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Can magazines survive?

I started out as a freelance journalist 26 years ago working for South African magazine royalty such as Fair Lady, True Love and later Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Men's Health and others.
I was proud to have my name associated with these magazines, in particular Men's Health, whose circulation rose month on month, exceeding all those early expectations.

This magazine broke away from what was the norm in those days in terms of article size.

Whereas once I was briefed to write 1,800 - 2,000 word articles, I was suddenly writing 800 - 1,200 word pieces and less. Men's Health was slowly giving South African audiences a taste of bite-sized news and information.

Over the years, many publications successfully followed the same route and had great success - that is until the era of online reading.


Looking at hard-copy magazine sales today is depressing and even more so when we see magazines such as O, The Oprah Magazine South Africa edition and many others over the last few years falling away. Yes, the top-selling scandal mags, Huisgenoot, You and Drum are still doing relatively well but I wonder for how long? That is, how long before their readers all start reading online?

Research shows that today people's reading habits tend towards clicking on links posted on social networks, reading a few sentences, looking for exciting titbits, growing restless and rushing off to the next page...

Does this type of reading habit materialise into actually stopping you reading whole articles in magazines? Or even worse a whole book? According to the experts - yes!

Apparently, people's eyes pass over words without actually taking in what they're reading. By the time they realise this they literally have to go back and read again and again.

Neuroscientists warn that we're developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming enormous amounts of information online. This way of reading is competing with traditional deep-reading circuitry developed over centuries.

Readers for life

Again (and hear I fear I sound like my granny) I remember when people would look forward with great anticipation to the 26th of the month when their favourite titles would appear on the magazine stands. There was even a thing called brand loyalty in those days, which made it really simple for the advertising industry to choose where their ad spend would go. A Fair Lady reader for instance was a Fair Lady reader for life - and these readers still exist but as they grow older and fall away will they be replaced by the next generation?

There was definitely a certain warm feeling to buying your favourite mags and looking forward to putting aside that special time, accompanied by a cup of coffee, when you'd devour the latest news, features and often gossip. The same of course for a book. So what's replaced this? Who actually clicks on article after article on one website? And I understand it if you say why would I do that, when I can go to an aggregator site and find so much variety.

So my question is: Is it just a matter of time before hard copy mags go? And as for me, well I have to admit to reading a certain amount online but I do still love buying my favourite few mags and taking time over a week or so to devour the articles. Will I still be doing this by 2020? Maybe not...

And as I've said in numerous articles over the last few years it's definitely time for those who earn their living writing solely for magazines to look at new avenues of income.

As they say 'adapt or die'...

About Marion Scher

Marion Scher ( is an award-winning journalist, lecturer, media trainer and consultant with 25 years' experience in the industry. For more of her writing, go to her Bizcommunity profile or to Twitter @marionscher.
Andrew Parrington
The hard copy magazine will survive and this is starting to happen in USA and Europe where they have found what seems to be the magic of content creation for the device in which its content is being consumed. Parent Magazine by Meredith Publishers has started to see an increase in their print by creating the right content for the right channel. They did a feature on Autistic children, ran the top questions and answers in their print edition, released the video interviews with the parents in their interactive tablet edition and had short-to-the-point answers about living and dealing with Autistic children on the web. People who bought the print, read the questions and were driven to the interactive tablet edition for the video interviews with the parents, and to the web for quick answers. The people who went online to get answers about living and dealing with autistic children were told to download the interactive tablet edition for more on the interviews and to buy the print edition for the top questions and answers.So to get the whole "experience" they used the right content for the right channel. Design for the medium in which the content is being consumed. I think the current challenge is that publisher produce a printed edition, create a PDF and call it a tablet edition, but its the same content and its boring as a PDF flipper. They then have the same, or similar content on the web, thus negating the reason to drive consumers to their different offerings.Creating content for the device in which its being consumed makes sense if the offering and experience is different and engaging.
Posted on 5 Aug 2014 15:42
Tebogo Lesley Maifala
Yes, magazines can survive_Publishers should stay abreast with technological growth and development. Readers nowadays, young and old, prefer digital than printed. Many companies and households promote 'a paperless environment'.We have a rapidly advancing rate of social and news sites, where we can easily and cheaply find all and more than we could in 'normal' printed magazines.The solution is for magazine publishers to consider printed magazines to go digital rather than to remain in the traditional way of publishing.Digital publication will require strong and compelling marketing strategy in order to be picked.
Posted on 5 Aug 2014 15:46
Pat Pughe-Parry
My very first article ever published was in Fair Lady in 1978. I earned R50 (probably not much less than poor journos are paid these days.) A devoted magazine addict I couldn't walk past a magazine stand without buying 1, 2 or 3 mags. Now I can't remember when I last bought one.It is true I now have to force myself to go to the library to ensure I continue to read books. I don't like books on my phone or tablet but read everything else there. I guess niche magazines will continue to survive, but generalist women's magazines are at risk. There is too much of the same stuff regurgitated in each of the competing publications.
Posted on 5 Aug 2014 15:49
Richard Gee
I bought a copy of MH 3 months ago. Flipped through the pages and never went back to read it. First mag I had bought in years. Why pay for a syndicated article when it is bound to be free somewhere on the net.I used to buy/read at least 5+ mags a month. Now nothing. Same with Newspapers and shockingly TV. Everything is available on the Net and if I want entertainment I just switch on the the trusty radio (which has instant news) - and is also free.
Posted on 5 Aug 2014 15:57
Herbet Anele
It is quite un predictable but they will survive. The power of prints is their long shelf life and most of the time we 'browse' through the internet meaning to really readers storie and articles one needs that relaxed environment at your own time.
Posted on 5 Aug 2014 16:18
Marion Scher
I think this is brilliant and definitely a way forward. Thanks for sharing this.
Posted on 5 Aug 2014 16:25
Herbet Anele
It's quite tricky but I think they wil survive as reading is but about simply browsing. For indepth reading, print Mags will do and that is the power of print Mags. What's important is content.
Posted on 5 Aug 2014 16:29
Simon Espley
We have just completed the first month in our online magazine, having dropped print last year (after >20 years in print). Its hard to argue with 41,084 unique readers in our inaugural month as an online magazine, compared to the best printed ABC we ever achieved of 25,000. Print fans will trumpet the benefits of print, and criticize online for its weaknesses, but in the end its the readers that decide. And they have. Thanks for your post. Simon Espley, CEO Africa Geographic.
Posted on 5 Aug 2014 16:29
Vian Roos
O is a listened title and is super expensive to keep in the country. Marion I feel you see it as a Yes or No question, and not on how can magazines adapt in the market today. 20 years ago the market had far less titles. It is very important to note that Newsweek in the USA made big news in 2012 with "The last print issue" and in March 2014 the magazine is back in paper. Magazines and the publication industry must not look at it as "We are over", but "Lest look at how to reinvent ourself"
Posted on 5 Aug 2014 19:48
Puzzled Journo
You know Marion, I used to be a print journalist before I went into communications, and I'm not happy I had to leave the industry behind that I'd really enjoyed being part of for so long ... given the abysmal salaries and ever-increasing workloads, however, like you say the writing was on the wall.The real problem with journalism is that journalists' creativity is the resource, and many business owners don't respect that. The temptation to just keep producing more sub-standard magazines to cram in a few more adverts is so great, and that's why it's hard to maintain decent editorial content in the majority of a magazine, never mind across a complex multi-platform strategy like raised above.That's what pushed me out: having to work on multiple titles, including those I didn't believe in, and being expected to personally start selling advertising on the side 'for the good of the company'. Is that the way of the future, where ALL employees are now salespeople, and we're all just trying to grab money to stay afloat?I disagreed, so I left. i do feel, however, that there will always be a place for magazines, for both sentimental and business reasons. When I'm online I just tune out adverts, but in magazines they're unavoidable and even attractive features ... instead of 'impressions' delivered by the 100 000 online, advertisers can be guaranteed x number of adverts visible for that magazine's entire working life. For me, that means a lot more.
Posted on 5 Aug 2014 19:51
Claire Mason
A publisher that does the "right content for the right channel" piece well in SA is Ndalo Media. I'm not sure of the readership, but the content offering in Destiny (print) and on Destiny Connect (their website) is different, with regular webinars, forums etc. on the online channel, and in-depth articles in the mag. It gives me hope magazines will make it if they adapt.
Posted on 5 Aug 2014 20:06
Akshaye Madhok
What are your views on single copy sales vs subscriptions for print? Do you believe subscription based sales are dipping in print due to new digital behaviours.
Posted on 6 Aug 2014 08:30
Magazine Hack
Short answer, yes. I was the features editor at Men's Health for a few years, just before the bubble burst. Back then I was mandated to find interesting local writers to produce interesting local content. Today, I do get the feeling that's not happening any more, and overall, magazines and media companies are not investing in talent. Some of the biggest magazine brands in SA have tiny teams. It's a ridiculous situation where you might have an editor editing two monthly titles, and possibly only having two permanent staff on board. Mags can survive, but there needs to be a mindset change in how content is produced and presented to the reader.
Posted on 6 Aug 2014 12:30
Marion Scher
I'm not an expert on the ad side but I definitely think subscriptions have lost out in the last few years.
Posted on 6 Aug 2014 16:28
Wordy One
I worked in the mag industry as a specialised editor for 9 years. I loved my 'job' and sacrificed so much for it particularly timewise. Investment in my particular sections increased dramatically because I had incredible relationships with clients, I was specially qualified to write about the sections I did and I worked my guts out. I treated my portfolio as I would my own business. I embraced the arrival of digital totally and would update daily on the backend to ensure that users were engaged. But....nothing happened to my salary, I was told to write fewer and fewer words - pictures were more important, the prospect of growth within the company was non-existant, the company wasn't interested in investing in my talent or retaining it, perks that I started with were taken away as costs were cut and I was asked to take on more sections. At one stage I felt like I was producing 80% of the magazine including advertising. What was the point of me staying with the company? So I left. A cheaper, inexperienced and unknowledgeable person replaced me. It cost the company less and because they had stars in their eyes, they were open to financial and time abuse. What the company didn't bank on was my relationships with clients. Whilst the current adspend decline certainly plays a role, at the time, clients were still willing to spend, but they left. I can now count on one hand the number of pages that are invested in the portfolios I covered. In short, experienced print journalists in South Africa are not seen as an investment. They are not valued, they are payed dismally, expected to sacrifice their lives for the media house they work for and then some. The quality of stories is dismal, there's very little content that one can actually read and enjoy and there's very little to make one want to purchase a hard copy. I've given my favourite mags a 'chance' by purchasing them through Zinio every now and then, but every time, without fail, I have been disappointed by the purchase. The content is utterly disappointing and they all sound and look the same.The result? I read international magazines that are now even easier to come by than before. They have brilliant, engaging, readable content that inspires, teaches me something I don't know and leaves me feeling absolutely satisfied.
Posted on 14 Aug 2014 12:45
Seriane Morapeli
Magazines are dead. Easy and convenient access to online content that is free, in contrast to paid for magazines is one of the drivers. Also, overly sensationalized magazine content means reading a headline allows one to decipher the article. Negatively affecting purchase decisions
Posted on 22 Aug 2014 21:30
Seriane Morapeli
Magazines are dead. Easy and convenient access to online content that is free, in contrast to paid for magazines is one of the drivers. Also, overly sensationalized magazine content means reading a headline allows one to decipher the article. Negatively affecting purchase decisions
Posted on 22 Aug 2014 21:41
J John
The feeling of opening a feshly printed mag, with content you could not get anywhere else, priceless.SEO and laziness on the industry to fight the trend of badly written newsbytes skimming articles, has caused this.I understand digital is strong and link cicking is easy, but the quality of digital is mostly appalling.
Posted on 15 Sep 2015 08:45