Friday, 3 April 2009

Digital Maxim and Murdoch's mobile future

The first big name print casualty of the year was announced yesterday, when Maxim magazine moved to online only. Not entirely surprising given that it had dropped 41% of its sales over the last 6 months, but Maxim is still apparently the biggest selling men's mag in the world so its UK decline suggests something larger than simply ad revenue drying up in 2009. Of course, the brand itself will continue in digital format, where it already looks healthier (250k email subscribers compared to 41k print sales). I have a sneaky suspicion that the online format will look something like Dennis's Monkey - one of those curious 'web-magazines' where you have to drag the pages to turn them. Although the 1m monthly unique users of this magsite (smag? webezine?) obviously like that format, it seems to be the result of a conversation that goes something like this:

Well we're good at making magazines. But people don't want to buy magazines as much now because they're using this "web" . So how do we put "magazines" onto this "web", because then everything will all be ok again?

So rather than thinking what might of how to get things back to the way they were, how about thinking about getting them forward to the way things will be?

Magazines are portable and easy to access. Webezines are far less portable and difficult to navigate. Let's face it, websites are starting to feel a bit unwieldy to anyone getting well-acquainted with applications. And this isn't something that can be blamed on ad revenue in the way that TV and online publishers can: they know that 2009 is tough because no-one's paying them, but both media are growing their audiences (not as difficult when your product is free). Maxim's problem was that no-one wanted to buy the thing. Moving online effectively means 'cut out the fixed print and distribution costs and make the content free'.... which means that it survives simply by being interesting.

What puts this dilemma into a sharp perspective is Rupert Murdoch's speech this week at a cable industry show announcing that he is investing heavily in the next generation of Kindle-type devices. *graeme points smugly at this post*.
Handheld mobile devices are the obvious evolutionary step for print brands, but are currently hindered by useablilty issues (ie reading articles on a 3 inch screen is no match for a physical product in your hand). Mobile as a medium however offers the holy grail for cash-strapped print brands: a lot of people who are very used to paying for content on mobiles (whether through monthly data tariffs, one-off application purchases, whatever - the point is there is a monthly bill attached). The monthly payment isn't as much as the cost of a printed product, but then we weren't ever paying just for content when we bought magazines (or newspapers) - most of that money went on glossy paper, printing, distribution of heavy pallets of magazines, etc.

So News International apparently see this as a possible future medium for some of their brands, and as the most powerful publisher in the world it makes sense that if we ('the consumers') aren't buying into genuinely readable handhelds quick enough then Rupert will give the tech industry the kick/cash injection that it needs to give him the required distribution platform. But there are a few other ways of looking at it:

1. There's a lot of devices already that do a pretty good job of being readable. It might be difficult to for example charge monthly for Zoo on an iPhone, but how about a subscription for all Bauer titles on Vodafone? The Kindle (sorry I hate the phrase 'e-reader' it reminds me of a very long time ago) is an extra chunk of device to stick in your pocket every day, so these sort of predictions will only really start to work when the mobile/netbook battle resolves itself and we're left with really usable useful devices.

2. The brands that survive will be those that deserve to: Maxim's girls/comedy/laddishness content is available in a thousand other places on the internet, and so it won't survive long there either. Print brands that do will be those that either have unique content (usually the very big brands) or unique communities (usually the niche brands)

3. People like magazines (ok not enough to make them profitable). If you are using a site every day to check a few favourite feeds, then surely it should be able to learn enough from what you, other people like you, your friends, etc read to be able to put a pretty decent package of content together that you haven't read. And then your subscription could offer you a couple of printed copies per year (printed specifically for you, content specific to you that it knows you haven't read). (Perhaps when you book a train ticket you could be reminded to order it for delivery the day of travel) - the printed version becomes the personalised collecters edition.

And ideally of course these various new revenue streams all add up to enough to keep the magazine in actual print, as people aren't going to stop buying the printed version of the thousands of mags with a valid reason to exist, unlike Maxim

Since I'm on the subject, I'm still not sure whether i think Wired UK is a good thing - see Ramzi Yakob and Neil Perkin for more. All I can say is that I bought it to read on the way home today, but ended up noticing that Wired US had started publishing full articles over RSS, so read them on Viigo all the way home instead


Post a Comment