Publishers have to deliver reader value, develop new revenue sources, and stop thinking simply in terms of print in order to stay relevant in a multi-platform world.
At first glance, the legacy indicators of magazine health do not inspire confidence. The Q4 2016 overall magazine Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures were down by 4.3% over the previous quarter. Only business-to-business publications have escaped the circulation decline, because the majority of these titles are free distribution controlled by the publisher. The sense of unease is enhanced by Nielsen’s Ad Dynamix Jan – Dec report, showing a decline of 11.2% in terms of overall ad revenue.
But Ad Dynamix only measures run of press advertising and inserts, and not the new revenue sources that publishers have been assiduously developing. Similarly, most magazine brands engage with their audiences across multiple platforms, not monitored by the ABC. September 2017 will see the Publisher Research Council (PRC) releasing its first stand-alone currency research, allowing it to showcase multi-platform brand engagement, useful ammunition to fight declining revenues.
Even on the limited basis on which Ad Dynamix tracks revenue, some publications seem to have made substantial gains in revenue. For example, Fresh Living and Afropolitan are both up by 56%!
Lani Carstens, managing director of John Brown, publisher of Fresh Living, indicated that this was a substantial under reading of the publication’s gross advertising revenue. Given the incontrovertible proof of the publication’s efficacy in boosting sales in store, Pick ‘n Pay increased the print order to 500 000, giving the magazine away free to their ‘Smart Shoppers’. Not unsurprisingly, this allowed John Brown to grow ad revenue for the client by more than one and a half times. The company’s relationship with Pick ‘n Pay extends beyond this title. A dedicated team, overseen by the group editor and content director Justine Drake, manages branded content across multiple channels in print and digital.
Delivering reader value
Recent innovations have been blogging campaigns such as Insta Cook; a video series called Glass Act (featuring Sibongile Mafu) for the wine division; and a weekly emailer called ‘Supper Sorted’, which had an average open rate of 85%. Securing sponsors for such video and digital initiatives provided an additional revenue stream.
At Contact Media, Sean Press, the CEO, indicated that the healthy performance of Afropolitan had not been restricted to that title alone. An exponent of conscious capitalism, he believes that an absolute commitment to delivering value to readers and advertisers is the explanation. Refreshingly, he said unequivocally he believed “print was not dead”.
The challenge for him was “not to do things the way you have always done them”. As a contract publisher, he said that one has a very clear sense of the publication brand and its intended reader: It was incumbent on the editor to ensure that real reading value is delivered. He stressed the need for his sales team to have authentic and engaged conversations with advertisers to deliver appropriate solutions, which extend beyond the page, rather than resorting to discounting.
Gisele Wertheim Aymes, founder and director of the Aegle Group and Isiko Media,looks at her properties as “simply brands”. She stressed that the sooner “we leave behind the notion that they are print, or digital or anything else, the better off we will all be…print is in decline and may even further decline…so if you have any sense you have to build your brand beyond any platform.”
A strong brand will have a strong bond with it’s community: The challenge is to activate the brand in other business dimensions, forging partnerships and alliances to do so.
Scale being eroded
As an independent publisher, Wertheim Aymes faces the challenges of “scale and dominance of a category…Scale is being eroded daily…Media brands, in particular, are becoming less dominant in the lives of consumers”. For her, “owning and dominating communities” is the way to ensure sustainable business.
Another challenge for her is that “today…resources have to be highly adaptable and knowledgeable in relevance to the changes at hand. They also have to be highly resilient”. All publishers agreed on the importance of resource adaptability.
Debbie McIntyre, head of insights at Caxton Magazines,referenced it in terms of advertising sales. Editorial teams have been restructured, to accommodate specialists across disciplines, but media agencies demand one stop service and on the spot costings and negotiations from their suppliers. In an era of bespoke solutions, it is virtually impossible for the sales person to meet these demands.
Caxton no longer simply trades space. It regards its audiences, knowledge and insights, and content as assets, and vigorously explores how to monetise those. The power of the individual brands and editorial credibility are crucial. Well practiced in creating branded content solutions for clients, the editorial teams must ensure that these are valuable to the audience and are consonant with the brands. Repurposing and white labeling editorial content is proving successful. Audience insights has enabled Caxton to win a traditional creative pitch and shown how their brands can be used to ignite influencer campaigns.
New Media has transitioned from entirely print based to a 100% multichannel business. Adele Horler, group head of content, described their “core DNA” as“creating beautiful content that connects people to brands” with the platform dependent on the audience it needs to reach. She affirmed the value of print in its own right for certain market segments and also sees it as an “important springboard for taking an offline audience into the online space…where brands can speak to them in a more targeted manner”.
Recognising the competitive advantage of audience insights, New Media is reorganising around centres of specialist knowledge rather than business units to allow related brands to tap into consumer-orientated teams who know before anyone else what’s happening in their fields. It is also developing a customer insights unit.
Horler said that “beautiful content without a sound distribution plan is like building castles in the desert”. New Media has started a distribution agency called Matrix24 to secure audiences of critical mass for the content created for their clients. It leverages their connection with Media24, tapping into 24.com’s 16million unique monthly browsers.
For Julia Raphaely, CEO of Associated Media Publishing, it is “quite a challenging but also an immensely exciting time” as “we are transforming into an entirely new business”. For her a “magic bullet” is the “new e-commerce play (which) is still very much in its infancy”. She believes that it will become a significant revenue stream while allowing “us to be close to the consumer as part of their gratification journey”.
Publishers concur on the continued importance of content marketing, with Raphaely deferring to her digital lead, Rose Kotze’s words: “Content marketing is just using killer rad content to make money. It is a buzzword which basically just outlines what our content should be doing for us anyway.”
There is however general agreement that it requires intelligent handling. As Wertheim Aymes cautioned, “If you are creating and sharing paid for content…that does not align to your brand and community, it will become a poisoned chalice and devalue your brand in your community”.
Looking beyond the lagging metrics, it is clear that South African publishers are determinedly adapting to the challenges of the local landscape.