Cards on the table. I love magazines. I sometimes think I love the concept of the magazine more than the actual content – I can happily flick through one on almost any subject as long as it is well written, well illustrated and fun. When the combination of reviews, photography, top tips, bitesized articles and great big essays is just right, there is always a reason to keep turning the page and the magazine becomes a great way to pass some time.
Just like retail, the magazine publishing business is going through some tumultuous change. We might not buy our magazines on paper in the future, but instead consume them on tablets. That will change a lot for publishers – new technology creates new opportunities for content to become more interactive. The writers and producers of magazines will be able to engage with readers much more directly and will have to do so.
But just like retail, this change in technology and communication channel does not change the heart of the business. If you want to make money by producing written content on a given topic, you can still do so. You still need to gather together some great writers with subject matter expertise, you still need to edit their content and you still need to combine it together in interesting ways. The change in the physical medium is a huge one, to be sure, but the core opportunity is still there.
When a publisher worries about falling circulation, it is the same as a retailer worrying about falling footfall in their physical stores. It is an understandable concern, but fundamentally the wrong question. The right question for the retailer is “can I build a relationship with customers where I can introduce them to products they might want to buy?”. The choice of channel only comes after that, and it might well be the case for many retailers that there is much less need for a physical channel than they suspect.
So it is for publishers. The right starting question is “if I produce some great content from terrific writers and photographers, will anyone be interested in paying to read it?”. The physical media choice can only come after that. Just like retailers, I suspect the answer for many publishers will be that yes, we want to read their content but that they will need to be bold about abandoning the high costs of physical printing.
There is a reason why the analogy between publishing and retailing is so strong. I suspect over time that these two industries will become one. If you are a publisher, one of the possible revenue streams from your content is to actually sell the products you are writing about, and in the tablet world that retail transaction is only a click away. Equally, if you are a retailer and want to give customers a reason to come back to you again and again, excellent editorial content is a real prize.
So perhaps two industries which are both wrestling with the change from physical to digital can help each other out more than they currently suspect?