Surviving the glossies’ decline

Mainstream magazines are losing readers but others are flourishing. Alison Vella, Amanda Kirkovski and Maddison Bourne report.
Mainstream magazines are losing readers but others are flourishing. Alison Vella, Amanda Kirkovski and Maddison Bourne report.

It’s tempting to assume that magazines are a dying form that is being overtaken by social media and television. But that isn’t true. Magazines aren’t dead, they’re simply changing shape.

A few trends that have been recently noted are

Firstly, mainstream magazines are losing readers, while niche magazines with clearly defined demographics, are flourishing. Since 2015, Dolly magazine’s circulation has decreased by over a third – by 37.6 percent to be exact. People are ditching Dolly for local indie magazines, like Frankie, whose circulation increased by over five percent in the same year.

Prominent figures in magazine publishing have come up with a few justifications for this trend. The first is that people despise advertisements; they’re willing to pay more for niche magazines because they contain less promotional material. Consumers are willing to pay more money for better quality reporting, interviews and journalism that is found in niche magazines.

Another observation is a resurgence in alternative hipster culture and a general backlash against hyper-technology in that community. Similar to the way in which people have recently returned to vinyl’s and the record-player, they are gravitating back towards hard copy magazines to match that vintage aesthetic.

Contrary to what many believe, in many social circles, print is actually a “premium” form of magazine. As seen with Frankie, the magazines are viewed as works of art within themselves – depicting both visual and written creativity. Readers have an appreciation for this abstract content. They love that it is unconventional.

Another major motivator for the decline of tabloid magazine is that people don’t trust the journalism. Recently photos of Sofia Vergara without her wedding ring were photo-shopped by The Star, supporting the story they made up about her relationship being on the rocks. Vergara took to social media shaming The Star magazine, calling them ‘idiots’ for fabricating a story on her. Readers don’t want to read and buy articles that have obviously been fabricated and debunked to be untrue.

Ultimately the future of magazine is multiplatform. Airbnb now prints its once digital only magazine. When asked why, the Airbnb’s CEO, Brian Chesky,  said, “a printed magazine is permanent. It operates in the same space as humans do, cutting through the digital noise that exists online and not just grabbing, but holding a reader’s attention”.

Print still has a place in publishing however it’s new form is interactive, social and relies on connectivity. Print magazines need an online presence to survive. They need to maintain ongoing conversation with audiences between issues. It’s an immersive experience that invites participation which is now often done through social media.

Cleo magazine launched in 1972 by Kerry Packer and Ita Buttrose and was considered very controversial for its time. The magazine’s controversy centred around its sex and dating tips, as well as being the first Australian magazine to have nude male centrefolds. It has been famously said that “Dolly teaches you how to have an orgasm, Cleo teaches you how to fake an orgasm and the Woman’s Weekly teaches you how to knit an orgasm”.

The magazine was well received when it was first published. In 1974 a nation-wide readership survey found 30% of women aged 13-24 read Cleo monthly. Since then Cleo’s faced a mass decline in sales. in June 2014, there was 53,000 copies monthly, which is a steep decline considering 30 percent of young Australian women once read it.

March 2016 saw the last print issue published, with 42,200 magazines sold, down from 150,000 in 2008. Even though Cleo’s print sales diminished, they still had quite a strong presence online. The Cleo website had roughly 300,000 visitors monthly and their app Beauty Bites, which provides how-to video tutorials and reader-generated content, proved to be successful. While Cleo stopped being physically published in March 2016, the website still generated content and didn’t shut down until December 2016 due to its success.

While Cleo Australia may be gone, its counterparts in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are still going strong and are published in both print and digital.

Cleo was published by Bauer Media, Australia’s leading multi-platform publisher. Its parent company, Bauer Media Group, is based and Germany and publishers some of Australia’s best-selling magazines. They publish almost everything and anything, from the movie-lovers go-to-guide Empire, to Australia’s best-selling monthly, Women’s Weekly.

The Australian Women’s Weekly began in 1933 by Frank Packer as a weekly newspaper for women. Early editions spoke about women’s status in Australian society and challenged the patriarchal mindset held at that time. Eighty five years ago, women’s rights were rarely debated – rallying for equal pay and encouraging women to pursue male dominated occupations was quite revolutionary for the time. The Australian Women’s Weekly helped shape Australia’s feminist revolution.

This background in supporting Australian women and providing high-quality long-form journalism is why The Australian Women’s Weekly has survived almost nine decades in the market. It’s established itself as a magazine people trust. The Australian Women’s Weekly continues to champion women by getting real about motherhood, body positivity and careers. Its content centers on the pillars of fashion, lifestyle, celebrity, parenting, beauty, relationships and health, as well as a focus on the royal families. When it comes to celebrities, the magazine is loyal to local talent often featuring Australian icons including Lisa Wilkinson, Delta Goodrem and Nicole Kidman.

The magazine is now published monthly rather than weekly and like Cleo, it is owned by Bauer Media Group. It claims to have a monthly readership of 1,618,000 people and reaches an additional 573,000 on Facebook.

Their social media campaigns aim to keep their readers engaged between the issues they publish. A digital version of their magazine can be purchased for $4.99 which is $2 cheaper than the print version. In it, covers come to life, videos are integrated and extra photos are included. The how-to-recipes have supporting videos, proving the platform is more interactive than the original form.

Collective Hub, launched in 2013, is a magazine for “game changers, thought leaders, rule breakers and style makers”. With an 80 percent female and 75 percent Australia-wide readership base, the magazine has its roots deeply within Australia’s magazine industry. It was once a quarterly magazine, now it’s grown to a monthly magazine sold in 37 countries around the world. With a niche base in ‘entrepreneurship with style’, Collective Hub can be seen as more of a magazine for collectors, rather than a tabloid.

In addition, the team behind Collective Hub also hold events and run work spaces under the ‘Messenger Group’ – a marketing firm run by the magazines’ creator. This highlights the need for businesses to be able to adapt to change and multitask. Rather than just being a magazine, Collective Hub runs across all social media channels, has published books, collaborate with businesses and is in both print and online.

Although all the magazines share a similar target audience, their success differs. Cleo’s downfall shows that young women no longer want to read edgy content in a magazine form, and would rather read that content online and for free. The Australian Women’s Weekly is proof that a long-running magazine can stay relevant in the 21st century, through adapting and changing to reflect its audience. While Collective Hub proves that young people are interested in magazine with more informative content, rather than tabloids, and that newly established magazines can be still be successful.