Brand identity is the key for magazines

Reema Khrais Jan 10, 2017
Magazines are on display at a newsstand on February 25, 2015 in Lille.    PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

Brand identity is the key for magazines

Reema Khrais Jan 10, 2017
Magazines are on display at a newsstand on February 25, 2015 in Lille.    PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

While visiting Los Angeles, British tourists Harvey Marcus and Cassie Steer stopped by a nearby newsstand. After scanning the hundreds of titles, Marcus, with a shrug, said he probably wouldn’t buy one.

“I don’t think they’re worth the money,” he said.

And Marcus happens to know a thing or two about the business. He’s an editor at Schön, a London-based magazine about fashion and art. Meanwhile, his girlfriend is a former beauty director for the U.K. edition of the fashion magazine InStyle. 

So, what are they doing in Los Angeles?

“I’m out here because InStyle closed just before Christmas, so I’ve got some time off,” Steer said.

InStyle U.K.’s circulation was falling, so it recently shut down its print edition and is now a digital-only brand. One of the causalities was Steer’s job.

“I was sad because it’s a reflection of how everything’s going,” Steer said. “But I wasn’t massively surprised. There had been rumors for a while.”

“Magazines are dying, I’m sorry to say,” Marcus added.  

Every year, dozens of magazines fold their print editions. Next month, Condé Nast will say goodbye to the print edition of Self, a long-running health and fitness magazine. This comes on the heels of several other magazines — like Bloomberg Pursuits, Mental Floss and Complex — that recently announced they’re pulling the plug on print.  

Still, for every magazine death, four new ones are born, according to Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi.  

“There are at least four times more titles in the marketplace than there was in 1978,” he said.

For years, industry experts have been pushing back against the notion that print is dead. “Nothing ever dies. No form of media goes away. It changes,” said Rebecca Sterner, a long-time magazine consultant.

Since the recession, many print magazines have seen drops in advertisement revenue – about 15 percent over since 2010, according to eMarketer.

“It’s meant a lot of staff layoffs,” Sterner said. “It’s meant really negotiating hard with vendors for paper and printing.”

And in most cases, putting more a lot more time and energy into other platforms, including digital.

“I think all the magazine companies we work with see themselves as magazine media across formats – they’re really much more format agnostic,” said Linda Thomas Brooks, president and CEO of the Association of Magazine Media, or MPA.

Industry experts said publishers shouldn’t pit digital against print. With many magazines relying on both, overall audience numbers have been growing for the last few years, according to MPA.

“We do not have a magazine problem,” said Husni. “We have a magazine industry problem.”

Husni said the industry relies too much on advertising for revenue – an old model he said stopped working after the Great Recession.

“We are still seeing subscriptions given away for $5 for an entire year, which in my book should be a crime. One issue on the newsstand is almost the same price,” he said.

That helps explain why newsstand sales have plunged by double digits every year for the last six years. Last year it was down by 12 percent, according to industry tracker MagNet.

But Husni said some things on the shelves like bookazines — glossy, thick special editions with an average price of 14 dollars – are selling well.

“People are willing to pay for content they deem important, it’s curated content,” he noted.

Meanwhile, he said cheap magazines touting the latest news and celebrity gossip are on the way out.

“Social media took that role, each one of those celebrities have their own social media. They’ll tell you before anybody else whether they are pregnant or not,” Husni explained.

Today, some of most successful magazines are hyper focused. It’s not just about fishing, it’s about salt-water fishing. And it’s not just about healthy eating, “it’s 100 fast meals for people with diabetes,” said Doug Kouma, editor content director for Meredith Core Media.

Milton Maristela flips through several magazines at a Los Angeles newsstand.

Kouma said other popular magazines tend to have a strong brand identity. That’s why his company recently launched The Magnolia Journal – a lifestyle magazine from the couple that hosts HGTV’s hit show “Fixer Upper.” When the first issue hit the shelves late last year, Kouma said retailers sold out of the 400,000 copies so quickly that the publisher had to go back to press to print 200,000 more.

“This would’ve been a standout performance even 15 years ago,” Kouma said.

Industry leaders said those kinds of anecdotes show there are still many readers out there — like Milton Maristela — who are committed to print.  

At the newsstand in LA, Maristela flipped through dozens and dozens of magazines.

“The artistry in making these magazines, the photography, the essence of style, the colors — I think there is a soul in every page of it,” he explained.

At a time when the media landscape feels more crowded than ever, it’s the Milton Maristelas of the world the magazine business is banking on.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.