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.


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