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February 15, 2020

Magazines Change with Digital Times

Late last year, the Association of Magazine Media (MPA) released a report, Magazine Media 360⁰, A Five-Year Review of Magazine Vitality, which detailed how magazine audiences changed between 2014 and 2019. Bearing in mind that the MPA’s goal is to present the consumer magazine industry in the most positive light, the findings were sobering; print+digital audiences were down 10% between August 2014 and August 2019, and website (desktop/laptop) audiences were down 34% in the same time period. The report, however, claimed 24% total audience growth in the past five years, thanks to a 120% increase in mobile web audiences and 459% increase in video audiences.

It’s important to note that, as with television, not all audiences are created equal; just as a person sitting down to watch their favorite TV drama is not the same as a person watching a short video on YouTube, the same is true for a person perusing the latest issue of a magazine they subscribe to, compared to a person who follows a clickbait-style link to an a short article or video on a magazine’s website.

That said, the report’s findings by industry are nevertheless interesting. As shown in the table below, we see wide variations in audience growth by platform, depending on the content genre covered. For example, epicurean titles bucked the trend when it came to their print+digital audience, posting a 3% gain between 2014 and 2019. On the other hand, there was a 22% decline in the print+digital audience for women’s fashion and beauty titles, which is significantly more than the all-magazine average. Somewhat countering this, women’s fashion and beauty saw huge gains in mobile web and video, with 340% and 1217% increases their audiences in the five-year interval measured. Finally, two categories—popular culture and spectator sports—came out flat, even when accounting for bumps in mobile and video. It’s likely that these two topics are so widely covered online that it’s just not necessary to turn to a magazine for the latest celebrity photos or coverage of the sports scandal du jour.

The takeaway is that the times, they are a-changin’, and consumers interact with the media differently. Smartphones have made all media mobile, and shorter-form content continues to gain in popularity. We’ve already seen the decline of newsmagazines as readers lost interest in in-depth reporting; now magazines that have made (or are making) the transition towards digital formats must find a way to draw “readers” to their content and monetize their results. If anything, the MPA’s report shows that the industry is trying to do just that.

Is Time Spent with Media on the Decline?

A brief from PQ Media caught our attention recently, as it discussed a topic we have covered for years: time spent with media. According to their Global Consumer Media Usage & Exposure Forecast 2019-23 report, although they predict a 2.1% increase in media usage in 2020, they expect growth of only about 1.4% annually between 2021-23. And as additional food for thought, the report noted that although growth in annual media use is not expected to cease within this time frame, the U.S. market (and others) will be close to its time spent limits by the end of 2023. 

We took a look at our own time spent data, which appear annually in Cross-Platform Dimensions, and found that the trends tell an interesting story. We present our time spent data in five-year intervals from 1945-2019, and in general, it looks like we are at the end of a boom period in media usage expansion. Between 1995-2015, we found accelerating growth in media time spent: 

                                                                1995-2000            +5.2%   

                                                                2000-05                +8.6

                                                                2005-10                +9.6

                                                                2010-15                +17.9

However, between 2015-19, the increase in media time spent has slowed to +8.7%. Obviously the rapid growth in the past 25 years is due to the introduction of the internet followed by its expansion into the mobile market: we can spend more time with media because it’s always with us. This is not unlike TV’s early days; as TV programming proliferated, U.S. adult daily time spent jumped over 20% between 1950-55 and nearly 12% between 1955-60. People made time in their lives for a new medium. However, following this boom period, daily media time spent growth leveled off, or was even flat. Even the introduction of cable didn’t move the needle drastically, as people didn’t necessarily watch massive amounts of cable in addition to network programming, but rather instead of it. And it wasn’t until a new medium came along in the mid- to-late-1990s that the next upswing began.

So here we are at the end of another sustained period of growth in media time spent. Based on what happened after TV’s introduction, we would expect the same pattern to prevail into the 2020s. Time spent growth rates should ease to more modest levels or be almost flat, and we can expect instead to see shifts in the share of time spent by medium, rather than overall growth.


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