Wednesday 24 July 2024      
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Magazines in the internet age

A new role for magazines has emerged in the last few years, while the main traditional roles still flourish. Magazines themselves are evolving to meet the changing media environment. These are the conclusions of a new study commissioned by UK’s PPA (Periodical Publishers Association) from The Henley Centre, a research organisation with a strong reputation for original thinking.

A key strand of the study’s results is the heightened importance of a medium’s ability to create involvement and ‘engagement’ rather than merely attract attention. Gaining attention is no longer enough – and magazines are superb at inducing engagement.

Consumers are changing too, and keen magazine readers are more aspirational, sociable and interested in using technology than heavy users of other media. Technology and magazines go together as a neat pair.

The emergence of the internet, mobile phones, texting and so on has raised consumers’ expectations of interactivity in all the media they use. The new role for magazines is to act as a bridge to interactivity.

This must be closely linked in to magazines’ long-established roles, which The Henley Centre classifies into two categories: accessing personal networks of trust, and providing a source of guidance and status.

Although the study was based on British evidence, the findings hinge on the basic characteristics of magazines and the new technologies such as the internet, and are therefore applicable to many other countries in the world.

To reach its conclusions The Henley Centre used its ‘Planning For Consumer Change’ Survey, which is a BMRB Target Group Index re-interview study. In addition they also drew on the findings of a number of other studies. Their analysis focused particularly on core magazine readers, the enthusiasts who can’t resist buying magazines, because the researchers felt that this vanguard group would best show the future opportunities and trends for magazines.

A bridge to interactivity

The internet and other new media have changed our relationship with information and communication. Individuals now have a more ambitious conception of what they can discover for themselves. If they want to know something, they expect to be able to find it out, and more or less instantly. They feel more in control of information than previously. It’s less of a mass-media world than it was, and more of a personalised-media world. This means more involvement and engagement.

Publishers used to say that no other medium puts the user in control as much as print does. When reading a magazine or newspaper, the reader can spend as much or as little time as desired in looking at an article or an advertisement. By contrast, when viewing television or listening to radio, it is the broadcaster who is in control of the time spent exposed to each piece of information or entertainment. A 20-second commercial lasts for 20 seconds and no longer. But a print advertisement can be studied for as long as the reader wants, and repeatedly too.

Suddenly the internet has appeared and overtaken print media in this respect. The internet user is even more in control than the magazine or newspaper reader. Whereas the reader can only react to what is printed in the publication, the internet surfer can choose any topic at all and will expect to find something on it.

A viable function for magazines is to facilitate this democratic development. Magazines can arouse interest in topics, suggest information sources for readers to explore, provide website addresses in articles and advertisements, and so on. The internet is such a wide open, bottomless, uncharted and invisible world that the editing function which magazines can provide – reviewing a topic and suggesting avenues for further exploration - is a very valuable one. Magazines’ own websites can be a useful part of such referrals, but in most cases they won’t be the main online sources.

Magazines are in an excellent position to do this because of the characteristics of print (the readers are still in control of what they read and for how long), and because core magazine readers are techno-savvy. For example, they are more than twice as likely as the population as a whole to have their own website home page. And they are twice as likely to take part in online discussion/chat groups.  

Personal networks of trust

In these days of information overload people need trusted influences to guide them through the mass of information.

Magazines’ traditional position as trusted sources is invaluable here. Magazines are companions which are consumed in ‘me’ time, making a private personal experience. They are part of an individual’s personal network of reliable friends and sources.

Magazines are idea-generators and motivators. They pass on recommendations of things to do or buy, including websites and other sources to look at. Their suggestions can have the power of word-of-mouth recommendations.

The Henley Centre reported that this rubs off onto the advertising. Endorsements by trusted magazines can help create trust in a brand. Advertisers benefit from magazines’ environment of word-of-mouth referrals.

Magazines are a source of guidance and status

Drawing on a range of sources, The Henley Centre detected a heightened quest for self-improvement in society, which the explosion of new media is helping to fuel and to satisfy. Yet magazines are still very well placed to offer guidance, just as they have always been.

Further, core magazine readers have an above-average interest in self-improvement, new learning, and fresh ventures such as setting up their own business. The Henley Centre described them as ‘transformational’. They are more involved in change: a higher proportion than average have recently started taking regular exercise, changed jobs, moved home, had a first child, and so on.

Being so open to change, they are also open to guidance and practical information from trusted sources such as friends and favourite magazines – and from advertisements within magazines.

The Henley Centre concluded that magazines have a head start in responding to the rapidly evolving post-mass-media world. Provided publishers give readers good reasons to engage with their magazines, and know how to harness that engagement, the medium has a great long-term future.

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