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Deus Ex Machina: How Tablets Will Save Magazines


Deus Ex Machina: How Tablets Will Save Magazines

Tom Cunniff June 17, 2013

Conventional wisdom says print is dead. Lately, it has been hard to argue the point.

As the L2 2012 Digital IQ report for Magazines reports, magazines suffered years of sharp declines in revenues. The industry has at last stabilized, and there’s the promise of rising revenues from digital advertising. But in the near-term magazines may find themselves trading analog dollars for digital dimes. (There’s a compelling need to drive the adoption of true programmatic premium in media. and build stronger direct relationships with brands. But… that’s a subject for another post.)

But in spite of all this, I see signs of a coming renaissance for truly strong magazine brands.

Now is not an easy time to be in the magazine business. But it may turn out to be the most exciting.

Multiple Trends Are Converging To Lift The Business

The early days of digital have been painful for magazine publishers. But the shift from desktop computing  to mobile and tablets changes the game again — and for a change it’s all good news.

Tablets: The rise of powerful affordable tablets shifts consumers from content creation mode to content consumption. eMarketer projects tablet penetration to reach 29.1 percent of Internet users by the end of this year, with those most likely to use a tablet between the demographically important ages of 25 and 44.

Native Ads And Visual Marketing: Early on, brands raided print budgets to fund digital. But as magazines shift from print to tablets and mobile, there are good reasons to expect that brand dollars will boomerang right back to the strongest magazine brands.

The rise of native ad formats and brands’ needs for visual marketing that communicates quickly and wordlessly is a potentially huge boon to magazines on tablets. Magazines should look carefully at what’s being done by real consumers with Flipboard, and do it bigger and better than the consumers can.

Magazines for beauty, fashion, travel and food already own some of the most brilliant visual content ever created. This can all be powerfully leveraged at scale in ways that weren’t possible even 5 years ago.

E-Commerce: The shift from flipping pages in a magazine to swiping pages on a tablet encourages new behaviors. Consumers research — and buy — on tablets. This is especially true for beauty brands.

emarketer_tabletAs eMarketer noted in a recent report, the gap on tablets between people who researched products and people who bought was narrowest in personal care and beauty. Tablet editions of magazines that can reliably facilitate the social discovery of new beauty products have an opportunity to tap a rich new revenue stream from brands.

Or, magazines could disintermediate brands entirely — imagine a line of super-premium Vogue magazine branded cosmetics. Competition and/or partnerships here feel likely in the future.

Condé Nast’s Lucky Magazine (“the magazine about shopping and style”) is arguably a far better idea today than it was when it was launched a dozen years ago. Sure, it has had a tough time of it in recent years and the magazine has had multiple changes in leadership. But if you haven’t looked at them lately you should. I love what they’re doing with “My Lucky”. They’re connecting the dots between commerce and content in exciting ways. Not all of it will work (does it ever?) but everything they learn about what does work can roll out to the rest of the company’s magazine brands.


There are multiple magazine brands pushing to bridge content and commerce, including GQ’s online store “GQ Selects,” which will be hosted at NordstromMen.com starting in July.  And last August, American Express Publishing’s Departures began an “eExclusives” e-commerce feature, which lets readers buy products from big retail and brand advertisers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Akris and Brunello Cucinelli.

When the results of the experiments are in, watch for a major magazine company to acquire an online retailer — or vice-versa. This feels all but inevitable. The potential synergies are too powerful.

Big Data

A natural — and hugely valuable — by-product of commerce and content partnerships will be a significant amount of first-party data. When combined with other data sources, magazines have the potential to know more about their readers than ever. What do people read? What do they buy? How do these influence each other? Do people who read about Paris tend to book travel there, and how soon after they read? Or are most readers about Paris really more likely to go to Las Vegas because they love fantasy and excitement but are not secretly terrified about trying to converse in French?

There are also lessons to be learned from how retailers are harnessing the power of Big Data to improve advertising results.  Rocket Fuel (a client of mine) worked with Lord & Taylor and delivered an ROI 3.6% greater than the goal and reduced CPA 73%. Imagine what’s possible with the richness of data created by a content and commerce partnership.

Digital Disruption Cuts Both Ways

In the early days, the rise of digital was brutal for magazines. Soon, I believe, the industry will have the wind at its back again.

The lesson, I think, is to never get too smug when everything’s going your way — and never get too down when nothing’s going your way. Get the fundamentals right, pay attention to your customers, and have the courage to experiment.

The only thing we know for sure about digital and mobile is this.

Things change.

Photo Credit: Jeff Bezos by Jurvetson (Creative Commons)



Tom Cunniff

Tom Cunniff
East Coast Correspondent
Follow me on twitter @tomcunniff

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