Innovation is the remedy for the ailing magazine industry

With magazine circulations plummeting, FHM closing and rumours rife on future ownership of ACP Magazines, Paul Merrill says the only way forward is launching new titles.

Eight years ago in the UK, nearly a quarter of all magazine sales came from magazines that were less than four years old. In Australia, the figure was slightly lower, but still significant. Today, the situation is very different. For a start there are so few new magazines. Yes, Masterchef briefly flared, and Top Gear made an initial impact. But Grazia and Alpha fizzled, and now ACP has shelved their plans to launch Elle.

In any industry, innovation is the lifeblood. Without it, existing markets falter and decay without the renewal essential for survival. And the magazine market is decaying faster than most.

Yes, there has been investment in the digital sphere, but that just isn’t enough.

The men’s market is a case in point. Four years ago, there was a weekly selling 120,000, and two monthlies both bubbling just under 100,000. Now one monthly (Ralph) has closed, another (FHM) is closing and the weekly (my old mag, Zoo) has lost nearly half of its sale in those four years.

It’s not the fault of the individual mags, as they all have a finite life cycle, but it does mean the sector could soon be wiped out as there is nothing to take their place. Even the still-buoyant Men’s Health is showing signs of plateauing.

The volume of women’s mags has declined by a smaller percentage, but by a bigger volume. Where will the next major weekly come from? Zoo and Famous were the last two six years ago.

The recession is partly to blame, but it is no excuse to stop investing in the future because the future has a nasty habit of becoming the present.

And if some of our biggest magazine publishers are keen to sell, a prospective buyer might wonder about investing in a company so shy about ring fencing its own long-term future.

Most recently the editor of Zoo Weekly, Paul Merrill has been in magazines for 18 years.

  •  This piece first appeared in the April issue of Encore. Subscribe to the print edition here or download the iPad edition here

Encore Magazine - MoGeneration Pty Ltd


  1. paul the freelance writer
    17 May 12
    10:35 am

  2. Taken a train trip lately? What are all the passengers staring into? Magazines?

  3. Devil's advocaat
    17 May 12
    12:05 pm

  4. Queue comments from kids about online being everything…?

  5. andrew
    17 May 12
    12:09 pm

  6. Smith Journal – outstanding new men’s magazine.
    Hopefully it gets the advertising support.

  7. Chris Berkeley
    17 May 12
    12:12 pm

  8. Does a magazine like Mindfood with a strong online presence have the answer?

  9. JimJams
    17 May 12
    12:14 pm

  10. Print is dead. Innovation is the key, yes, but online is where it’s at. This guy is a relic of a bygone era when magazines were the thing. Wake up, Merrill!

  11. Mags4Ever
    17 May 12
    1:02 pm

  12. None of these magazine-focussed articles ever mention Maxim? Is it not audited yet? or not worth mentioning??

  13. Chris Berkeley
    17 May 12
    1:35 pm

  14. >> weekly (my old mag, Zoo) has lost nearly half of its sale in those four years.

    That’s because even its ‘tard target demographic could tell (eventually) that it was complete crap.

  15. Nick
    17 May 12
    4:38 pm

  16. A great example of a magazine bucking the trend and growing at a rate of 25 – 30% for the last 3 consecutive financial year is called ‘OUTthere’ and can be found here

  17. eaon pritchard
    18 May 12
    8:43 am

  18. We (agency) often say to our brands that they should ‘think like a publisher’.
    The democratisation of content production – and subsequent proliferation now that anyone can become a publisher – has hit mags hard, for sure.
    But to the same token publishers should think ‘like a brand’.
    Virgin, for instance. Amongst many other activities, they are also a magazine publisher.
    Being defined by a category is a short step away from commodification.
    Where else can a magazine brand create value in the culture?
    Events, music, art?
    The physical magazine is more like a souvenir, a social object.
    Creating new titles is one tactic for sure, but there are plenty of other models
    worth pursuing and evaluating.

  19. WD
    18 May 12
    2:00 pm

  20. Although I admire Mr Merrill’s admiration to his dying medium, he misses the point faced by any media dealing in print. He calls for “innovation” (whatever that well means); however, with print floundering the globe over, why would anyone invest money is new magazines, new printing presses, the huge staff required, etc, etc, when no one really knows what the landscape will look like in a year or two from now. Media will follow the advertising dollars, and those dollars are fast making a bee-line for magazine’s exits.

  21. Nick
    18 May 12
    2:50 pm

  22. WD – Be careful when you say magazines you’re not just talking about consumer.
    I represent customer publications (in-flight magazines) 1 of which is growing at 88% a year with a current readership of 1.33M annually.
    Do you know any type of media, digital or otherwise that is growing at anywhere near 88% per year?
    The OUTthere magazine I listed above has grown 30% in the last 18-months and when figures are realised on new passenger figures end of financial year that’s expected to see another 30% in 12 months…
    Bottom line Custom Vs Consumer are two entirely different ‘innovations’.

  23. Craig
    19 May 12
    2:36 pm

  24. Very hopeful, if not very realistic.

    Good luck with your ‘innovation’ – whatever you mean by the term. Don’t forget it may involve changing all your staff and cannibalizing your existing products. Few professions survive the introduction of new technologies for much more than twenty years without adapting it to their survival (think of blacksmiths who started making cars and town cryers who turned into toastmasters and motivational speakers).

    The only magazines I still read are those that have cannibalized their print product in favour of digital – and they survive though freelancers and republishing cheap content.

    Nick, I can think of a number of digital platforms that are growing at greater than 88% per year. At least one in the 600% range. Of course % growth is a furfy. If you produced one copy last year and two this year you’d had achieved 100% growth.

    What is more importent is sustainable growth – how large a market you can penetrate and how effectively you can scale production without scaling costs.

  25. JK
    21 May 12
    9:22 am

  26. Print is dead…Magazine Publishers need to face this fact and start coming up with online strategies. There’s too many dinosaurs hanging onto the past who are driving businesses with their old thinking and prehistoric ideas. The market and audiences are changing rapidly. Publishers need to give their readers what they want, when they want it. It’s not rocket science.

  27. Barfly
    21 May 12
    11:16 am

  28. As soon as we can surf the web at 30000 feet inflight mags will be toilet paper.

  29. Devil's advocaat
    21 May 12
    12:22 pm

  30. @ Barfly – Singapore Airlines had wi-fi when I flew with them this month but unfortunately they have to switch if off over Australia for ‘regulatory reasons’. Good to see we’re last in on this one.

    @ Paul Merrill

    Are you referring to magazines only in print format or magazines in print, on tablet and mobile etc?

  31. Andrew Bolt & Gina Rineharts Lovechild
    21 May 12
    12:49 pm

  32. @Nick.

    How do you say you have a 1.3M readership I can’t see “Out There” magazine in Roy Morgan. Am I missing something? Where does this figure come from?

    Surely you aren’t making up some BS “publishers claim”?

    Where does your figure come from?

  33. Andrew Bolt & Gina Rineharts Lovechild
    21 May 12
    12:58 pm

  34. Wow.

    Didn’t realise that “Out There” Magazine (The inflight magazine for REX puddle jumpers) had a Roy Morgan Readership three times greater than Qantas “Australian Way” magazine.

    Just that “Out There” is not in Roy Morgan. So best take Nick’s word for it….

  35. Nick
    21 May 12
    3:14 pm

  36. Hi AB & GH,

    Got two of you ganging up on me hey!

    The figures are the passenger numbers, direct from the airlines – audited figures.

    OUTthere is the only in-flight entertainment onboard – last survey 80% at least pick it up and read it.

    Not RMR audited – I got a quote and it was well in to the 6 figures.

    Said they would need to place people out at the regional airports and canvas them there and then.

    If you have looked at media kit you might imagine how difficult and costly that would be.

    We are a company of 60-odd staff and couldn’t justify that type of outlay, yet.

    Hope that helps?


  37. Andrew Bolt & Gina Rineharts Lovechild
    21 May 12
    4:39 pm

  38. Hi Nick,

    Passenger numbers are a misleading statistics to be quoting. And it’s disingenuous to suddenly correlate it to readership.

    It’s also disingenuous to suggest that you need to spend several hundred thousand dollars to be included in the survey. You asked for a quote on some custom Roy Morgan research. Not to be included in the single source readership survey. That costs around $50k I believe.

    And with a readership three times Qantas mag (which makes a $16M a year profit BTW) you should be able to afford it!

    The thing is I don’t believe you. I think the number is arbitrary and makes no statistical sense. How many of those passengers are uniques for instance?

    And this is where the online guys can point out about how they are measurable and accountable. Your wild claims just muddy the waters further and make it hard for all publishers to have their figures treated with respect.

    Fact is, I cannot respect your figures. If your 1.3M readership is accurate you are 3.5 x more widely read than Qantas magazine. Which carries a vast number more passengers than Out There does.

    So please. Throw whatever number you like around but they will be treated with disdain by media professionals.

    FWIW I suspect that these wild and unsubstantiated figures are a key reason as to why there is almost no advertising in Out There booked by an ad agency. Whereas Qantas has ad agency bookings by the yard.

  39. zumabeach
    22 May 12
    1:54 pm

  40. If print is dead why did Warren Buffett, the world’s smartest investor, just spend $142 million buying up local newspapers in theU.S.? Newspapers still make a connection with their local communities like no other form of media – when did digital last break a story of any real consequence in Australia? The simple fact is print continues to do so with its digital arm providing the follow-up reaction and comment.Yes, a lot of mags have had their day, in particular the bottom feeding titles which are up against the instant gossip sites, the best of which happens to be run by a newspaper, the London Daily Mail. But stories of consequence are still being written by journalists with years of experience who have the skill and time to put in the effort. After all, there’s just so many self-centred girly bloggers writing about PMT and super cool digital dudes telling you what’s hip this week that a grown up can stomach.

  41. Nick
    22 May 12
    2:13 pm

  42. Hi AB,
    I am guessing that you’re a digital media sales person for ACP? This is just based off your aggressive nature and defence of Qantas Magazine.

    You have made some sweeping statements – some true, most not at all.

    Why don’t we meet and discuss? I’ll shout you a coffee.

    In the meantime I’ll clarify for anybody who bothers to listen that:
    “You asked for a quote on some custom Roy Morgan research. Not to be included in the single source readership survey. That costs around $50k I believe.”
    – We do not qualify for this survey; hence the massive cost.

    I do not know how many of those passengers are unique. We do not claim X amount are – all we tell the market is that is the total figure and 80% of them “at least pick it up and read it” as it’s the only entertainment medium provided.

    Whilst I’m not willing to share our profits I am happy to say we have great relationships with the major media agencies of which 65% of our billings come via.

    Why don’t we grab this coffee and I’ll show you the magazine and the advertisers? You can raise me on


  43. Andrew Bolt & Gina Rineharts Lovechild
    22 May 12
    4:28 pm

  44. Hi Nick,

    I do not work for ACP. I will tell you I am a media proprietor, and that I know your bosses over at edge. That’s all.

    And I did not make any sweeping statements. You are just being disingenuous and that’s the bit that irritates me. It irritates me that you CLAIM a readership rather than having a verified readership that is in any way verified.

    Why on earth would Roy Morgan need to have people at airports to ascertain your readership? It’s their single source dataset that is used for readership surveys. 50,000 people in a panel. That’s all. And you can pay to be in it. If Roy Morgan feel that your REAL readership is less than their threshold (which is about 100,000 I beleive, they will not allow you to enter.

    But you have a readership of 1.3M per edition of the magazine. It’s a bullshit figure. And I call bullshit.

    And as I originally said. It’s people making bullshit claims about their readership and circulation that gives magazines a bad name, and makes media buyers wary.

    So all I am saying (and as politely as I can). Is BULLSHIT.

    You don’t have a readership 3.5 times higher than Qantas magazine. It’s a fact, and I am simply asking you to defend or clarify that statement without saying “Roy Morgan won’t let us in their survey blah, blah, blah”.

    Seriously. Do media planners believe you? Perhaps you can get a media planner from Starcom or Zenith or wherever to back up the claim for you?

  45. zinequeen
    30 May 12
    9:37 pm

  46. Ooh Nick. He knows your bosses over at Edge. You must be quaking in your boots.

  47. Bogan Brouhaha
    5 Jun 12
    4:51 pm

  48. I thought Google killed magazines?

  49. Les Posen
    12 Jun 12
    8:41 pm

  50. I saw something in the Qantas inflight mag on a flight to Perth on Sunday I wanted to use in a presentation the next day, but forgot the magazine on the plane. So I downloaded it to my iPad instead, the June issue. How it’s been assembled and gives a very gratifying experience on the iPad became a section of the presentation on its own – I was that impressed with the free download.