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Condé Nast: Print Isn’t Dead For the Young, Yet

Just because one segment of magazine media’s young readership is declining doesn’t mean the whole lot is.


Media research company GfK MRI has been collecting data for several decades on magazine gross audience—data that provides a look at trends in consumer readership. According to a historical analysis of MRI data by Condé Nast, some print products have never been more popular among the young.

“It was interesting to examine category by category and find that readership is a much more complicated question,” says Scott McDonald, senior vice president of marketing research for Condé Nast.

Last year, MRI made a fundamental change to their methodology—they changed questions, changed what they asked people to tell them and what the options were for responding. Since these changes were implemented, the report from fall 2011 disrupted the trendability of MRI data.

“Because of this change, MRI provides unbroken trends from the mid-70s until spring 2011, and it will again be a source of trend data from fall 2012 forward,” says the Condé Nast report. The change, says McDonald, while hugely disruptive for trends, is necessary to gain insight based on present circumstances—like the proliferation of digital access to content and readers behavior.

McDonald’s analysis shows that some categories—fashion/beauty, men’s, celebrity, health and upscale lifestyle titles—attract more young readers to print than they did 10, or even 20 years ago.

“Features of street shots, highlights of less runway and a more democratic approach to fashion has assisted in the broadening of the fashion category,” says McDonald. “In the past 20 years there has also been the growth of titles like InStyle that sort of marry aspects of celebrity fascination and fashion, which has helped build the fashion category.”

Additionally, McDonald says the higher gross audience index among young people can also be attributed to the simple existence of more magazines in some of these growing categories, like fashion and beauty. Other attributes include titles that have died out, like Mademoiselle—it was included for data collection in 1991, but it’s out of existence now.

For epicurean, travel and upscale lifestyle magazines, the gross audience of people 18-24 has seen its index jump from about 11 in 1991 to almost 25 in 2011. Shelter magazines have dropped in index for that age group—going from 13 in 1991, to about 17 in 2001, to just over 10 in 2011.  For that category, McDonald’s report says, the deep housing recession in the late 2000’s took its toll on audiences for shelter magazines.

“There’s always a certain amount of turnover within a category,” says McDonald. “Women’s service magazines are going through the same kind of long term decline as news magazines. There has been some dynamism within the category, though. You have the arrival of new kinds of women service magazines like O, The Oprah Magazine and Real Simple that have been successful, but their growth hasn’t off set the ‘seven sisters,’” says McDonald, referring to Better Homes & Gardens, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, McCall's, Redbook and Woman's Day.

Titles within the women’s service category are not the only groups attracting fewer readers—newsweekly and business titles are also loosing traction among younger readers.

“It’s Internet substitution,” says McDonald. “Things that are tied too tightly to the news cycle; all that news is delivered to your phone 24/7. The rationale for a weekly news magazine is a harder one to sustain.”

According to McDonald’s analysis of the MRI data, in 1991 newsweeklies for those between the ages of 18-24 had a gross audience index of 30. In 2011, by contrast, that age group represented a little more than an index of 13. Business magazines have seen a decline in young readership, yet the gross audience index of 18-24 year olds has actually increased by an index of 5 from 2001 to 2011. The gross audience for this age group in 1991, however, had an index of about 12.

“It’s fundamentally wrong to say young people don’t read magazines printed on paper,” says McDonald. “In just the basic ink on paper proposition: you’ve had enough growth that’s kept up with the interest of the population; they’re (young people) still reading it. It’s a more complicated story, and if it’s dominated by looking at the decline of Reader’s Digest, TV Guide or the ‘seven sisters,’ then it’s missing the real story of what’s going on.”

Forward Looking Audience

Since magazine media consumption is fundamentally changing, the ways in which Gfk MRI is measuring audience is also changing. The Survey of the American Consumer polls individuals seasonally, and in March 2011 GfK MRI amended its questioning procedure to capture new information, as McDonald stated.

The first wave of the Survey of The American Consumer study that measured both print and digital content was completed at the end of October 2011, in wave 65 of interviewing. The spring 2012 report represents the second interviewing wave period of this measurement procedure, and the most appropriate comparison between print audiences is between these two waves, waves 65 and 66.

The data found that across 190 magazines, the average decline in total print audience ratings was 1.7 percent—37 percent of the magazines showed increased audiences, and 63 percent showed declines. Of these changes, 41 percent were + or – less than 5 percent. About 26 percent experienced changes of + or -5 to 9.99 percent, and 38 percent had changes of + or – 10 percent or more.

The data shows that digital readership on tablets, e-readersand smart phones added almost 1 percent of new readers of the print brand, and overall digital readership increased by 24 percent over the past six months, reflecting the potential impact of these devices on total readership. 

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