Magazines struggle as readership plummets

As the traditional print market continues to decline, publishing houses are increasingly experimenting with digital media as well as new titles and concepts in a bid to survive.

This article was first published on March 6, 2013, on the server Prague Post. Author: Clare Speak

Recent figures from the Czech Audit Bureau of Circulation reveal a dramatic drop in the circulation of print magazines over the past year, with certain titles losing more than one-third of their readership. Experts say the future success of publishers and their titles will depend not only on their ability to adapt to electronic media platforms but also to produce higher-quality content.

Newsstand magazines experienced an overall decrease of 11.8 percent across all titles.

The Czech media market has been consolidating rapidly since the start of the economic crisis in 2008,“ said Cristina Muntean, a media adviser, trainer and coach with Media Education CEE. “A decline in overall circulation for newsstand magazines isn’t surprising; it goes in line with trends in media markets worldwide.

Women’s magazines are among the titles that have faced the largest decline, following trends seen in other markets.

Moje Psychologie saw a drop of 22 percent, Marie Claire’s readership is down 15 percent, while Chuť a Styl saw a 33-percent drop. The biggest drop was recorded for Bauer Media’s quarterly Tina Vaříme, at 40 percent. Bauer Media declined to comment on these figures.

Whether those readers are moving toward online media or other print titles is a question currently available market data fail to address.

There is little information available to tell us what’s truly going on here.“ Muntean said. “Few publishing houses have sufficient revenues to invest in deep market research.“

Women’s magazines used to be fed mainly by advertising revenues coming from producers of consumer goods – cosmetics, clothing, jewelry, etc. Sometimes, the content was totally buried under ad-driven information,“ she added. “If you combine this fact with the Czech macroeconomic indicators – the recession, people’s strong tendency to save money and reduce consumption – you understand why women’s titles have an issue.“

Auto titles also down

But women are not the only target market in decline. Ringier Axel Springer, the country’s biggest publishing house with six newspapers and 14 magazines, saw falls of between 10 percent and 16 percent across several of its Czech auto and gardening titles.

Sales of men’s magazines have also sustained losses in readership, with Maxim down 14 percent and Esquire down 11 percent.

The international, German-owned publishing group reported an overall circulation drop of 6.2 percent in its financial report from the third quarter of 2012, the most recent available. Advertising revenues, however, fell 12.8 percent.

The report cited “substantial declines“ in the Czech Republic, with the company sustaining net advertising revenue losses of 17.2 percent on its Czech news titles, though gaining an increase of 12 percent through online media.

Ringier Axel Springer spokespeople said the company would not provide further details in advance of the publication of its 2012 annual financial report due March 6.

The company also publishes the tabloid Blesk, the Czech Republic’s most popular daily newspaper, which has not seen a significant drop in its circulation, which was 349,600 in 2011. The company also launched a new free magazine supplement, Blesk TV MÁNIE, March 2.

Blesk TV MÁNIE is a logical complement to our portfolio as a new member of the family of Blesk magazine, the most widely read TV supplement on the Czech market,“ said Radek Lain, content director of Blesk and Aha! dailies.

The release of another supplement is part of a wider trend among publishing houses experimenting with new strategies.

“What I’ve observed from Czech publishing houses since 2010 is a high degree of experimentation with new titles and concepts,“ Muntean said. “A new title’s lifespan is usually short and uncertain, which also takes a toll on the commitment of journalists working for them.

The most recent example of such experimentation, Muntean explained, is the Economia publishing house’s January decision to cease printing its highly specialized and business-to-business titles.

Meanwhile, last year it launched a new lifestyle title, Bel Mondo.

Publishers in the Czech Republic are facing the same challenges as those in Germany, the United Kingdom or the United States: a fragmented audience consuming information on the newest technology, requiring a high degree of personalization,“ Muntean said. “Yet the same audience is rarely willing to pay for the informational service.

All major publishing houses point toward further investment in digital media. Sanoma has recently begun distributing six of their major titles in tablet form, including National Geographic, Chuť a Styl and Vlasta, in what the group called an “essential expansion.“

Figures released by research group Media Projekt in December 2012 revealed the numbers of tablet owners in the Czech Republic had almost doubled in the past year, from around 300,000 to 500,000; following the Christmas period, the figure is now believed to be closer to 600,000.

For some, further investment in media for tablets and other digital platforms thus appears the way forward. Some experts, however, believe publishers remain hesitant, despite their claims to the contrary.

Though they are repeating the mantra, at the same time, they’re not doing very much about it,“ said Michal Klíma, former director of Economia, which recently launched Tablet Media, expected to produce magazines in tablet form only.

I understand publishers aren’t in a hurry to invest in digital media, because they are afraid of endangering their print publications. The concern is that readers will move, but advertisers will not.“

Although advertising is low in print,“ he continued, “the portion that goes to tablets is much smaller – maybe 20 percent to 30 percent of readers will move to tablets, but only 2 percent to 3 percent of the advertising will follow.

Though Klíma sees plenty of potential for growth in digital publishing, he doesn’t expect it to replace print. “I’m not a big promoter of the end of print. I always say that print media has one big advantage: It doesn’t need electronic devices, and sometimes that’s a good thing. Also, it’s very probable that many of the people who are reading on tablets are the same people buying print.“

If the content of the magazine or newspaper is good, people will continue to read it,“ he continued. “I believe print media will be around for a long time, alongside tablet media, but there will be fewer print titles on the market than there are now.

New titles to launch

Speaking on the future of the print market, Muntean said: “I’m afraid a new, sustainable business model for the media includes both digitalization and quality content. The only question is who’s going to pay for it.“

We can expect the experimenting will continue; we will see more new titles being launched with a short lifespan, driven by trendy content. Established publishing houses will invest more in digitalization and apps for new technology platforms, just to realize sooner or later that content is the real key.“

Klíma agreed that many Czech publications need to improve the quality of their content in order to stay competitive.

In the Czech market, I regret to say the content is generally not good. If you compare Czech publications with those in other European countries, you see Czech newspapers are much closer to one another and less unique. They focus on tabloid news rather than serious news. Either publishers will understand that this isn’t the right way, or they will continue to decline.“

By Clare Speak For the Post Clare Speak can be reached at business@praguepost.com

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The best way to gain, retain, and restore your critical distance as a woman CEO is to have a faithful guide, thought partner, and inspiring challenger by your side. This is what I am for women CEOs. If you are facing major developments in your business or in your career this year, we should talk. Please book or have your assistant book a no-strings-attached free 30-minute CEO exploration call with me; we will get to know each other and I will be thrilled to spot how I could be of your service in 2024 and beyond.
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Let's Talk

The best way to gain, retain, and restore your critical distance as a woman CEO is to have a faithful guide, thought partner, and inspiring challenger by your side. This is what I am for women CEOs. If you are facing major developments in your business or in your career this year, we should talk. Please book or have your assistant book a no-strings-attached free 30-minute CEO exploration call with me; we will get to know each other and I will be thrilled to spot how I could be of your service in 2024 and beyond.