Printed magazines are dead. It’s a claim I hear all the time from anyone under 30. It’s time for the print magazine industry to get its affairs in order and say its goodbyes, they say. It’s terminal. That’s not 100 percent true, at least not for all magazines. People still like reading printed magazines, they just won’t pay for them anymore. It’s understandable. Information you had to pay a pretty penny for 20 years ago is now free and readily available 24/7. Want a recipe? Google it. Family Circle, when I worked for Murdoch, sold hundreds of thousands of issues every month. It is no longer printed.
Want a workout? TikTok has tens of thousands, complete with comprehensive video instructions. Men’s Health, a title I launched over 23 years ago and took to 120K readers/month, now desperately searches for relevance to a youthful audience and is beginning to look like a 30-year-old at schoolies week. Its competitor, which I also started, Men’s Fitness, is no longer printed. Most lifestyle magazines now struggle for relevance along with a loyal audience.
The thing is, mass-market print media is very close to death and smells like it. The odour of its imminent demise wafts from “newsagents” — clearly now a misnomer — that now sell more Powerball tickets and hug-me bears than magazines and newspapers. Likewise, shelf space for magazines at supers gets progressively smaller, and the day is fast approaching the return on said space becomes untenable for either the publisher or the supermarket. But the smell emanates most strongly from dwindling household-name advertiser revenue, now being spread around a whole bunch of new channels.
It’s sad, but not really. The mass-market print magazine has had its day in the sun. The trouble is, many people are tossing out the proverbial baby with the tepid bathwater. Print is not dead. Far from it. Mass market print is dead for sure, but there is a huge swathe of the Australian population that devour print. In fact, they needs it and love it. And I’m not just talking about aging Gen Xers or Boomers wistfully recalling simpler times of flipping through their fave mag with a cuppa on a Saturday arvo.
No, I’m talking about rural Australia. Around 28 percent of the Australian population lives in rural and remote areas. That’s seven million people, give or take. News Corp stopped making and distributing regional newspapers over two years ago, leaving rural Australian communities without any form of local news.
Just looking at my neck of the woods, Queensland’s oldest regional newspaper, The Queensland Times in Ipswich, which started in 1859, stopped printing at the end of June 2020, along with the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin (1860), The Daily Mercury in Mackay (1867), and the Northern Star in Lismore (1876) and the Central Telegraph (1932).
But they get the Internet, I hear you cry in unison. Many, if not most, would have access, yes. But do they access it? They don’t, at least not to the same degree as their city-mouse cousins. How do I know? I asked them. Let me explain, but first a very quick back story.
Recently I was asked to revamp a Central Queensland Council magazine, a relaunch of sorts. Their simple 10-page magazine called Focus was, well, exactly what you’d think a local Council rag would be like. So I put my heart into it, using print publishing knowledge amassed over nigh on 30 years. And it came up well. After two issues, with some good local stories, some nice design, and some snappy headlines, Focus started to get traction and good feedback. Residents began to request delivery, and distribution increased substantially. After four issues, we had to ramp up the book size due to advertisers asking how they could buy space.
Curious, I asked how a good portion of 15,000+ residents of this Shire received their news media. First was radio, understandably. With towns at least two hours’ drive apart and much work done on the land, it made sense. But the second was Focus, our revamped magazine. That was a shock. A distant third was TV, while the interwebs sat at the bottom. (So much for Murdoch’s cunning plan.) The thing is they commented that the print magazine was, as well all know, more pleasant to read, easier to interact with, and most importantly, applicable to their lives and their welfare. And it’s free. (I should note, too, that the regional audience was, on average, older.)
Printed magazines, you see, aren’t dead. But print now must be fit for purpose and delivered free. It is not the default anymore, digital is. But used appropriately, to the right audience, and all the intimate connective power of print publishing comes back in spades. It’s beautiful to see.