Magazine Publishers Sell Magazines – Not Content

newsstand2As magazine publishers have made the transition to magazine media brands, something seems to have gotten lost in translation.

We’ve lived through the contracted ad spending during the recent recession, which made publishers look to other avenues for revenue. But I think the industry may have been too hasty to look to replace the tried and true business model that has worked for decades.

Magazines are not content providers. To see them solely in this light is to miss a vital distinction between a magazine and ad-free content. A magazine without ads would be a journal, a book or a newsletter…not a magazine. If this were the case, magazine publishers would strictly be selling the content, like a subscription model to get the news. Some brands have been able to do this with a small amount of success, but it’s clearly not an easy road.

Case in point: Even the venerable New York Times is scrapping their subscription-based app NYTNow. A Times exec is quoted as saying that they saw “very high engagement and retention among our NYTNow users, [but] we have not seen the number of subscriptions we were hoping for.”

Because of the amount of free content offered by magazine brands on digital channels, consumer engagement with those brands is growing rapidly and magazine brand influence is higher than ever. If you are looking to engage your audience with your content, there is no better way to do this than with free digital content – providing you can figure out a way to monetize your distribution.

The challenge is the generally poor performance of digital ads (readers ignore digital ads for the most part) and a lack of willingness to pay for subscriptions to content that today’s reader expects to be free. And this means publishers have to leverage their content in more creative ways to actually make money from this kind of engagement.

What publishers seem to have forgotten is their magazines’ attractiveness to advertisers. If you are a brand looking to engage an audience through your ads, there is no better channel than print.

A magazine is a collection of editorial content and relevant advertising. Successful publishers are careful to approach the right kind of advertisers, offering a tightly chosen demographic with which the brand can engage. When done well the reader benefits from a cohesive experience; the articles dovetail into the ads and vice versa; and the advertiser forms an immediate connection with a highly-qualified prospect.

Print magazine consumers expect, even welcome, advertising to supplement the cost of receiving the printed product. Magazine ads are largely perceived as welcome and relevant and consumed as eagerly as the editorial content.

True, there are some titles shifting reliance away from ads by upping the cover price. And this may work for a while, especially for lifestyle or B2B publications. But invariably we believe that advertisers will seize on these opportunities. They are smart enough to know that if a reader is willing to shell out ten bucks for a magazine, they want to be in front of the reader.