Let’s get real; the last two years in magazine media has had some ups, but mostly a lot of downs. It’s been two years of turmoil that’s included several thousands (not hyperbole) of layoffs, brand closures, corporate consolidations and rapidly decreasing ad revenues. But, as I said, there have been some ups, which speaks to the resiliency of the industry, its people and its commitment to reinvent its business model.
While last year is one that many might soon want to forget, we did see some interesting shifts that will dictate how the year ahead might shake out. So with that in mind, here are a few possible trends that could define the year ahead.
1. Bank on More Consolidation
2017 began as it had for decades—with five major players atop the mass consumer landscape: Time inc., Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith and Rodale. But through divestments from Wenner Media to AMI and Penske Media, along with the sales of Rodale to Hearst and Time Inc. to Meredith, we saw a new hierarchy emerge. Now we have the Massive Two—Hearst and Meredith—along with a Big One—Condé—and an Emerging Two—AMI and Penske. It’s not just mass consumer companies, however. We’ve seen similar consolidation happening in the B2B sector as well with Informa’s blockbuster acquisition of Penton, along with others.
All of this consolidation—in both sectors—is indicative of where things are going. In 2018 it’s safe to say we will see more mergers and acquisitions. The impact of this will be both good and bad. It will mean the industry has a better shot of weathering the uncertain road ahead by becoming much more efficient. But on the flip side, it likely means the end of some beloved brands and, of course, more layoffs.
2. Count on Data, Data and More Data
I can probably guess what you’re thinking: “Duh.” But it still has to be said. Data will continue to drive the growth of the industry. Programmatic advertising and account based marketing paired with predictive analytics will offer huge opportunities to publishers of all shapes and sizes.
3. Look for a Print “Comeback”
Okay, don’t get too giddy about this prediction. Print advertising is going to continue to decline, it’s the natural evolution of this product. Magazines have no real accountable data mechanism, making them an increasingly hard sell. However, this industry and the brands within it were built on print magazines. When some publishers who pivoted to video or became “digital first” begin to lick their wounds, they may turn back to their old friend print to deliver some fairly reliable returns. Granted, those returns will never again be close to what they once were.
Still, print magazines are great branding and marketing tools, and can help publishers support their soon-to-be (if not already) stronger digital businesses. Further, magazines fit into another trend I left out because I still have questions and concerns (perhaps a good topic for a future post)—paid content. Subscriptions and newsstand sales were always gravy thanks to the revenue gained through advertising, but a revived focus on paid models, which can include print components, will be in on the action this year. But paid content strategies today are still primarily a digital play in my opinion, and digital media is centered on data.
So even though print won’t likely be driving the success bus this year for most, it could have a revival in enthusiasm and buzz. Nevertheless, industry wide we can probably expect to see more frequency reductions, along with fewer ad pages, smaller book sizes and, in some cases, a total pivot away from the product altogether.