5 Digital Magazine Trends to Keep an Eye On in 2015
After speaking to numerous professionals within various segments of the publishing industry, there's a clear consensus about the key trend for digital magazines in 2015 and it can be summed up in one word: mobile.
Everything else relating to the future of digital magazines is still up in the air. From its formatting and presentation, to delivery methods, and even the definition of a digital magazine, this year is clearly another one of experimentation.
"All this stuff in the digital publishing space, it's all experimental," says Robert Safian, editor-in-chief of Fast Company. "Whether folks acknowledge it or not, this world is moving very quickly and the patterns readers and users have is changing. We have to change our product offerings and diversify them."
Here are 5 trends to be mindful of as you develop your digital magazine or app strategy in 2015.
The Magazine App as Mobile Content Hub
In March, Fast Company and Adobe unveiled their vision for the next iteration of a digital magazine when they partnered to develop an app unlike anything seen before. Their vision of the next generation digital magazine app is more than just a publication. It resembles an article-based hub, or one central location combining magazine content with a steady stream of regularly updated content from Fast Company's various websites and Top 5 stories of the day.
This is a complete overhaul of the traditional print magazine format, which has always existed as a periodical that was published on a regular cycle. Fast Company and Adobe believe that concept is no longer feasible in the digital world where readers demand new information all the time. "The reality is the volume of users we have accessing the magazine via our existing DPS app is smaller than we wanted it to be and is much smaller for either the print magazine or digital content we produce on our web sites," says Safian. "The idea was to create a product that would provide both types of content in one place and to allow that to happen not just on a tablet, but in particular on a phone where we didn't currently have an app."
The release of Adobe Publish this summer will provide the opportunity for all publishers to apply this new vision for digital magazines to their titles. Adobe Publish builds upon Adobe DPS, promising mobile app production for phones and tablets without requiring new development skills. "I think the biggest trend is the transition from a package that is a print analogous product to something that is a continuous stream of content from the publisher to the reader," says Nick Bogaty, senior director, head of Digital Publishing at Adobe. "What that does is it puts the reader first and matches their expectation that every time they open an application there is going to be new content in there."
When a leading title like Fast Company, which was named 2014 Magazine of the Year by the ASME, changes its digital publishing strategy, the rest of the industry will surely be taking note.
The Native vs. Newsstand Question Persists
Another major shift in philosophy within the industry is Fast Company's decision to launch a native app. Publishers have long lamented the unsatisfying effort by Apple to promote and organize its Newsstand to help ignite digital magazine sales.
Apple isn't the only game in town for digital magazine retail outlets but it is by far the largest. Its unwillingness to do right by its publishing partners has many in the industry looking for alternate delivery methods. Reducing the steps to find a magazine app and instead potentially having a spot directly on a user's tablet or smartphone screen is much more attractive anyway. "We were intrigued by the idea of moving out of Newsstand and that was part of the strategy for sure," says Safian. "But we had to make sure to create something that people would want to come back to."
This is a trend that could have a more far-reaching affect industry-wide. Whereas a multichannel content app may be out of reach for some, the ability to stay in front of its readership with a native app could gain momentum as a preferred direction for publishers.
"I believe this will be a trend of the future because a native app is there and readily available to you right away," says Mike Shoemaker, president of Cities West Publishing in Scottsdale, Arizona, which publishes Phoenix Magazine and Phoenix Home & Garden. "If you have a Newsstand app, the reader has to swipe through a few pages just to find your app."
Just Phone It In?
Another emerging trend that will affect digital publishing is the increased sales and usage of phablets, or smartphones with larger screens. Flurry Analytics recently reported phablets were by far the fastest growing device type last year, showing a 148% increase in usage. Meanwhile, medium-sized phones increased 38% and full-size tablets decreased 20%.
"I think what you're going to see going forward is tablets won't be as prevalent as they have been," says Shoemaker. "We're seeing more growth coming out of mobile and desktop use than on the tablet. We are finding 18-23% mobile usage for our digital edition of Phoenix Magazine and that trend is moving upward."
Phablets are also responsible for the shift away from the mobile web to apps for information consumption. comScore's July 2014 U.S. Mobile App report stated people spend 88% of their time on their phone with apps and 82% of their time when on a tablet. The category that saw the largest growth in usage was news and magazine apps, which enjoyed a 144% increase on these devices.
These facts feed into the vision for the unique magazine app developed by Fast Company and Adobe. Consumers like tablets but they are too large to carry in their pockets and older smartphones had smaller screens. Phablets, which average more than 5 inches in screen size, may prove the perfect form factor for portability and consuming content anywhere, anytime. "Computing and the attention of our society are all about mobile devices," says Bogaty. "It's happening and will become ubiquitous in a very short time. I don't think you have a choice to wait and see. You have to experiment and our software allows people to experiment. If you don't, you're going to lose your audience."
Apple is leading the charge following the blowout sales of its iPhone 6, which finally offered consumers a larger screen. During the holiday quarter, Apple reported more than 75 million iPhone sales and 21 million iPad sales. As a result, earlier this year, the iOS operating system pulled even with Android in device activations. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is also a leader in this space.
Another area within digital magazines that has seen tremendous growth and should continue to going forward is video consumption. The MPA recently revealed in its Magazine Media Audience Report that video consumption for magazines increased 58% from August 2014 to January 2015 compared to the prior-year period.
Not only do readers respond to video within a digital magazine, it also adds a layer of engagement for the reader and lends itself to social sharing, which also figures to play a greater role this year. "Video content is what rules on our existing app," says Aaron La Porta, designer and developer of the successful Buffalo Bills Touch Fan Playbook app -- a weekly digital magazine about the Bills' upcoming games. "That is what our fans want the most -- high impact, trailer pieces about an upcoming game or editorial pieces. People love our video content."
Shoemaker agrees that video has traction with audiences, but is cautious about the resources needed for video. "I love the video option but it is intense. It takes a lot of time and manpower and we haven't found out how to get a return on it yet. But if you watch what people are doing with their devices, a ton of them sit around watching video -- especially the younger generation. If it is done right, video adds immensely to the written word and enhances the story."
Further Down the Line
Other trends to keep an eye on are the new Apple Watch, big data, analytics, and maybe even new technologies like holograms. Whatever the future holds for the remainder of this year, it is almost assured publishers will continue to be in the cycle of needing to keep up with the latest trends in order to survive.
"This is a tremendous time for consumers," says Safian. "There is more content of more varieties available for free on more devices than ever before. From a publisher's point of view, it means a more competitive and difficult business environment than ever before and there is no indication that kind of competition is going to get any easier. We have to remain very vigilant about creating products and content consumers remain engaged with because they have so many other things to see and read."
Despite the uncertainty about the future of the publishing industry, the truth is we are still only in the infancy stages of a period of innovation that will define this industry going forward. Unfortunately, this period coincides with a shift in society where most attention spans operate under a microwave mentality, which oftentimes leaks into our business psyche.
If these trends indicate anything, it's that the future will be exciting if nothing else, and it will be those who innovate and keep up with the demands of our readers who rise above the rest.
Related story: What We Learned by Studying How Publishers Use Analytics
Ron Matejko is the President of Phoenix, Ariz.-based MVP Media, an award-winning digital publishing company. Matejko has 16 years of publishing experience in print, Web and mobile and has worked on the staff of two award-winning publications.
MVP Media publishes MVP Magazine, the first interactive sports publication, which won a Bronze 2010 Digital Magazine Award for Best Sports Magazine, besting entrants from 26 countries around the world, and was a finalist for Designer of the Year. MVP Media will launch its own magazines on the iPad in 2011.
MVP Media also helps existing publishers convert their print products into dynamic publications for the web and tablets. Visit the MVP Magazine website at www.mvptoday.com. Contact Ron by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with him on LinkedIn or on Twitter @mvp_media.