Wednesday 15 February 2017

Adapting to digital upheaval in the magazine industry

There have been monumental changes to the magazine and digital publishing industry recently and publishers are facing a variety of challenges. Mobile design, virtual reality, building trust with diverse communities, shifting revenue models, and finding new formats for storytelling as technology shapes content: these are among the biggest issues journalists are currently grappling with. So what are the most critical challenges facing magazines & digital publishing?

Each publisher is different, but there are some issues that are facing almost all publishers. From a digital perspective, I think these are the core issues that encapsulate the critical challenges facing magazine and digital publishing today.

Last year brought its biggest ever challenge to publisher’s revenues, as readers increasingly seek free content, print circulation declines and ad blockers rise in popularity. Some are trying creative ways of recouping that lost revenue like the Economist’s low-cost Espresso subscription, but others will reluctantly admit that neither apps nor social channels are delivering the cold, hard cash that they need to keep going. Many digital magazine publishers admit that they struggle knowing how to leverage advertising in digital editions, with advertisers struggling in equal measure. Digital circulation is also causing a headache, which brings us to the next challenge.

The Digital Magazine Awards demonstrated that digital magazines seem to finally be getting it right, but the readership simply isn’t there. Beautiful, mobile-responsive digital editions are lying undiscovered in the app stores. Whether readers have lost faith, don’t have the space, don’t want to pay or just don’t know the magazines are there, publishers are facing huge challenges shouting loudly enough about their digital editions. Or perhaps magazines just don’t work as digital editions. But that’s a story for another day.

Keeping up
12 months ago, Apple News, Google’s AMP and Facebook’s Notify simply didn’t exist outside of Silicon Valley. Now, they’re all making a grab for publisher’s time, attention and content, with each company able to reel off a list of top publishing houses as their partners for various launches. Article-based publishing and the ‘unbundling’ of magazine content is not a new concept, but the opportunities for reach and promises of ad revenue have made Apple and Facebook tempting prospects for publishers. This raises all sorts of challenges and debates, from control of content to advertising compliance and resourcing.

Serving advertisers and loyal audiences
Publishers need creative ways to add context while connoting quality and credibility, and reducing anxiety caused by the noise and clutter. They need better metrics for their advertisers, who in turn have to accept tighter limits on their intrusiveness. They have to regain the trust of the audience, with much more respect for the user's time and much greater transparency about what's being tracked and how that information is being used. By the same token, audiences have to realize that their media consumption is, fundamentally, a transaction, and will have to be paid for, whether the currency is cash, data-sharing, or some other form of cooperation. Food for thought…


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