Magazine’s untapped television potential

paul merrill headshot

Magazine formats aren’t meant to be around forever and should cash in on fads and trends says Paul Merrill.

The Australian Women’s Weekly celebrates its 80th anniversary next year and while it’s not the powerhouse it once was, it remains the best-read consumer magazine in the land, with nearly 2.5m very loyal readers.

But AWW is an exception to nearly every publishing rule – while it thrives, dozens of other periodicals have come and gone. All magazines have a lifecycle, and they are getting shorter and shorter. The side effect of this is that the propensity of major publishers to invest a seven-figure sum in launching a new title has been massively reduced.

As a result, the marketplace is a little, well, stagnant. One remedy is to look at prime time TV. There are no entertainment shows in the top 10 each week that are more than five years old. The likes of Big Brother, The X Factor and Underbelly blaze spectacular, and lucrative, trails before declining, usually sharply, through subsequent series until they are ruthlessly terminated.

Exploiting short-termism is something magazines have been slow to do. Yes, Masterchef mag rode the crest of a wave for a while, but where are the others? Surely, if there had been a monthly publication based on The Voice back in autumn it would have flown off the shelves. A reality show pulling in more than 1m viewers creates an untapped market for one-shots (and multi-issue one-shots, if that’s not a contradiction). When it stops selling, the team move on to the next fad, and so on.

Apart from latching onto TV, there are transient phenomena like the Olympics, One Direction, Kim Kardashian, 50 Shades and others who are all there to be exploited.

OK, so there are issues to overcome such as the lack of ABCs, securing slots on shelves and the risk of putting all your eggs in the Everybody Dance Now basket, but there are still sufficient rewards, especially given the woeful lack of big, new brands.

Just don’t bank on one of them to still be going in 80 years.

Paul Merrill’s book, A Polar Bear Ate My Head, is on sale now.


  1. GS
    26 Nov 12
    4:36 pm

  2. So what you are saying is the magazine industry should try and tap into popular culture? Interesting.

  3. Shamma
    26 Nov 12
    5:58 pm

  4. AWW doesn’t sell 2m copies a month, it sells – well, prints – approx. 465k a month. So the loyal buyers figure is 1/5th of claimed. (confusing readership with buyers)

  5. Bev
    26 Nov 12
    7:26 pm

  6. 2.5 million buyers?

  7. mumbrella
    26 Nov 12
    10:20 pm

  8. Good point, well made, Shamma. Now corrected.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  9. Ben S
    26 Nov 12
    11:03 pm

  10. The big point I took out of this article was that 465k people each month fork out $7 for AWW …

    NOW … if there was an app doing even 1/10th of that we’d all be falling over ourselves to praise it as a clear sign of the moving of the goalposts in publishing and a case study in how to publish for the digital age … and here’s AWW doing 465k x $7 each and every month … generating $39m a year in end user revenue.

    Every digital publisher (every publisher, period) would KILL for that sort of end user revenue – especially on top of ad sales. Show me an ipad app, iphone app, paid content website outside the US that does this sort of revenue in every month. Any consumer product even – from DVDs, to CDs, digital downloads, music streaming services. Can you imagine the high-fiving if Spotify or something cool and topical was doing these numbers in Australia?

    Mags are still strong, really strong … it’s just there’s clearly some serious issues with communicating to the market in a language that is easily understood. I don’t think many people understand how consumers engage with them and what it means.

  11. Juan
    27 Nov 12
    10:12 am

  12. @ BS…. This is a guess, but I’d say Women’s Weekly’s audience is 40+ housewives who aren’t super tech literate and prefer their media old school. Hence why AWW does very well at newsstands and not well at apps. If you look at the US and UK (a more advanced mag market than here) only about 2% of mag sales are from apps. Why that is? I don’t know.

  13. Ben S
    27 Nov 12
    10:30 am

  14. Agree but point was more that even app/pay wall products aimed at digital natives aren’t doing anywhere near the revenue of a perceived “relic” like AWW. I don’t think it’s a new school v old school thing … Maybe apps and tablets aren’t enhancing the mag experience, just adding a bunch of shiny things users really don’t value.

  15. Juan
    27 Nov 12
    10:48 am

  16. Well, this is a case study of one, but I find reading mags as apps utterly uninspiring. Maybe ask ACP – didn’t they try and turn their bigger mags into apps 3-4 years ago but if all fell over through lack of interest and it all falling into the “too hard basket”? This may be heresy, but perhaps people still like reading print. Just sayin’.

  17. Ben S
    27 Nov 12
    10:59 am

  18. I agree with you Juan. So now we have a sample size of 2!

  19. B
    27 Nov 12
    11:30 am

  20. @Ben S – I felt the same way. People just really underestimate how epic it is that a huge amount of people will fork out cash every week/month for a magazine they love. The magazine pay wall seems alive and well.

    Regarding the article – I noted there is a Walking Dead magazine that was launched recently! It clearly won’t run forever yet the publisher has identified an opportunity, taken a calculated risk on the life cycle of the product and felt there was profit to be made. Perhaps the beauty of this strategy is that they know full well that it has a finite amount of time to work and fully expect it to end. If they get the fundamentals right they can apply it to the next pop culture hit.

  21. Lynne
    27 Nov 12
    12:07 pm

  22. Well Juan – not sure you know 40+ housewives. As far as I am aware they more tech literate than you seem to think. Haven’t you looked at the Facebook stats lately? Women of that demographic are among the biggest group of users.

  23. Juan
    27 Nov 12
    12:35 pm

  24. @ Lynne… I did start by saying I was guessing. And forgive me, but I don’t think having a proficiency in Facebook puts you in the “tech literate” basket. Most microwave ovens are harder to program than logging onto a Facebook account. That’s why there’s a billion users worldwide – ’cause it’s piss easy.