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It’s time for the magazine industry to realize digital is an asset, not an adversary

When the news came down the pipes this week that Conde Nast was shutting down four of its magazine publications, I’m not sure that “shock” was a word many people associated with the announcement.  Sure, Conde Nast is a huge company and would theoretically be able to weather the storm longer than most, but the reality is this is just another example of how magazine, as a medium, is now almost completely unsustainable in its current form.

Looks like its back to Kraft Dinner for me....

Looks like it's back to Kraft Dinner for me....

However, as was pointed out in a great article in Mashable this week, there is hope, but some lessons need to be learned first.  The music industry started weathering this storm years ago and now print and broadcast mediums are hitting the same wall.  But what’s important here is that there is hope.  It’s just going to require the  medium to think more critically about what their value is to their audiences, and how they can use the growing opportunities of the digital space to leverage that value.  We’re talking about long-established and trusted brands here that have targeted and (although declining) loyal audiences.  With digital platforms enabling more cost-effective delivery models, opportunities to create more engaging content, and the ability to hyper-target that content to the individual, their specific lifestyle and location, why shouldn’t these long-established and trusted brands be able to find new ways to thrive?

The magazine industry needs to realize what they’ve created are lifestyle brands, and not simply a collection of articles, photos and perfume samples.  Due to the longer release cycles of magazines, they have the opportunity to completely distance themselves from the blog world and it’s free content model and differentiate themselves significantly from what people currently think of as a “magazine”.

Let’s say you’re Modern Bride.  Aren’t there literally dozens of opportunities to augment your written content with digital tools to help with the process of planning an elegant wedding using web and mobile-based applications?  Wouldn’t a mag like Good Housekeeping translate very naturally to a trusted smartphone app to help busy homemakers?  Shouldn’t this brand be able to leverage its trust to create a branded application to know what’s in their subscribers fridge, and what they need to pick up at the store on the way home to make a quick, easy dinner, completely catered to their family?  In both instances, imagine the level of customization that would be possible once magazines start to think of themselves as targeted, transmedia lifestyle content – and not just a collection of glossy pages.  With the trust these brands have built, they would have an unprecedented opportunity to learn everything about their subscribers and then become a helping brand in their every day lives.  The subscription model could even remain intact, only consumers would pay for a new and diversified set of brand-related tools, services and content.  On top of that, imagine the highly unique and targeted opportunities they could provide for their advertisers to be a part of these valuable services.

Why arent magazines in this space?

Why aren't magazines in this space?

These are just a few examples of what can happen when magazines stop thinking of themselves in terms of their format and start thinking of themselves in terms of their intrinsic value to their targeted audiences.  I’m not saying this fundamental shift in thinking is something that will be easy.  I’m not saying that applications like these will return things to “the way they were” in terms of revenue or in terms of subscribers.  At least not in the short term.  What ideas like these will provide is a path to adaptation and reinvention that this medium desperately needs – and lends itself to so naturally.

But before these changes can take place, the magazine industry needs to stop thinking about digital as a competitor and start thinking of it as an asset.  And they need to remember that their audiences don’t love them for their physical formats as much as they love them for their content.  Why not find a way to leverage these new platforms so that audiences can’t help but love them more?