The Art of the Enduring Magazine

by Susan


As a marketer working for a magazine printing company with a venerable lineage that tracks back to 1793, I love a good magazine success story. Especially in this disruptive age of multitudinous content platforms and shrinking attention spans.

And there are great publications that have managed to pull it off, maneuvering seamlessly through the morass to stand the test of time. Upon studying them, I believe the common notes deserve attention. Herewith, my observations…

Magazine, Know Thyself

As a publisher, you know your content and you know your audience. Straying from established basics can spell trouble. Changing the tone and tenor of the magazine in hopes of catering to new reader profiles is chancy. Facelifts may be fine, but, much like with a real person, altering the character of the magazine can come off as inauthentic and plain old phony, and readers will run. Stay true to your magazine’s core personality.

Purposely Extend the Platform

Maintaining a personality is one thing. Bringing that personality to life in various forms is quite another, and it is, in almost every case, a requirement for longevity today. Adoption of online has been both fast and slow, but here it is, 2017, and we are well past the trend line of mobile ubiquity. To dismiss the digital/mobile edition as passé really misses the mark – and the marketing opportunity. Solid stats cited in a recent article by FIPP give publishers assurance that readers will continue to access content online. It’s the marketing of the platform that needs publisher attention.

The savvy publisher creates the online counterpart to the print publication without losing the personality, look, and feel, while fully capitalizing on what’s great about online – additional online-only content, reader-publisher interactivity, reader-advertiser interactivity, video and audio features… the list goes on. And I don’t mean to minimize that transition – it’s no small feat and requires thoughtful planning and a solid online development team to uphold the culture.

So that covers virtual reader interaction. What about actual face-to-face? Today’s top pubs are literally creating venues in order to meet their readers. Association publications have long made a practice of holding conferences, symposiums, and the like, to deliver valuable and informational exchanges. Enthusiast pubs are following suit – not only as a means to garner new readers and provide more value to existing readers, but more importantly, as a means of tapping into a very lucrative new revenue stream. Think wedding planning shows, beer fests, auto meets, test kitchen events. Celebrity can play a money role here, too. Putting a well-known and respected authority in front of attendees at an event is pure gold, and really pumps up the brand.

Deliver on Expectations, Always

In the days before google analytics reigned, publishers knew instinctively which features resonated. OK; those instincts may have had a bit to do with reader surveys, focus groups, and letters to the editor, but nonetheless, today there are trusty metrics coming from the online version that tell the tale. Readers return again and again because they expect to consume a certain type of information. Have you ever experienced the loss of a beloved feature? Yeah, me too. New management may want to make its mark on a publication with a slick overhaul, but beware the urge to purge longstanding favorites. Where would The New Yorker be without its richly intense journalistic style, or its inimitable cartoons? Or Vogue without its peerless fashion spreads?

Be Where the Readers Are

Whether at a newsstand, grocery line, yarn store, boat show, or hanging out “intelligently” on the internet, great print and online magazines know how to be available. The harvesting of pervasive consumer data can feed a smart online advertising strategy. The world is changing and the tools are becoming ever more sophisticated.

Stay In Touch; Stay Relevant

Finally, great magazines deliberately cultivate a relationship with their readers. It can be as simple as building a lively reader post section, or routinely answering submitted questions. It can be more in-depth – a reader’s editorial page, or ongoing reader submissions of another flavor. Whatever the genre or lifestyle, readers long to see themselves in their favorite magazine – to have a voice. It builds community and, importantly, helps keep the magazine relevant.

While none of this sounds like rocket science, there is much to be learned from the magazines that make it. Will the next decade or two find you writing your own magazine’s success story?