Feature: The new magazines, part 1

In this three-part strategy magazine feature, writer Melita Kuburas looks at how magazines are reinventing themselves in the face of a rapidly changing mediaverse.

In this three-part strategy magazine feature adapted for Media in Canada, writer Melita Kuburas looks at how magazines are reinventing themselves in the face of a rapidly changing mediaverse.

In July, about 60 Canadian Living readers learned how to make grilled oysters and seafood brochette with the magazine’s food editor at Cirillo’s Culinary Academy in Toronto.

The Chillin’ Grillin’ Kitchen Party, sponsored by French Cross Peller Estate Wines, was offered for $65 to Canadian Living Advantage members – a ticketed social events program launched last year for the magazine’s subscribers, organized by editors and advertisers.

But besides the opportunity to taste-test a four-course meal and take home a loot bag (often worth more than the ticket), what do parties like this mean for the magazine and for its readers? By taking part in its readers’ social life, Canadian Living is upping its brand engagement – a key part of its new strategy to build emotional equity in the magazine and expand its audience pillars, explains Lynn Chambers, group publisher at Transcontinental Media.

Magazines are no longer limited to two-dimensional print – at least the ones that have a future aren’t. They hold trade shows, tweet to their online readers and produce video content that still manages to convey the brand’s core mandate. Some, like Canadian Living, which represents about 18% of Transcontinental’s total digital revenue, have managed to successfully monetize these online efforts. The Canadian Living mobile app has had more than 60,000 downloads, and the magazine runs 13 different e-newsletters that Chambers thinks will surpass more than a million subscribers by this fall. ‘We’re growing our digital platforms at 20% or more annually,’ she says. ‘Digital assets are definitely growing at a faster pace [than print] but they still don’t represent anywhere near their share.’

Although digital profits are still minor compared to print, any income is welcome in this post-recession environment. In 2009, the print medium not only felt the impact of a collective double-digit drop in ad budgets, it was also the victim of a reduction in consumers’ disposable income that meant they stopped spending money on anything considered frivolous. Sadly, for some, this meant nixing their magazine subscriptions.

Total paid and verified circ was down 2.37% in 2009 over the previous year for the 57 Canadian titles verified by Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), according to figures from January to December. Total single-copy sales were also down 5.07% for the year. But consumers have not stopped reading magazines. Interestingly, the average readership of all the magazines reported in the Print Measurement Bureau (PMB) was 1.04 million in spring 2010 – a slight increase over the same period the year before.

This year, magazines appear to be committed to carving out a business plan for the future. Many, like Canadian Living and Toronto Life have invested in content and art redesigns, extended their multi-platform coverage and offered innovative partnerships with advertisers. Although print budgets have not swung back to pre-2009 levels, most publishers believe that their efforts will reaffirm a connection with readers, and through their leveraging of print content and experience, co-opt some of the digital dollars meant to target eyeballs elsewhere.

Tomorrow: The new magazines, part 2 ‘The redesigns’