Magazines, like all traditional media, have faced many challenges in the digital age. It has become increasingly difficult for print publications to keep their readers, but, contrary to newspapers, and despite fierce competition from free online outlets, magazines continue to perform comparatively well. An annual study found that the total number of magazine readers in the U.S. remained above 220 million in every year between 2016 and 2020, having previously hovered around the 210 and 215 million mark. Additionally, the average monthly audience of popular magazines exceeded 50 million for each of the top five publications appearing in a 2020 ranking, and weekly magazine People enjoyed an average monthly reach of over 90 million that year.
Magazines: adaptable and resilient
Changing times and consumer demands led to magazine publishers developing a digital offering to complement their print publications, or to abandon print altogether and operate exclusively online. At the same time, print magazines remain popular. Data on magazine readership by format revealed that U.S. consumers still prefer print magazines to digital – a perhaps surprising but positive result for publishers who are as yet reluctant to make the move online. The number of print consumer magazines in the United States rose steadily from 2017 onwards, and new publications continue be launched each year. Magazines are also seeing higher online engagement across different devices.
Although print remains the favorite for many U.S. consumers, magazine audience trends show the growing number of readers interacting with magazine content via mobile web and video. In fact, magazine brands’ mobile web audience was nearly identical to their print and digital audience at the end of 2020. Certainly, there is no reason why magazine readers should choose one format over the other – but monitoring the ways consumers engage and the devices they use remains important for publishers hoping to maintain and grow their audience. The stable number of magazine readers and the willingness of audiences to experiment with different formats is encouraging, and emphasizes the need for traditional media outlets to adapt in tandem with new technologies and consumption habits.
Current data suggests that print magazines have a stable future, but just how stable or even prosperous that future could be partially depends on consumer behavior. For example, like magazines, blogs also provide niche and visually enticing content, but few ask for financial contributions from their readers. This proliferation of free digital content poses risks to paid physical media, but magazines do have certain advantages over blogs, notably their reputation for producing regulated, trustworthy, high-quality content. The magazine market will need to capitalize on this in order to inspire audiences to purchase physical copies or sign up to print or digital subscriptions.
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