Thursday, April 15, 2010

MEDIAPOST: The Inferiority Complex of Magazines

Magazines have a problem, but it’s not what you might think. Magazines are suffering from an inferiority complex but even more so from a lack of creativity.

I love magazines and I always have and no element of technology is going to make me change my opinion. I subscribe to and/or purchase about 30 publications, either weekly or monthly. I love the tactile feel of magazines and I love the passive, lean-back, relaxing way they provide me with information without the requirement of a battery or an Internet connection. I love the smell of a newsstand. I love the feel of paper between my fingers. Technology owns me just about everywhere else; all my music is now digital, all my TV is digital. With the iPad I’m certain my book consumption will be going digital. I even recently cancelled my subscription to the Sunday New York Times in recognition that I’d be shifting all my newspaper consumption to digital, but magazines will never go away for me.

So why do they have to run ads, in magazines, to try and get me to keep reading?

No – I’m not making this up. I opened up my latest issue of Entertainment Weekly to find a two-page spread that wreaked of desperation (and poor targeting) by pleading with me from some falsified emotional stance to continue reading magazines. “Dear Agency” that placed that media buy; why would you put the ad in a magazine? Isn’t that like preaching to the converted, at least a little bit? If you feel the need to place a desperate plea for my attention, at least run the spot on the web where your converted masses are headed.

Of course, the inferiority complex of magazines compared to digital media is not the point, it’s a symptom of the problem. Magazines lack a sense of creativity. Times have indeed changed, but magazines aren’t changing with it. Why aren’t magazines all 100% printed on recycled paper? Why didn’t magazines offer extended content online to supplement their print counterparts? Why don’t magazines test some form of paid access model, which is where they’re headed with the iPad anyways? Why don’t magazines find some way to get rid of the BRC (that silly card that always, yes always, falls out of the magazine and certainly creates more hassle and annoyance than they do convert to subscribers)? Why doesn’t the magazine business become more innovative? At the very least, why doesn’t the magazine business stop worrying about the future and embrace it a bit, and try to find a way to thrive in a world where not everything will be connected the web (yes – I said it, not everything will be connected to the web)?

Why doesn’t the magazine business find a new way of distributing their product in locations where digital access is an issue? Why don’t they start selling magazines like they sell popcorn in the baseball parks – with strolling vendors? Why not reach people in the places where they’re most likely to read magazines – on the train, on the plane, on the bus?

And if you’re going to run ads to get me to stay, why not put your money where your true audience might be, not in your own very own magazines where the people who’ve already left are least likely to see you?

Take a cue from the music business; don’t fight technology. Embrace it, but don’t abandon your core – your core is not going to die, even though it may decrease a bit. Don’t fight the future, find a way to work with it. Create your iPad apps and your Kindle apps but encourage me to want to use your printed, environmentally friendly versions where I know they’ll be most appropriate? And remind me what it’s like to sit in bed, curled up under the covers, with a crumpled piece of paper in my hands, and the magazine falling on my chest as a drift slowly to sleep from a long and arduous day filled with great people, great ideas and great content. That’s how you keep my attention.

Good luck mags! I’ll be rooting for you!

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