Publishers look to change digital replica strategies as growth soars

The proliferation of digital replicas of magazines is accelerating according to the latest ABC audit but a closer look at the numbers reveals many have decreased their circulation in the second half of the year. A few years ago some might have seen digital editions as the saviour to print declines but the explosion of screen sizes and devices is possibly challenging the print replica publishing strategy.

Digital circulation rose in the last six months of 2014, up 89 per cent period-on-period. The dramatic rise is due to the number of brands that reported digital editions in the period increased to 215 from 92 last summer.

Many percentage increases that at first glance seem clear winners, on closer inspection only represent a small number of issues downloaded due to the small base. Of those brands that had reported digital numbers for both periods, a fifth (45 ) saw declines, a trend indicative of the multitude of ways people are now consuming content from their favourite magazines.

The Economist continues to lead in digital growth, with a huge jump of 129 per cent over the last six months in the UK.

Michael Brunt, chief marketing officer at The Economist said: "Our latest circulation numbers show, as everyone expected, that more of our readers enjoy The Economist through our apps. In fact, the vast majority of our new customers choose a digital component in their subscription, either as an exclusively digital-only subscription or as part of a combination of print and digital. This shows that, at least for The Economist, migration to digital reading is a positive trend."

The publisher was not the only media player to benefit from momentum around its digital editions. Hearst’s Elle posted growth across all its media channels in the period with magazine circulation up 5.3 per cent and a 83 per cent rise in online reach. Meanwhile Time Inc’s Woman&Home saw its digital edition circulation grow 25 per cent period-on-period.

Rachel Plunkett, press, radio and out of home account director at Starcom MediaVest Group, said: “The latest ABC release shows a mixed bag of results to say the least. Previous reports have led many to believe that digital editions are the true saviour of print, with the traditional format showing huge declines, bolstered only by large circulation increases from digital counterparts.

As readers demand more from magazine apps and advertisers demand interactive solutions, it will be key for publishers to have a dedicated, focused sell for interactive editions.

Publishers are struggling to lift the value of inventory through their digital editions because content, both branded and editorial, has to closely resembled what appears in their print parent in order to be included in circulation counts. It has put a cap on how much advertising revenue can be pulled from the main digital format in the bi-annual audit, a bone of contention some publishers have voiced to the ABCs.

Jonathan Kitchen, head of Dennis’ in-house advertising agency, Adnostic, said: “The biggest change in 2015 will be the need to create products that can handle inventory across multiple platforms i.e. one buy to get an interactive ad across apps and website. We have already seen this in the newspaper market and in order to offer scale and innovative ad solutions this has to happen in the magazine market too.”

In short, audiences are interacting with their favourite magazine brands across multiple touch points, sharing key articles from their trusted magazine brands.

Stephanie Arlett, head of publishing at Carat, added: “Most magazine brands have digital editions and a number are enhanced which ABC allows within the classification. As tech development costs fall, magazine brands should look to develop more bespoke digital publications/apps, which capitalise on all the strengths that tablet/mobile devices offer, such as gamification, video and interactivity.

“Advertising investment would depend on the campaign KPIs. Reach is a challenge, however the real advertiser opportunity is audience engagement that this platform can offer.”

Separately, today’s figures hint at a stemming of the actively purchased print figure decline, where despite an overall market drop of 8.65 per cent, many titles stood strong and held on to far more readers than in previous years.

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