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BE EVERYWHERE: Magazine publishers don’t expect Americans to buy more of their magazines at the checkout line in the near future, in fact, they expect traditional newsstand sales will continue to fall. Their solution to offset those losses is to be on as many different platforms and digital store-fronts as possible.
Three of the major industry players and rivals — Condé Nast, Hearst Corp. and Meredith Corp. — put up a united front on the vitality of the magazine business, in print and elsewhere, Tuesday at a three-day conference in Philadelphia.
Last summer, Steve Lacy, president and chief executive officer of Meredith, tried a test with one of their smaller food magazines. Meredith had recently bought the Web site Allrecipes.com, which had a big following online — Lacy said the site attracts 25 million uniques a month — and it wanted to see if the brand had any juice in print.
“All we did was put the Allrecipes logo on the cover. It wasn’t Allrecipes’ Recipes. It just had that brand on the cover,” he said on an early Tuesday panel. What happened? “Forty percent lift in sales at retail.”
From that number, Lacy gathered the people who are already getting their recipes from the site are willing to also buy, at least once, its magazine derivative.
“This is a digital consumer. She’s in the market and she’s also interested in the print world that ties all of this together. That’s been our greatest corporate lesson, to figure out how to connect those dots and help our advertisers figure out how to sell to her when she’s right there in the store. Everything we’re seeing is this Gen-Y consumer is very engaged with these brands in every platform, from mobile to print,” he said.
The press-shy ceo, who rarely grants interviews, was at the panel alongside Bob Sauerberg, president, Condé Nast; David Carey, president, Hearst Magazines, and Skip Zimbalist, chairman and ceo of Active Interest Media, which owns several niche magazines, like Backpacker. Time Inc.’s outgoing ceo, Laura Lang, was not present.
The publishers acknowledged their signature conundrum. Newsstand sales continue to be the gold standard by which they, retailers and advertisers measure a magazine’s strength.
“It’s approximate to Nielsen ratings in that it gives us immediate feedback. Did we pick the right cover, the right cover line, are in sync with consumer need? We still get our hits, but if we don’t execute well, we [are] really punished by the market. Newsstand is a very important way to see: are you on track or are you off track?” Carey said.
Newsstand, however, continues to fall — 8.2 percent in the second half of 2012, the fourth consecutive year of decline. While the sale of digital replicas on tablets are increasing, they’re not doing so quickly enough to compensate for other losses.
So, while magazines continue to be hugely profitable, the only course of action for publishers is to stem the newsstand hemorrhage by coming up with new ways, and platforms, to sell their magazines. Carey pointed to the sale of subscriptions via iTunes as well as Next Issue Media, a digital storefront co-owned by Condé, Hearst, Time, Meredith and News Corp.
“It’s important for the industry not just to bring up new product, but to refurbish, improve product that might have lost its way. If we do everything simultaneously, I’m not sure we’re going to reverse the slide, [but] there’s a good chance to moderate it,” Carey said. “The newsstand remains very important but it becomes one of many, many different ways people access our content. We’re in the same curve as the TV networks and book publishing. You have to be ubiquitous in terms of your distribution to win today.”
Another bright spot for publishers is what Sauerberg referred to as the “high-end SIP, book-azine business,” in other words, the surge in special interest publications, magazines typically published once or twice a year, sold at higher prices and aimed at niche audiences.
“It’s hugely profitable for us,” Sauerberg said. Condé publishes a number of them, the most recent being Glam Belleza Latina, a version of Glamour aimed at Hispanic readers. Hearst has Cosmo for Latinas, and Carey said it will try a similar spin-off of another title aimed at Hispanics, though he did not say which. “Finding these little markets and groups of consumers and meeting their needs is the ultimate basic premise of media,” Sauerberg continued. “You’re going to see it a lot more from Condé Nast coming forward.”
The conference was convened by the Magazine Publishers Association, the main industry group.
Mary Berner, president, reassured members about the future of their business with a comparison to the chewing gum industry.
“Despite the fact that gum has been around since 1860, and for the most part is displayed at checkout, people haven’t stopped chewing gum, and they won’t stop reading print magazines, or buying them at retail,” she said.