Despite digital competition and dropping ad revenues, there may yet be a bright, glossy future for print magazines. ♦
It’s hard to tell whether print magazines will die out completely, of course. But, think about your favorite popular magazine. Whether you love getting your celebrity gossip fix in People magazine or even scoping out the latest recipes in Good Housekeeping, chances are there’s an online version of your favorite periodical out there, and all it takes to find it is a quick Google search. And on an even brighter note? Most digital versions of magazines are totally FREE to access content, which you can do even on your smartphone. Some digital magazines even include a free PDF version of the entire print issue that readers can click through, like The Atlantan in Atlanta, Georgia. So, how on earth does print still exist, where readers have to pay for a subscription, rather than accessing content online, usually without paying a penny?
In “Predictions About the Future of Print Magazines,” Rex Hammock argues that the traditional print magazine model is dead. Magazines today are turning into media companies and must adapt to changing technologies, which is why many magazines have chosen to convert to online versions in the first place. Some popular magazines have even gone so far as to develop apps, like Cosmopolitan (available in the iTunes app store). Many also have social media presences on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat. New technologies and emerging digital platforms will force magazines to further adapt, making print seem more and more like a blast from the past.
But, believe it or not, print magazines still seem as relevant as ever. In a 2014 interview titled “Perception Vs. Reality: Print's Power in a Digital Age,” industry analyst Samir Husni noted that many magazines which attempted to get rid of print forms completely and convert to entirely digital have had weak online presences or have even disappeared completely. While digital magazines are still extremely popular with readers because of their easy (and not to mention free!) access, the unsuccessful attempts by certain magazines to go completely digital goes to show that print magazines might have a stronger importance and popularity than we thought. Newsweek seems successful after their switch to all-digital in 2012 after their print circulation dramatically decreased, but it seems other magazines that have tried to do the same didn’t share the same success.
Part of this comes from revenue. Ad Age reports that, while print magazines are losing their advertisers and subscriptions rates are lowering, magazines would most likely struggle to stay afloat without the revenue they continue to bring in from advertisers and newsstand sales if they eliminated their print versions altogether, which is probably a major reason why print still exists. And while some online magazines charge subscriptions, or put their content behind a paywall, these business models tend to struggle, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Many digital magazines today also focus on producing quick content, emphasizing speed rather than good writing and reporting. While print magazines typically don’t cover time-sensitive breaking news, their stories are usually longer, more in-depth, and more meaningful to readers. Wired editor in chief Scott Dadich recently told WWD that they still keep their print version of the magazine precisely because digital is so “lightning-fast” and “it’s still hard to capture in digital, despite all our experimentation with technology, with moving a story through an audience member’s hands.” Content-wise, print magazines tend to have more time and focus invested in the articles as opposed to digital content.
Not a lot of other recent research or predictions exist on the Internet regarding the future of print magazines specifically. The dynamic of the magazine industry itself is shifting; some major magazine publishers have undergone massive layoffs, including Time, Inc. Some magazines today have even started off on a digital platform, skipping print altogether. But Hammock believes print magazines will still exist in the future though it depends on “how smart and resourceful the publisher is.” He thinks that business magazines, specifically, will survive in the print format, because CEOs of major companies love to pay for the premium advertisement space in these magazines, and that niche magazines about anything from celebrities to parenting will also survive, because the target audience otherwise can’t get enough of the magazine’s specific topic. Hammock furthermore believes that print magazine collections show part of our identities, as well doubling as accessories for our coffee tables, so they will never go out of style. And this point—our attachment to the magazine as a physical object—really can’t be overstated. Despite the easy accessibility of digital magazines, it’s somewhat nostalgic to sit down and read a print magazine cover to cover, and there’s a level of comfort in knowing that good, “old-fashioned” print magazines will continue to prosper, despite the demand for ever-newer technologies and faster deliveries.