When DC Thomson’s re-launched their teen magazine Shout, they needed maximum impact. The editors put Joey Essex, the star of TOWIE, on the cover. He has 2.75m followers on Twitter and he tweeted to them about the new magazine. The magazine raced off the shelves and has been able to build a new market crossing print with online digital. It has had a year-on-year increase in sales of 19.3%.
Meanwhile, the revered Radio Times notched up a record 4.5m unique users in August on its RadioTimes.com website, helped by Doctor Who and the Great British Bake Off, with a record 537,000 visitors alone on 27 August.
The UK’s magazine industry is still dynamic and vibrant, but it is in long-term decline, disrupted by the advance of digital technology and a generation of younger people who prefer social media and computer games, rather than reading comics and magazines. The industry has been fighting back – and it is doing so with a great deal of thought, research and innovation.
At the recent Magfest in Edinburgh, run by the PPA Scotland, Ellis Watson, the chief executive of Dundee’s DC Thomson, said that commercial clarity, a more aggressive understanding of the cost base, a more entrepreneurial approach to what consumer marketing can do, is vital, without harming the integrity of the content.
DC Thomson is launching 110% Gaming, offering tips and hints on social media, aimed at eight to 12-year-olds, as a new magazine in October, priced £3.50. For anyone who hasn’t heard of Stampy Longnose and Mindcraft, this might be the time to catch up.
Two of Ellis’s colleagues, Helenor Gilmour, head of consumer insight with DC Thomson, and her colleague Maria Welch, Editor-in Chief of DC Thomson’s children’s titles, and a government adviser on teenage health, revealed excellent insight into the consumer market of children and the over 50s market. Gilmour and Welch undertook a major survey, sitting in young girls’ bedrooms with their mums, to find out what was inside the head of four categories of girls: 5-7 years, 7-10 years, 10-12 years, and 12-15years.
Their conclusion was that since the recession, young girls are staying younger longer, contrary to what might be presumed. But their interests haven’t changed, with younger girls interested in friends, dolls and fluffy pets, while as they grow older, having a boyfriend, self-image, exams and shopping are at the forefront of their minds, although this is dwarfed by a fevered interest in global celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian, Joey Essex or Harry Styles and his One Direction pals. And Twitter means that keeping track of celebrity ‘friends’ is now a near 24/7 activity.
“Young people feel they have a relationship with celebrities as a famous friend. The global popularity of celebrities means that younger people find it harder to identify if they are from the UK or from the US.”
The interviewed girls knew their limits and boundaries and what was ‘not’ appropriate for them to watch or read. This is part of the ‘Self-Censoring Digital Generation’ who are more cautious, know the dangers and want to keep themselves safe. The relationship between girls and their mothers is increasingly one of trust and sharing information, with the traditional problems page under threat as mum and daughter become closer.
The digital dilemma for magazine makers is that girls – like boys – are not looking for a standard magazine with curated content on line. They look at a range of sites, which means magazines must work harder to have more links to other content and sites.
Diane Kenwood, the editor of Woman’s Weekly, also a Magfest speaker, has proven that innovation is the key. She was editor of the Marks & Spencer magazine, where the glossy production values were high and each page had a budget of £1,000. When she joined Woman’s Weekly, the 100-year old magazine was on the wane, which meant
a decline in traditional advertising revenues. The page budget was only £230.
“The challenges of a constrained budget pushed me to be more creative. Our readers get a lot for the 92p cover price. It meant getting closer to our readers. The digital revolution has changed the landscape for everyone. The joy of working for an older market is that they are late adopters. They might be slower but they put more thought into their decision-making”
She says the over-fifties are engaged with technology and that consumer groups have been patronising to older people, when many use Facebook, and most now have tablets and smartphones. A magazine competition attracted over 7,000 emails and only three letters, proving a decline in older people’s letter writing. But the launch of the Woman’s Weekly Show in Manchester helped with the brand, with 10,000 coming along to enjoy knitting, crocheting and cooking workshops.
“Our show has been a phenomenal success, making a profit in our first year. Our workshops sold out this year with people coming from all over the UK.”
Continuing innovation is the only way for magazines to keep up with readers – and digital diversity is working for young and old.