator of an industry’s ability to prosper in the future as well as the only comparable currency. So as we move through these early days of digital media, Magazine Media 360° puts structure around the measurement of the full magazine media audience, not only providing a true measure of the vitality of the industry and its individual players, but also laying the groundwork for the introduction of strategies and tools which promote long-term profitable growth.

The Magazine Media 360° Brand Audience Report not only confirms the fact that overall magazine media audiences have been growing an average of over 10% per month, but also illustrates the increasing importance of digital platforms and formats to our consumers. Web, mobile web, and video represent 40% of magazine media’s total gross audience, compared to 34% a year ago.

Are there significant differences between print audience vs. web vs. social audiences? Are these audiences looking for different kinds of content?
It depends largely on the brand. But more often than not, delivering content created specifically for a particular platform, through the lens of a magazine’s “brand umbrella,” has served to attract new audiences (often younger) to individual magazine brands.

In the first quarter of 2015 vs. 2014, magazine media mobile web audience grew over 65%, video audience growth is up more than 14%, and many of the brands are reporting that there is very little duplication with their print audience. Ditto with social media. Our Magazine Media 360° Social Media Report shows that magazine media consumers are enthusiastically interacting with their brands on social platforms.

Publishers are continuing to innovate around creating content for different channels because that is what their audiences want.

What trends are you seeing emerge in the industry?
Digital platforms and formats are increasingly important to our consumers, with print and digital edition audiences, while flat overall, representing a smaller part of the growing pie. The overall growth is coming from an expansion into mobile and video.

However, the total audience for print magazines is holding steady, and for over 10 years the number of print magazines has remained constant at 9,000 titles. Americans of all ages read print magazines — especially younger adults. Counterintuitively, adults under 25 read more print magazines than adults over 25.

We have seen some surprising launches over the past year or so poking pretty big holes in the ill-informed “print is dead” narrative. For example, websites like WebMD and C-Net have launched print magazines, as have online businesses such as Paperless Post and Angie’s List. Each time one of these players launches a print magazine, the reasons cited are remarkably similar: print deeply engages consumers and delivers a tangibility, permanence, and credibility that no other media offers.

So I think we will see more bold changes on the digital front, with more video and mobile innovation, but that we will also see print continue to play an important role in the overall magazine media mix.

Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.