What is a women’s mag anyway?
Even in e-commerce circles, the buzz is all about ‘editorial content’: giving shoppers something that isn’t just product, to keep them on the site for longer. Just look at Net a Porter and Asos, which both successfully run magazines. And that’s even before we start to factor in those twin time bandits, Facebook and Twitter, which weren’t around to distract any of us from poring over a glossy, a decade ago, but can now (as I know only too well) gobble up an entire evening’s leisure …
Interestingly, the only magazines to have put on significant growth are the ones that are given away – Waitrose Kitchen (which goes to account holders, and has notched up a very impressive 17.4pc increase); Harrods Magazine (7pc); Time Out – which assumed ‘freesheet’ status during the last year and is now picked up by 305,000 people – an upturn of 487.2pc. The magazines’ challenge is that when there are such good freebies around, why would people pay to read publications that are essentially very similar? (I must confess I completely stopped buying Grazia, for instance, when freebie Stylist launched in London.) The weekend newspaper supplements, too – not technically ‘free’, but presented almost as a gift-with-purchase with the paper – must also be making a dent.
Then add to that the fact that many magazines are their own worst rivals: almost all the mags which have seen dramatic falls in circulation offer really excellent websites, for daily (or just occasional) enjoyment. They were conceived and created to ‘underpin’ the actual reading experience – but actually, they’re probably stealing readers who were previously happy to wave-‘n’-pay in their local WH Smith for a real-life, printed magazine.
Have magazines dug their own graves, then?
I’d love to think not – though I’m glad I’m no longer an editor, faced with the challenge of turning round one of these (sinking?) battleships. I think that magazines need to reinvent themselves – and I’ve a hunch it’s happening: one Cosmo journalist revealed to me that she’s being asked to write much longer, ‘proper’ articles rather than endless ‘bite-sized chunks’, because this is something magazines can deliver that the web generally doesn’t.
What magazines really offer, though, is the opportunity to look at something that isn’t a screen. Something to flick, rather than click, through. At the end of a weary day, our eyes need a rest. Of course, books deliver that respite – but after 10 hours in the office, following a plot’s more than many of us can manage. Magazines – which we can dip in and out of – are still the perfect escape.
So I’ve made a little personal pledge, on the strength of these latest circulation figures – which is to do my bit for the magazine world and buy more of them. Spend less time online, and more reading the printed word. (And looking at printed pictures.) And actually, if we want to avoid another bloodbath, in six months time, it’s the duty of everyone who loves magazines to do the same.
Read ‘em – or lose ‘em. Because that’s what it boils down to …