There is no magic bullet that will save any magazine today. And all are struggling, although some are starting to find some glimmers of hope. Many remain profitable, but at the cost of smaller teams and reducing print frequency.  At the same time, there is a shift in consumer habits that coincide to offer new revenue opportunities for magazines. But it also requires magazines to think a little differently in terms of their business model and approach to content.
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Thinking differently
Before moving towards a new business model, one that largely involves being more digital, senior management from the business and editorial sides need to be thinking differently. In terms of how the business model will evolve and shifts in their audience. Building a membership program also means looking at how you deliver value to your members. This is key.
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Audience shifts
Glamour is about to stop it’s print version. Self is purely digital now. Newsweek went the same way a few years ago. Yet even Self and other women’ magazines are still struggling. Based on our own research and looking at other research, we conclude that Glamour, Self and other women’s magazines have actually failed to adapt to a modern women’s audience.  More on that in another post. The point is, magazines need to re-think their audience.
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Being a whole brand
This all comes down to magazines needing to look beyond just being a magazine. They need to consider how they can be more engaged in their readers lives. Magazine brands tend to have fairly loyal readers. That means there’s trust. With that, a magazine can do more for its advertisers than just print and digital ads. The magazine can play a role as a trusted broker between advertiser and reader. This means offering products in new ways. One of those ways is through memberships.
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Memberships in magazines
For many years, consumers loved (and to some degreee still do, but a lot less) to collect loyalty points. But those programs are decreasingly distrusted and dissed by consumers. Amazon paved the road for membership programs with Prime; free and faster delivery, better discounts, select products and access to entertainment content through a streaming channel. Consumers prefer membership programs because the rewards are often more immediate, more accessible and more tangible. It’s also cheaper for a company to run a membership program than a point loyalty one.
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Membership programs for magazines offer whole new revenue opportunities beyond just advertising. Yes, the print/digital magazine is part in typical subscription fashion, but offers products at discounts, ties in with related brands for promotions and gifts and gives the consumer a sense of greater value. Building partnerships with advertisers beyond just selling ads can help both sides and build longer term relationships.
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And value perception is really what it’s all about. Perhaps blame Netflix and Amazon? Magazines need to be more today that just a print product and a website. Consumers have come to expect more from content providers and if they’re loyal to a publication, they want to be “in on something”, from exclusive content to digital services and products.
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In all cases where we’ve worked with magazines to build membership programs, revenue and profitability always improves. The best part is, it doesn’t have to be expensive in terms of technology investments. A membership program can be built for under $10,000 using existing cloud based services like Shopify and Bold Commerce and doesn’t mean an overhaul of your entire website either.
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Think memberships, whole brand concepts, digital tools and new revenues are sitting there waiting.

About the Author Giles Crouch

Giles is managing partner of Ekspansiv, a global digital business advisory firm to news media companies . A polymath with over 20 years experience in the digital world, Giles brings together marketing communications, digital anthropology and digital behavioural economics for client projects. He has extensive experience with news media and publishing. Giles is also regularly interviewed by media regarding technology and industry trends. He has completed over 300 digital research projects for clients around the world. Giles co-founded the Ice Awards, an advertising creative awards program in 2001. His clients have included, newspaper, magazine and book publishers as well as pure-play digital media companies. He occasionally works as interim CIO or CDO and senior marketing guidance.

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