Have trade magazines got a shelf life?
In an open letter to Media Guardian I draw your attention to the article published on 25th April 2011 as to whether trade magazines have a shelf life. The answer is, quite simply, ‘yes’ temporarily and ‘no’ in the long-term, based on trends and predictions regarding the phenomenon of mobile, online and internet media technologies. With the advancement of new media technology – the platform or group of services we term as web 2.0 – the print medium has undergone a series of developments.
These changes include the transition from print to web for a range of publications, not just trade magazines, and we are able to categorise publications in several ways: print publications have either remained in print, scrapped their print editions in favour of the online market, made use of internet technologies to produce a complimentary electronic edition or decided upon a combination of print, electronic edition, mobile edition, iPad, iPhone and website. Over the past few years we have witnessed the decline in circulation of print magazines and newspapers, which is what I wish to discuss to focus the balance on this fundamental issue.
Paul Bradshaw, a senior lecturer at Birmingham City University and specialist in online journalism, taught me the fundamental status of social media applications and the way in which we distribute news; Twitter and Facebook are now commonplace journalistic tools, and blogging is a new form of journalism which enables freelancers and news enthusiasts to promote their talents worldwide.
The evolution of technology is partly to blame for the demise and decline of print circulation. However, external circumstances must also be considered including the recession, spending habits, financial restrictions, accessibility of content, lifestyle changes, readership profiling, newspaper price and flexibility of choice. As an example, consumers access the internet to gather news which can be relayed in real-time to provide an up to date account of world news and current affairs as opposed to print which is distributed to strict deadlines.
Similarly, this is a cost effective alternative to the newspaper, particularly important for readers who face financial difficulties in the recession and economic downturn who do not have the flexibility of funds to purchase a printed newspaper. Time is another reason for the decline in circulation, with people living busier lifestyles than ever which accounts for the decisions to consume ‘on the go’ news through free websites and social media platforms. With the invention of Twitter that provides breaking news wherever you are, this is seen my many as the perfect alternative to printed news in a population that relies on mobile social media on a daily basis.
I believe trade magazines have a lesser lifespan than the newspaper for several reasons. The first is due to the slow merge of magazine-style content with a daily newspaper, with pull-outs and weekend supplements and magazines providing similar material, although more generalistic than a specialist trade publication. The majority of trade magazines have a complementary website where, in some instances, every single word and column inch is featured online. In this sense, there is no reason to purchase the magazine particularly when consumers are more mobile and interactive than ever, with their favourite magazines in their pockets through their mobile phone. In part, the demise of the trade magazine has relied heavily upon subscriptions and sustaining a loyal fan base to generate profitability.
Recent ABC circulation figures for the newspaper industry in this context have seen a gradual decline in readership over the past three years. Of those hardest hit, broadsheets have bore the brunt of decline for several reasons: people either don’t have the time, money or need to purchase a newspaper. The Guardian, for example, runs a website with up to date content which reaches around 30 to 40 million users. So, to a financially stricken consumer, this is the perfect way to read news from their favourite newspaper. As a result, organisations have had to prepare for the future of news consumption.
In the near future I envisage trade publications – particularly those which sell very low numbers – to opt to produce a web-version only or to continue producing a print edition with supplementary online access. For the more popular publications with higher circulations, they can afford to continue in current print fashion for at least another ten years or so, whilst investing in websites and electronic or mobile editions which, in turn, will help stimulate profitability and attract readership. Of course, ABC circulation probably doesn’t account for the readers who made the transition from print to web, and it is fundamental that a paywall structure is implemented across the media to ensure financial stability. Of course, news without payment – particularly for the quality press – is going to be a major issue during the final stages of print decline, but at the moment it should be treated with consideration as to how to increase finance.
It is evident that media organisations are aware of the issue of a decline in circulation but is would be unhealthy to make any fundamental decisions based solely around such data – and which is why, as time progresses and digitalisation evolves, these newspapers and magazines must explore new models and techniques to improve financial stability whilst at the same time sustaining readership bases. It is too early to envisage a print-free industry, but give it another ten years and we may well see a paywall in action across the industry.