2014 was a progressive year for digital magazines – mainly because I think publishers now realize they aren’t going to bring in the revenue they need to ‘prop up’ apparent declining print circulation revenue using current methods and techniques. Investments will need to be made, sacrifices and ambitions modified.
But I still think there has been progress. This year’s raucous Digital Magazine Awards was the most successful yet, with more mainstream titles and customer publishers fiercely contesting for awards. There were less ‘art installation’ style apps (however dazzling they may be they aren’t the future). And we saw some very familiar names grabbing awards that hadn’t been there previously (too busy to enter, no doubt). Elle, Dare, Stylist, Metal Hammer and more all were rewarded for their sterling work. And next year’s awards will see even more entries and countries involved.
We also had the International Digital Magazine Summit on the same day, and the general feeling was a positive one, but there is a great deal of work to be done. Neil Morgan from Magvault.com gave us some perspective about the massive growth of digital businesses such as Uber and Airbnb in one year alone. Where do ‘magazines’ as a concept or market figure compared to those guys. Nowhere.
Culture change has sadly been slow, PDF replicas still exist, and there has been a lack of experimentation and real innovation in magazines. Print is still king (or queen) over digital editions, and the 2010/11 dreams that tablets and phones may ‘save publishing’ is now steadily becoming a daily nightmare for many. How do we turn this around?
Things have to change – and they will – I can’t think of a day working on digital magazines where I didn’t learn something new, however small. Also, the tools and operating systems are changing all the time, publishers are realizing it’s as much about the ‘back end’ as it is about the ‘front end’. I want to see magazine editors and creative teams taking a risk with their own apps, trying new ideas much more often. Working with archive content, working with live content, making more video, making more, end of. Why not create your own innovation team within your own group? It’s all there to be owned and not too late. And anything is possible with support from the top down.
1. The bad news first
Some digital magazine apps will close. Sorry to start with a gloomy negative prediction, but after seeing the (quite frankly) excellent Esquire Weekly UK edition team sadly announce its end, I can see a few more digital editions disappearing from Newsstand. Lack of marketing, lack of innovation, lack of product ownership from the editorial team, poor value subscriber offers, too-heavily resourced, print mindset, poor technical support, no support from Apple or advertisers, wrong market, its a PDF… there are loads of reasons apps fail. We need to nip these in the bud and fast.
2. Continuous Publishing model
Article-based consumption, not entire issues. Evo started this on iPad in magazine terms, I recall, and others will definitely follow. Look at ‘Espresso’ by The Economist. Great idea, fits with their readership, and it works very well. Yahoo (yes, Yahoo!) has a strong contender in their twice-daily and rather smart ‘News Digest’ app for mobile. Simple, easy to use, plenty of additional context, enough info for a commute, and home. Plus it’s beautifully designed. And, it’s free.
3. Mastering mobile
According to Ovum, over one billion people will use mobile as their only source of accessing the Internet in 2015. In 2014 we’ve finally seen most mainstream magazine publishers create magazine-focused apps for iPhone and android phones. However, only a handful has really got anywhere close to innovating or trying anything remotely experimental. Conde Nast UK have created a great workflow that uses a CMS, smart templating, HTML, InDesign and DPS, and if you look at Wired, GQ, Glamour and co you’ll see where they are headed. Its bold. But not bold enough. I would still love to see more apps and user-friendly products published alongside an entire ‘monthly’ publication, but for now its a start, albeit a little after the horse has bolted. The iPhone has been around longer than the iPad. Many other magazines now have bespoke-designed iPhone editions, Classic Rock and Metal Hammer, Top Gear, T3, Stylist, Harrods and Stylist are all great examples. But are they selling? Do readers really want to trawl through a whole edition? If you look at the Newsstand grossing charts, there are still PDF replica editions flying high and bringing in revenue, whereas the more bespoke offerings are somewhat lower down. So there is a market, of sorts. There is still a long way to go for publishers on phones – and this should be right at the forefront of any digital transformation strategy in 2015. Like I said in my ‘Magazine Diaries’ article, I really think publishers need to rip it up and start again. Seriously.
4. Independents and self-publishing
Simply have a look at some of the independents and self-publishers and what they are doing, free from ABC circulation pressure, and old-fashioned print mindset workflows. Ernest Journal, The New British, Sister Mag, Brilliant Baking Magazine, The Unlimited, Bande A Part, Snoovies, #5 magazine, and – even Cristiano Ronaldo has his own digital magazine. Maybe what they are all doing is far braver, finding a niche, and exactly what mainstream publishers could at least try out for a period. If Esquire Weekly didn’t have the Esquire name, perhaps something else, would it have done better? Controlled experimentation is vital, especially when digital means global, and a quickly moving target. Try and learn, fail, increase knowledge in the process, start again, keep focus, win.
5. Shoppable, wearable, unstoppable
We’ve seen how Grazia, Stylist and Porter, Harrods, Argos and others have added shoppable features to their digital editions in 2014 to great success. In 2015 we’ll see targeted ads, more shopping baskets across even more magazines, and we’ll also see brand new ventures by publishers that focus entirely on e-commerce for apps, digital media and wearable technology. Mobile Pay may well be the force of the year in the digital magazine market, and if you aren’t already planning your attack on reader’s wallets and purses, it’s never too late.
Looking at wearable tech, and the ‘Internet Of Things’ – smart cars, smart thermostats and security devices – consumers are looking to manage their busy lives via connected devices and phones. Accenture research confirms that ownership of wearable technology, i.e.: smart watches and fitness devices, is also expected to increase, with just under 50% of consumers owning or planning to own this form of device in the next 5 years. Where do magazines and content fit into this? Article-based publishing might be the start, smaller bite-size entry points to a longer read, perhaps. Or why is not something different and new? Print will still exist, of course, but the kids aren’t reading print magazines. They want it instantly, on their device, all devices, probably free, or super-cheap, and will move on in a flash if what you are offering doesn’t meet their expectations or ambitions. (Digital magazine publishers, take note).
One thing is for sure: Monthly magazines will be a thing of the past if we don’t look to the future, learn and adapt, right now. (David Hicks)