Digital Publishing
3 mins read

Have women’s glossy magazines reached the end of their shelf life? Not at Bauer

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Is 2018 the watershed year that, on reflection, will go down in publisher lore as the year that women’s glossies met their maker? Writing in the i, respected commentator Ian Burrell postulates as such, saying, ‘the picture painted by the last set of industry figures was as scary as an Hieronymus Bosch‘.  For those unfamiliar with Heironymus Bosch’s paintings, they are renowned for their macabre and nightmarish depictions of hell.

Burrell goes on to write that, as a sector, UK women’s weeklies declined by 11 per cent in the six months to February, with the gossip title Now falling by 25 per cent. Traditional magazines founded in the 1930s, such as Woman (down 20 per cent) and Woman’s Own (down 17 per cent) appear in terminal decline.

Look magazine is the latest casualty, closing its doors last week alongside the admission by Time Inc.’s Justine Southall (managing director, fashion & beauty), that, “Look’s audience behaves very differently today….consuming media via screens and accessing numerous digital sources for fashion and celebrity content. Facing these circumstances and a continuing pressure on sales, we have taken the difficult decision to close the brand.”

Yet four short years ago, the publishing view was that whilst glossies were in decline, they would be replaced by digital native brands that catered to the new woman’s lifestyle and needs. Brands like The Debrief, Standard Issue and Motherland brought a fresh and sassy attitude to the genre and were well crafted titles. But even these brands have floundered on the rocks of Snapchat and Instagram with only The Pool flying the flag for digitally native UK female cool.

As Burrell writes, ‘A fundamental shift in behaviour has happened, and big publishers are still scratching their heads for a response.’

But amidst the profound disruption there are significant pockets of success. In fact it’s telling that in a week when one industry commentator asks whether glossies are finished, Forbes writes an article lauding Bauer Media as a publisher that is a, ‘consistent winner, by far and away the single-copy unit-sales US leader in 2017, with three brands in the top 10 for newsstand sales in the second half of last year, including the top two’.

So what has Bauer Media done to buck the trend and, crucially, what can other publishers learn:

  1. At the recent PPA Festival 2018 in London, Bauer Media UK’s Rob Munro-Hall stated that in all the focus groups he’s attended, he’s been struck by how much desire there is for print as well as digital. In his view it was all about “getting the product right“. He used the example of a new title Bauer UK are launching called ‘Simply You’, a magazine aimed at older women’s real lives which will be launching soon.
  2. The level of focus we have on satisfying our readers is what sets our titles apart from other magazines on the newsstand,” Bauer CEO Steven Kotok tells Forbes. “Financial success can’t be the goal, it’s instead an outcome of engaging the reader, not just getting their casual attention. We work hard to get them to take a moment from everything else they’re doing and pick up what we’re putting out at the newsstand.”
  3. Bookazines. Single bookazines have enjoyed considerable success, with premium-priced single-topic issues crowding out frequency-based magazines. In 2018, Bauer is publishing 46 book-a-zines and they are a core part of its newsstand strategy.
  4. Respected commentator, Bob Sacks of Precision Media Group, says German-owned Bauer Media, “Dance to a European beat. Their titles, like their European counterparts, are newsstand centric. They play a tough retail game and they are great at it.”
  5. A top newsstand-industry consultant, John Harrington, is more circumspect, telling Forbes that, “Bauer has always had a different financial model,” he says. “They are newsstand-centric, with low cover prices, and little ad support.” Yet he adds that, “Editorial and production costs are low compared to Meredith/Time, Hearst, and Conde Nast.”

In conclusion, the market for women’s glossies is undergoing a dramatic disruption, and who the eventual winners will be is still anyone’s guess. But whatever the future holds, there remains a single constant that Bauer exemplifies: “Get the product right….and focus on satisfying your readers”.