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Competitive Challenges in 2016

Posted on Wednesday, December 30, 2015 at 11:23 PM

Staying ahead of the game in a crowded content marketplace.

By William Dunkerley

The competitive milieu in the magazine publishing business keeps getting more complex. How well are you fixed to take on new forms of competition? Are you prepared to be flexible in adapting your business practices to the evolving marketplace?

We're no longer just competing with other publications with similar editorial focuses. Think about user-generated content, social media, corporate content marketing, and even native advertising within our own pages. These trending practices are in direct competition with us in our endeavors to satisfy the needs and interests of our audiences through the content that we produce.

The business models we've used in the past may not be adequate to take on the challenges ahead.

Changing Advertiser Preferences

For one thing, the share of magazine ad spending in the US has taken a serious dive. According to ZenithOptimedia, magazines garnered 14.5 percent of spending in 2007. But by 2015 it fell to 9.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the Internet has played a significantly increasing role in shaping advertiser choices. In 2007 it was receiving a smaller share of ad money than magazines: 8.2 percent vs. the 14.5 percent held by magazines. But by 2015 the Internet had forged ahead to 28.3 percent.

The biggest loser to the Internet is the newspaper segment. It fell from 28.1 percent in 2007 to 10.9 percent in 2015. That was a bigger setback than was felt in the magazine field. On a percentage basis magazine ad spend declined by 34 percent, whereas it was 61 percent for newspapers.

Changing Consumer Trends

An eMarketer report offers some insights into the consumer behavior related to Internet proliferation. It tracked time spent by consumers with various media forms. What did the research show? One finding indicates that the average time spent per day with magazines has declined. In 2012 the time spent was 17 minutes daily; in 2015 it was 13.

It is important that we also understand the unfolding consumer trends in media consumption.

What changes have taken place in time spent each day using media? Let's look at what the eMarketer study reports for the period from 2012 to 2015:

Losses:
--TV, 27 minutes
--Newspapers, 7 minutes
--Radio, 5 minutes
--Magazines, 4 minutes

Gains:
--Digital, 1 hour 19 minutes

Within the digital category certain trends can be observed, too:
--Desktop and laptop, 12 minutes lost
--Mobile (non-telephonic), 1 hour 26 minutes gained
--Other connected devices, 33 minutes gained

There is likely a variety of different ways these trends will impact any particular magazine. There probably isn't a single digital strategy that will serve the interests of all magazines in this regard.

Recently, Anne Marie Mohan of the PMMI Media Group told us that her company had "an unbelievably great year" in 2015. She explained, "We still maintain a monthly print issue (that continues to grow), but our digital business has really taken off. I believe that publications that don't embrace digital will be left in the dust. This doesn't mean print is dead, but readers are looking for information in a number of ways today, and if you can't give them what they want you are doomed."

Competing in a Crowded Marketplace

I think that few publishers would disagree. There's nary a magazine today that doesn't have some kind of digital presence. So the bottom-line issue comes down to how to best compete with the plethora of new digital offerings such as user-generated content and corporate content marketing. They are in reality serious competition not only to individual magazines, but also to the overall role of magazines in the information marketplace.

What do we have going for us that others don't? What can be our competitive advantage? In a word, it is integrity. That must involve servicing reader needs in a professional way, as opposed to the casual and often unreliable approach of some user-generated content. It also must involve placing audience interests first, unlike corporate content marketing wherein pushing a persuasive sales agenda reigns supreme.

If we can win and solidify the trust of readers, they will be more inclined to turn to our publications and our content for meeting their needs.

Preserving Content Quality

Good, reliable content has long been a hallmark of the magazine business. Well-known editorial consultant Howard Rauch observed, "In the 20th Century, 'truth' was a key guidepost emphasized in most journalism organization ethics codes. Back then, the usual accompanying tenets were independence, minimize harm and accountability.

"But," says Rauch, "the 21st Century has brought digital media challenges that require new thinking."

Have you cut corners editorially to the extent that your content quality is descending toward the level of run-of-the-mill user-generated material? Are you being asked to run native advertising in your publication that is not properly identified? Are you delivering content in a format that suits the evolving consumer preferences for accessing desired information?

How prepared are you to meet these and other 21st-century challenges?

[Note: Statistics used in this article can be found in the 2016 edition of Marketing Fact Pack provided by Advertising Age magazine.]

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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