On Magazines and Bananas – We Know What They Are

[responsive]doleb-ad[/responsive]In order to consciously consume, one must be able to readily identify what one is consuming. If a grocery shopper wants a bunch of bananas, he looks for them in the produce department, in their typical yellow jackets. This works because we know, at a glance, what makes something a “banana.”

So it goes in the magazine industry. Readers know as soon as they pick it up what constitutes a “magazine.” Digital magazine readers, on the other hand, are facing a tremendous learning curve. The mass of online content — sometimes replicated from print, sometimes curated entirely differently, sometimes not curated at all but simply streamed – is not readily identifiable as “magazine.”

So much so, in fact, that one digital content advocate has written a lengthy article to explain exactly what makes up the various types of digital magazines. It’s a well done and intelligent piece, but the very necessity of such a piece bolsters our opinion on how consumers view magazines.

“The greatest aspect relative to the use of the word magazine as part of a published brand name is that the publisher’s potential audience already understands the basic brand offering based on the connotation of the word magazine,” writes David Blankenship in the Advonte Media blog.

(Stay with us – that point is key…the audience already understands the basic idea of the word “magazine.”)

“Consumers immediately visualize the historic traditional or even modern digital edition paginated format of a publication when the word “magazine” is used to identify the media brand,” he continues, noting that the magazine element of the brand “remains the iconic periodic content based deliverable and the magazine website is the key access point and hub of the brand.”

Yet Blankenship goes on to assert that print will no longer be the defacto medium by which magazines are defined.

“The digital format will become the standard delivery format and structure for profitable mainstream business and consumer magazines. Thus, a digital magazine will be referred to simply as a ‘magazine’ in the same way ‘ebooks’ or ‘digital books’ will once again only need to be reference as “books” by default with digital becoming the format expectation within the next generation.”

He gives a lengthy, detailed analysis of digital magazines, digital replica editions, magazine apps (both first and third party) and online magazines. As I said earlier, it’s well done and intelligent, and yet the very idea that this definition is needed makes his “digital is the future of the magazine” point kind of moot.

If something is that difficult to explain, it’s not likely that consumers will be into buying those bananas. Consumer preferences still trend strongly toward print magazines, regardless of what the digital industry believes. And slumping digital sales figures seem to back this up.

Blankenship speaks passionately about his preference for “modern technology, new media, and digital innovation as a requirement for the prosperous future of the magazine publishing industry. I am admittedly biased toward a digital publishing future and I see many opportunities for digital publishing advancement for existing and new publishers.”

And he’s right in one regard, that publishers do need to understand and embrace digital content when and where it makes sense. The market is evolving, and some companies are seeing success with digital revenue models. Yet we can’t forget that this is a free market and consumers will make the final choice.

Yes, I’m a print evangelist. It says so right on my LinkedIn profile. And it’s not simply because it’s my living. Print is a vital and lasting part of any free society; it doesn’t break when the batteries die, and won’t disappear when the lights go out. It doesn’t defy definition, because it needs no further definition. Just like those bananas.