Magazines re-launching ‘new and improved’ titles
In magazine publishing, the word on many editors’ lips is “re-launch.” Lifestyle magazines such as Real Simple, Body + Soul, and the Washington Post Magazine have revamped their visual presentation and regular sections. These are good indicators that publishers may be reinforcing their approach and making the most of their existing brands as they head into the winter season, when malls crawl with shoppers amidst holiday cheer and worn-out credit cards.
It remains to be seen how well the re-launching strategy will work. A recent article in Marketing Charts predicts that ad dollars may continue to wane well into 2010.
In the publishers’ favor is the recent decision by the U.S. Postal Service not to raise mailing rates on periodicals. Still, compared to the third quarter of 2008, retail advertising dollars were 24.9 percent lower in the third quarter of 2009, according to the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB).
Magazines re-launching in the women’s lifestyle category, as well as other consumer titles that have rebranded, appear to be shifting their coverage in response to consumer spending. In a PIB study titled “Magazines See Ad Gains in Food & Food Products Category,” Ellen Oppenheim, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Magazine Publishers of America (MPA), weighed in. “Magazine advertising continued to be affected by the recession, but there were some positive signs, such as in Food and other packaged goods categories,” she was quoted as saying.
According to the study, the recent rise of advertising revenues in the food and packaged goods categories could be interpreted as a sign that advertisers are “adjusting their approach to economic conditions, for example, by trying to appeal to consumers who are choosing to dine and entertain at home,” said Oppenheim. Illustrating this is the redesigned Real Simple, which will feature a mixture of new editorial coverage including technology trends, as well as reliable home decorating and frugal cooking solutions. Meanwhile, Body + Soul is more focused on holistic living, including environmental awareness, health, and fitness products, leaving the magazine vulnerable to a drop in discretionary spending.
Publishers don’t frequently discuss the strategy behind magazine redesigns, although they sometimes seek reader feedback. In late September, the Washington Post hosted an online discussion with the designers of the new Washington Post Magazine. Many readers applauded the opening articles and graphics in the first edition. However, one reader from Washington, D.C., commented on the shopping trends section, “I can’t afford to buy the stuff, not in this economy anyway.”
Other magazines re-launching or revamping either in print or online include VIBE, Fortune, Worth, and numerous others. The latest in a slew of re-launches includes Ebony magazine, which was rumored to be on the chopping block in September. According to the Sun-Times, Ebony announced the addition of its “Power 150” list, which lists iconic black figures in science, business, technology and education. In addition, the publication now has features including “Ebony Interview,” and “Legend,” which highlights figures like famed poet Maya Angelou.
What are these publishers up against? They are prepared to enter 2010 battling higher costs and shrunken ad revenues with fewer employees in their retinue to produce these high-end glossy consumer publications. Despite this, magazines “will continue to be essential,” Robert Civita, CEO and editor in chief of the Sao Paulo-based Abril group told Samir Husni from Mr. Magazine. During the National Association of Magazine Editors Forum in Brazil, Civita told publishers that they needed to build long lasting relationships with readers, “one that is based on the publication, the magazine, the brand.” He went on to list six basic steps in ensuring success including producing content that works in an ever-changing environment and exploring and extending your brand. So far, it would seem that some of these titles have gotten it right. “Our job is to make a difference, to change the world, to produce magazines with souls,” he said. “That will make all the difference in the future of quality journalism.”
— Mary Seidel
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