Magazines as a form of media: Popularity, viability and outlook for the platform going forward Magazines first came into existence in 1663 when a German writer Johann Rist created Edifying Monthly Discussions, a scholarly periodical which caught the attention of many cultivated young intellectuals then. Fast forward 4 centuries later, we now have a myriad of magazines readily available to suit everyone’s tastes, ranging from news and current affair periodicals like The Economist to celebrity and fashion publications such as Vogue. However, with such a huge variety of publications available worldwide, why do we still find magazines’ popularity dropping over the past century?
In this essay, we will discuss the reasons behind the magazines’ past popularity, the challenges it faces that results in it’s declining popularity and the measures magazine publication firms can adopt to stay relevant in this current age of technological advances. So, what exactly is a magazine? A magazine is a publication that is published on a regular schedule which can contain a variety of content, ranging from art to politics and even pets. Different magazines have distinct house styles that convey their brand identity which is a vital aspect for its publications as magazines sell content that is often aspirational. This is what distinguishes them from other print materials made for the masses, such as books and newspapers. Magazines generally focus on one specific theme (e. g. fashion, lifestyle, photography, finance, entertainment etc. ) – these allows consumers to pick and choose what they would like to read about, depending on their personal interests. This means that fashion fanatics can pick up publications like Harper’s Bazaar and Elle while photography enthusiast can have access to issues like Source and Aperture. This offers readers the power of choice in their consumption of media and allows different magazines to attract their own niche audience, making them a popular form of print media in the past century. One of the media communication theories that supports this occurrence is the Attribution Theory introduced by Fritz Heider in 1958. Attribution theory explains how and why ordinary people explain the things as they do as it is human nature to call for understanding.
Most of our attributions are driven by our emotional and motivational impulses as we try to make sense in this social world. Hence, the introduction of this new form of media in the 1900s was highly welcomed as people seek new and informative ways to understand the world they live in. Through the consumption of these niche magazines, readers are able to delve deeper into their interests and find belonging in a bigger community. This allows them to better understand themselves and the world around them in an era where information was not readily available via the internet. The Hypodermic Needle Theory, which was developed in the 1920s, could also be another explanation for the booming popularity of magazines in the past. This theory believes that media can have a powerful effect on audience members by injecting media messages directly into their passive brains.
As technology and education levels were relatively lower back then, it was not surprising for audience members to take in whatever information they have received from the media channels in the exact way the content were delivered, without rejecting or questioning them. The additional knowledge that they were able to gain through the weekly or monthly consumption of their favourite magazines was hence a spur to the magazine publishing industry in the past. However, the popularity of magazines was not long-lived as technological advances over the years brought about the birth of the new media. The introduction of new media in the 1990s took the world by storm and has completely changed the landscape of the media industry ever since. Each form of new media is highly interactive which means that not only can audience members be consumers of new media, they can now be active producers of content and information as well. Feedbacks from media audiences can also now be received instantly and attended to right away without having a buffer period for the feedbacks to be processed like with old media. This phenomenon was like a breath of fresh air for the media audiences as such sophisticated functions were not viable with any form of old media back then. New media hence became increasingly popular around the world with more and more users jumping onto the bandwagon to be part of the online community. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC)’s consumer magazines report,overall print circulation across the entire market fell by 5% with women’s weeklies experiencing the hardest hit with an overall drop of about 11% (2018).
Even publications like Now, Woman and New! which were very well received by the females in the past are also unable to escape the wrath of the effects of the fast expanding new media industry. Information such as beauty reviews and fashion trends which could only be found exclusively in such niche magazines in the past can now be easily searched on the internet. Beauty and fashion gurus such as Kathleenlights and Jeffree Star who produce and share their own beauty related content on video-sharing platforms like Youtube are now the go-to channels for the latest make up look or the hottest lipstick shade in town. Beauty enthusiasts no longer have to flip through pages and pages of glossies in order to find the content they are interested in, making it a more convenient and less tedious process. As a result, the magazine publication firms began to find their existence threatened as their pool of readers and advertisers were slowly moving on to digital platforms such as Facebook, Google and other more nimble online competitors. The business that long depended on their thick glossy volumes powered by high-price advertisements as their main form of revenue is now at a slower dusk, inching closer to sunset. While the above may paint very a bleak future for magazines as a form of media, not all hope is lost. There are still consumers who find the physicality of the magazine a quintessential part of their reading experience and hence prefer to have a physical copy of the print in their hands.
A research done by American teen magazine, Seventeen has provided data to prove that readers of their magazines do not just purchase the magazines but instead treat each issue as a valuable collectible (2012). This explanation is further supported by a survey conducted by Ipsos Group where 80% of surveyors chose to read on a physical print than online content (2011). It is thus safe to say that there is still a sense of comfort in owning a physical print and reading from it, hence magazines publication firms should leverage on this aspect and market the magazines to their advantage. It is therefore arguable that the rise of new media does not mean that magazines have to become obsolete. Magazine publication firms can integrate elements of new media into the traditional media to complement each other to provide more ways to access their content at a faster speed.
An example would be to include exclusive online content as part of an issue that can only be accessed by a link or quick response (QR) code provided in the physical magazine. Not only would this encourage readership of magazines offline, online presence of the magazine can also be established. Once established, shorter bite-bite-sized articles of similar niche area can also be posted online beyond the physical magazine with quick links to share the content on to popular social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. With the high volume of active users on these social networking sites, it is easy for an article to go viral and garner thousands of hits in minutes.
This would increase the awareness surrounding the particular magazine which can contribute to both offline and online readership, brand identity and ultimately, brand loyalty. Magazines might have tasted sweet success and experienced bitter downfall over the past decade but one thing’s for sure: the tangibility of a physical copy of the print can never be replaced by its digital counter parts. Print and digital media have their banes and boons in different aspect and when employed in conjunction would complement the strengths and weaknesses of each medium.
Magazine publishing firms must learn to incorporate digital elements with their prints so as to allow the traditional media to stay relevant and to continue to exist alongside new media. Just like what Fidler has mentioned, older forms of media do not die but instead continue to evolve and adapt when newer forms of communication media emerge (1990). Magazines will continue to survive in this digital age as long as magazine publishing firms continue to innovate and embrace the continuous technological advancements together with new media.
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