For South Africans with easy access to the internet and technology, information is readily available as and when it happens and at our fingertips. From news and entertainment sites, social networks and Google search to name but a few sources, there is no shortage of coverage on every topic under the sun.
However, more often than not, what we are accessing every day can really be classified as ‘fleeting’, or ‘disposable’ information. It is made up of celebrity gossip, news, trends, horoscopes, best deals, daily tip and the likes, disseminated by a plethora of digital platforms.
Taking this into account, it is not entirely surprising to see the decline in magazine circulation figures across many categories and notably in the general interest and entertainment genres. Take for example a gossip magazine such as Heat, which has seen a steady decline in circulation, having dropped by a staggering 27% over the past 2 years (54,611 Q1 2009 to 39,935 in Q1 2011).
Why wait for a week and then spend R19,95 to get the latest on the Monaco Royal wedding , when you can get a full story and countless pictures and videos on the web in real time and beyond?
So where does this leave the magazine industry?
If the titles that are in effect competing directly with their digital counterparts, and providing readers with short clips of topical, but ultimately disposable, information, are losing sales, then on the converse, we can see that circulation trends are more stable, or even positive with a hand full of special interest titles across various categories.
Tuis /Home in an example in the Decor and Gardening magazine category. The title has seen a 19% growth in circulation over the past 2 years (from 65,419 in Q1 2009 to 77,924 in Q1 2011). House & Leisure is also showing good growth in this category.
These are examples of titles that lend themselves to be collectables or reference guides that inspire readers into action, as they tap into people’s passions. Similarly amongst food titles, Taste magazine which has enjoyed a very stable circulation over the past two years has a format that can easily form the basis of a repertoire of recipes which readers would want to hold on to and refer back to over time, rather than throw out once the next issue hits the newsstand, or worse still, stop buying in favour of a Google search.
So what are magazines doing to counteract the digital invasion?
Many managzines including Heat are bringing out apps for iPhones and iPads and also strongly promoting their presence in the digital sphere. Their digital presence isn’t merely a syndication of content, but is providing readers with additional content such as video streaming, exclusive interviews, surveys and competition drives.
In addition, publications such as Heat have a larget Twitter following where highlights are printed on a weekly basis – a big draw card for readers who want to see their name in print.
This all leads me to believe that the publications that will end up enduring will be those that offer the reader something that print alone can do. Magazines that display craftsmanship and permanence, or are something that the reader will want to refer back to over time, are those that will have the fortitude to survive the digital age. Additionally, those publications who use a digital presence to support and enhance the reader experience will survive ahead of those who simply replicate content.
Lerina Bierman has been the head of strategy at award winning agency CARAT since 2007