A photo sent in by a reader in Coffs Harbour – and for whatever reason, there we are hanging out with Delicious and Quarterly Essay.
A range of magazine titles are seeing a boom as readers find comfort away from screens. Pic: ABC News Australia
Newsagent Trudy Groves has seen a solid uptick in magazine sales. Pic: ABC News - Nathan Morris
In times of economic downturn, people are indulging in little luxuries like kicking back with a glossy magazine. Pic: ABC Australia Wide
Print magazines still hold an important place in the world of both adult and children's entertainment media. Pic: ABC Australia Wide - Cath McAloon
15 November 23
That heading popped up on ABC NEWS on the weekend and it sure caught our eye!
It really wasn’t all that long ago that most magazines were owned by a few major publishing houses that produced multiple titles under one massive roof, but the web and smart phones and social media killed off that business model and many magazines were axed.
As an independent one-title publisher we’ve been immuned to all this, to the extent we’ve been steadily growing subscribers since 1996. Maybe we’re accidentally on the right side of history after all!
Over to the ABC
Has Instagram killed magazines or are glossies making a comeback?
Posted Sat. 11th Nov 2023: At a newsagent in Toowoomba in regional Queensland, Trudy Groves is stocking the store's magazine racks — a job she's been doing for years.
Here, among the long rows of glossy publications that cater to the reading needs of home renovators, sports enthusiasts, gold hunters, hobby farmers, celebrity watchers, and puzzle lovers, Trudy is witnessing a resurgence in demand for print magazines.
Trudy's newsagency is in a magazine-buying heartland, according to the CEO of AreMedia, Jane Huxley.
The lipstick effect
There's an economic theory that traces back to the Great Depression in the 1930s called the lipstick effect where people splash out on little luxuries, rather than big-ticket items, during an economic downturn.
Experts think the lipstick effect could be at the heart of a glossy magazine revival.
While magazines may not be selling in the numbers they did in the days before smartphones became commonplace in pockets and handbags, Trudy reckons sales have bounced back since COVID and are tracking steadily and her local observations are reflected in the most recent national consumer data.
According to Roy Morgan research, readership of print magazines across the board in Australia was up 4.1 per cent in the 12 months to June this year.
Titles as varied as Wheels, Organic Gardener, Men's Health, Marie Claire, Australian Country Homes, Backyard, and Outdoor Living all recorded significant jumps in readership, up more than 30 per cent on the previous 12 months.
As the song goes "video killed the radio star" and it was widely tipped that social media would wipe out traditional print magazines. So what explains their survival against the odds?
For Trudy Groves, it's simple.
"There are people who want to have that copy in their hands. And I'm the same, I like to have the physical copy there and I like to look at it. I don't want to scroll through on a computer," she says.
From glory days to freefall
From the glory days of the 1990s and early 2000s, when magazine publishing was flush with cash from advertising sales, in recent decades the industry has experienced a free fall; publishing houses merged, titles were scrapped and hundreds of jobs cut.
It's a trajectory that's been noticed by former magazine editor Phil Barker, who is watching with interest the latest signs of recovery, which he describes as "the green shoots poking through after the bushfire has been through."
Last year Phil Barker published Axed: Who Killed Australian Magazines?, which documented the decline of the industry in Australia, a country that once boasted the highest magazine circulation per capita in the world. He's now working on an epilogue.
He writes about the 2008 sale of the Australian Consolidated Press magazine stable, once part of the Packer media empire and the biggest magazine publisher in Australia, at a reported price of $1.75 billion to an outfit called CVC Capital, who offloaded it five years later to German media giant Bauer media for $525 million.
"In early 2020, Bauer bought Pacific magazines for just $14 million, which brought about 90 per cent of Australia's magazines under sort of one shaky roof," Barker explains.
"And then that was sold to what is now AreMedia — private equity firm Mercury Capital owns AreMedia — for around $40 to 50 million, with some sources squaring it as low as $10 million.
"So, that goes from 1.75 billion down to 10 million — what an extraordinary loss of value for an industry.
"We saw a lot of titles axed completely and we saw hundreds and hundreds of really brilliant, passionate editorial and sales people around the magazine industry lose their jobs for good."
But now, Barker is excited about signs of revival of a new modern magazine industry catering to readers who want to switch off from screens and pick up carefully curated content with "the feel, the heft, the smell, the design, the beauty of the physical product that is a great magazine".
An antidote to the digital deluge
Phil Barker says his ears pricked up recently when AreMedia CEO Jane Huxley – the current owner of titles including Australian Women's Weekly, New Idea, Better Homes and Gardens, Country Style, TV Week, and Who — spoke about a resurgence of print magazines.
"She thought readers were tiring of a digital deluge with everything pinging and ringing and dinging, which I thought was a really interesting thing," Barker says.
As chief executive officer of the Australian and Lottery Newsagents Association, Ben Kearney, represents newsagents around the country.
He says his members witnessed customers come back to magazines during the COVID lockdown when people were working and learning from home — especially in the puzzles and games category, which remains a critical category.
"People are a little bit overwhelmed by digital at the moment," Mr Kearney says.
"We're seeing resurgences in other physical media like vinyl records ... so, there are some trends going on here in the background."
Craving curated content to escape reality
Victoria Carey has had a long career in the magazine industry, including more than a decade editing Country Style, and is currently the editor of regionally based publication Graziher, targeted toward female readers with a focus on positive stories of rural living.
t's a role she took over from the magazine's founder Claire Dunne who launched the publication from her family's cattle property in central Queensland.
What started as a quarterly magazine has expanded to six issues a year and increased its subscriptions among a largely rural-based audience.
Carey believes magazines, like Graziher, fill not just a desire for something that's analogue, in today's digital world, but also content that is thoughtfully curated.
"I do think people are overwhelmed by the onslaught of information coming at them everywhere digitally," she says.
"So, if you pick up a magazine, which has been well edited, it's a beautiful selection of good content that is matched by intelligent writing, good images.
'There's something very satisfying. People can actually escape into that magazine for a moment."
It's a point Phil Barker agrees with, saying magazines that know their subject matter provide a "wonderful service" for readers.
"With the avalanche and digital stuff that you have to sift through and make a decision about whether you're looking at that or not, to have something curated for you to have someone else who knows the subject incredibly well make the decisions about what's interesting and what's on trend and what's happening for you, is just really beautiful and soothing and a wonderful service."
Building a brand key to surviving as a modern mag
Magazines, like motorcycle monthly Live to Ride, that provide that service are growing readership.
Live to Ride's publisher Miles Rangeley, known to readers as Pugs, has worked on the magazine since 1993, starting as a 19-year-old, fresh out of journalism school, and eventually buying the title, which was once owned by News Corp back in 2017. He's seen major ups and downs over that time.
"The magazine industry will never return to its glory days, especially now with the ease of getting up-to-date information via the internet," he said.
But despite that, he says subscriptions for the publication are increasing, with a big uptick, especially in the past three months.
He puts it down to building strong brand awareness and growing a loyal community, with the print magazine just one part of the Live to Ride brand that includes a social media presence, a revamped website, and merchandise that's allowed them to reach new and younger audiences who are finding their way back to the magazine.
"I can't express enough the importance of increasing brand awareness and being involved in the community that we represent," he said.
A 'little luxury' in a cost-of-living crisis
So as interest rates go up, cost of living pressures increase, and non-essential expenses come under the family budget microscope, will the magazine revival be short-lived?
Victoria Carey, editor of Graziher, reckons at $15 a copy it's a price readers are willing to pay for an escape.
"I think it's something that people can still think is a treat to have once a month, every two months. I mean, it's not that expensive," she says.
Ben Kearney, of the Newsagents Association, believes that even as household budgets tighten little luxuries will prevail.
"I think in a tighter economy, maybe somebody won't go out for dinner, or they might not buy that new dress, but they might buy a little luxury, like a really high-quality magazine," he says.
"I think we're seeing more of that in this space as being something that's just a little bit special, a little treat."
- AUTHORS: CATHERINE McLOON, SINEAD MANGAN & NATHAN MORRIS
- SOURCE: ABC NEWS