Why print is still king

By Sean Anderson on August 22nd, 2012

Print still dominates the magazine market. Yet publishers still haven’t cottoned on to what motivates consumers. We tend not to be strictly rational actors, mathematically assessing the amount of content available to us, slapping down the plastic irrespective of how many words for our buck we’re getting.

Instead, we impulse-buy covers with recognisable slebs on them, and we don’t like signing up to indefinite subscriptions, no matter what we’re promised by publishers.

By rights, all-you-can-read iPad magazine app Next Issue should be a terrific commercial success. But despite being a joint venture from publishing heavyweights Condé Nast, Time and News Corporation, and providing cheap access to a range of supposedly popular titles, this “Netflix of magazines” has garnered just 15,000 subscribers since its launch in April this year.

At less than £10 per month, the service is highly affordable and provides access to a range of prestige titles. In theory, it should be popular. But it’s not. The old media bulwarks have failed to realise that providing access to Elle and Esquire isn’t in itself enough to tempt readers in to the bear trap of a subscription.

Carp fishers want a subscription to Total Carp magazine, but not everyone wants to subscribe to your typical middle-shelf lifestyle mags – even if they occasionally pick up a copy of them in the newsagent. Next Issue is the magazine equivalent of Spotify, but with no free option and the choice of listening to only a couple of dozen artists, all of them vacuous chart-toppers. (Your favourite artists are mostly absent.)

Despite the tagline “all the magazines you love”, what you actually get is the sort of unloved glossy that litters the table of a dentist’s waiting room.

While publishers tie themselves in knots over how to reach out to tableteers, Private Eye reminds us that there is life in the industry yet. At 225,000 weekly readers, it has a growing lead as the most-read current affairs magazine in Britain. It seems unlikely that the Eye is picking up News of the World refugees, and it certainly isn’t down to their tokenistic online presence, which amounts to “go and buy the paper”.

The Eye is enjoying success because its editors know what readers want. The three-column, text-heavy throwback design with a funny picture on the cover is what readers have venerated for years, and no sexy app from Condé Nast is going to make you stop laughing and despairing at a worn copy on the train.