The Digital Initiative: MPA President and CEO Nina Link on the growth consumer magazines are experiencing online
If the first quarter of 2008 is any indication of where consumer magazine publishing is headed, this year may end up being remembered as a significant step in the evolution of the industry. Recently released numbers from the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) show that publishing is moving to the Web in a big way. The first quarter saw a 12-percent increase in unique monthly visitors to consumer magazines’ Web site—up from 63.2 million to 70.7 million total—over the same period last year. That growth three times that of the average Internet site, according to the MPA.
With 65 new digital initiatives being rolled out so far this year by member partners, Nina Link, MPA president and CEO, says she expects this trend to accelerate. She spoke with Publishing Executive Inbox about what the numbers mean for publishers, advertisers and consumers.
INBOX: What factors could be attributed to the higher-than-average Web growth for magazine-branded sites over the past year?
NINA LINK: I think the advancements in technology and publishers really adopting them within their Web sites. They’ve just offered a lot more options to engage with Web users. As the technology has gotten [better], magazines have [used it more]. They’re using video feeds and podcasts in ways they have never have before. It’s far more interactive. We have more magazine Web sites, which is extraordinary. We took a look at the last five years. Magazine Web sites—consumer magazines—grew over 50 percent. There are more players using the technology smarter. Consumers are responding and are really looking to these trusted brands for this information, interaction with community and advice and even entertainment. You’re seeing more focus, energy, more staff, and you’re seeing a response from consumers online. I think we’ll continue to see really nice growth numbers even in this tough economy.
INBOX: What have been the most effective actions you have seen successful consumer magazine publishers take to attract their chunk of the growing audience to their online presence?
LINK: I think that different categories have been very effective in using different assets of the digital space. Not every brand should be using every application. I think there are some that are using user-generated content. … There are some that have wiki applications which work for that brand. There are some interesting partnerships with portals like Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo and YouTube. [Magazines] are content engines. Applications are only as good as the content that uses them. I think there have been some exciting partnerships. I think using video, for a medium that has not been a video medium [has been effective]. … We have a video conference coming up in June because there is such a focus now on video. There are also lots of blogs. That’s another area where we’ve seen a lot of activity. …
INBOX: When you look at the list of publishers that announced digital initiatives during the first quarter of 2008, what patterns do you see in what has become core to drawing readers online?
LINK: You’re talking partnerships, you’re talking user-generated content. Those areas are big. I think some of the partnerships with Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube … [are attempts to] try to bring that brand and the attributes of the brand to big huge portals, and they’re figuring out that relationship. User-generated content is big. I just read about a magazine today that is creating an entire user-generated issue.
INBOX: What types of digital initiatives are you seeing publishers moving toward that they may not have not gotten involved with just a few years ago?
LINK: There’s a lot more experimentation with mobile. People see in Europe and in Asia that the mobile platform is much more widespread and used. There’s experimenting. I still think it’s clunky because of our different mobile platforms and lack of any kind of standards. Some systems are more open and more are closed. It’s a hard thing here, and mobile is not as deeply adopted as it is in the rest of the world. It will be. People are trying to find the solutions there.
Investment in video is a really big deal. People see that as a real opportunity to extend their brand. [Publishers are] using various widgets for magazine content distribution. [They’re] finding ways to disperse their content in a way to marry advertising where the appropriate audience is gathering already. …
INBOX: How do you see the relationship between consumer publishers’ print and digital content evolving in the next few years?
LINK: I see them working hand-in-hand. I think different categories have different emphases. I see that digital is helping create content that is very vibrant for the print edition. A lot of viewers online are different than those who consume print. They’re getting introduced to the brand online. And some of them are being converted to readers in print. Right now, there is not a lot of crossover. The numbers we track show readership being steady. In some cases, it’s growing. For the most part, people don’t want to read their magazine online. They go online for a different experience. They still love to sit back and get lost in the pages [of a print magazine] … when they want to interact and get immediate information. When they want to do research, they go to the brand online. They’re extremely compatible in some categories. People really love their [print] magazines. It has all the attributes that a person wants today. It’s portable. It’s on-demand. We call it the original laptop. It gives you an escape. I think [print and digital] are very different and compatible experiences. We expect to see that for a very, very, very long time. There’s nothing like the textile relationship that you get for a print magazine.
INBOX: What advice would you give magazine publishers?
LINK: I urge them to be continually experimenting. We’re so early in this game. We need to be constantly looking at how to take these magazine brands and fill the potential and work with community. I think experimenting is one. Look for ways to monetize your content. Having a sole dependency on advertiser sponsorship feels too narrow. Continue to look at how to monetize the digital experience with these brands.