Sink or swim: Can heritage print publishers keep afloat?

We ask experts whether the era of the glossy mag is over, and what this means for marketing, media and the fate of luxury brands.

Last week, Campaign Asia-Pacific broke news that heritage Malaysian magazine publisher Blu Inc was shutting down after 46 years, laying off 200 staff. In its catalogue of titles were the likes of Cosmopolitan, Her World, Harper’s Bazaar, Cleo, and Shape.

In its memo to staff announcing the closure, Blu Inc said the business was already under "tremendous challenge" from digital disruption, with the "economic turmoil" resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic acting as the proverbial nail in the coffin.

It isn’t the only publishing house that has suffered as business has ground to a halt during the virus outbreak. Condé Nast—one of the world’s biggest magazine publishers—is facing a crisis as the pandemic has forced luxury sales, services, and events to take a back seat. As New York Times reported, this could be a make-or-break moment for its head, Anna Wintour.

During this pivotal moment for traditional media, we asked publishing, media and PR experts whether this crisis is a death knell to glossy print titles, and what it means for brands that have become synonymous with heritage titles.

Saurabh Chandrashekhar, general manager, MediaCom Malaysia

"Heritage is the operative word here and not just print, but any business that doesn’t accelerate towards building digital as a strategic pillar of the business model will face massive pressure from nimble and digitally savvy competitors. The balance equation for the publishing business involves two key elements: the commitment to a high standard of editorial quality and revenue from advertising.

Now is the time when the heritage print publishers will have to look at this equation at a granular level to identify and remove all the barriers that come in the way of delivering high quality editorial content. Late last year, Facebook launched its News section and began paying publishers for their content. For publishers, getting discovered and consumed on Facebook is a great opportunity to maximise the monetisation potential of their high-quality content. Brands like New York Times are inspirations to learn from when it comes to timely digital transformation.

Print, albeit declining in reach, has provided access to an engaged audience that is committed to consuming content without the modern-day distractions. The access to these audiences will now be via investments in media and content that provide a high degree of engagement opportunities while being digital at the core. OTT presents a great opportunity as COVID-19 ‘standardises’ behaviour across various consumer groups. Long-term committed content partnerships where brands (including luxury brands) become creators also are another area where many opportunities are created."

Charissa Guan, director, Vim & Vigour PR 

"Whether in PR, advertising, media, on agency or client side, we face the same challenges of having to adapt rapidly and sensitively to market sentiment and consumer demand. Print publishing will always have its place, but only those with a strong brand and point-of-view can survive. It has never been more important for publishers to connect their print and digital strategies to make commercial sense, and to focus on creating trust and loyalty among a specifically defined audience.

Luxury brands have loved glossies for the credibility of association, prestige and target market, but with the proliferation of social and every marketer’s need to prove conversion, solely focussing on print simply isn’t trackable enough to justify massive spending. LVMH’s commitment to PPE production across the world is a prime example; this has generated huge buzz and brand love, without so much as a print ad. If print wants to survive in our digital world, it needs to strategically be part of an omni-channel approach—and fast."

Michael von Schlippe, president at Indochine Media (publisher of Robb Report, Buro, Esquire and Vogue Singapore) 

"With the unprecedented impact of COVID-19, the industry is looking for new solutions and answers. As luxury brands—key advertisers for heritage print publications—adapt their marketing and ad campaigns, this would mean publishers too have to adapt.

It will not be possible to go back to ‘business as usual’ for the fashion and publication industry. The real impact and change would be most visible from September onwards as we see how collections and campaigns come together given global lockdowns affecting production.

We know that many advertisers will be hit hard by this, particularly in certain categories. As a trusted partner, print publishers must lend their support by providing insights, connections and solutions to ensure that brands remain visible.

In the short term, there will be a reduction of ad spend, because advertisers will simply decide not to proceed with certain campaigns they had planned, to ‘save’ costs. An initial shock may be followed by the question of who else might shut down, which will lead to a loss of trust in other publishers, exacerbating the economic situation of more publications, and leading to a domino effect. But to a certain degree, there will also be a reallocation of ad budgets to other media outlets, who will see a growth in revenues and lesser competition going forward.

Digital ad spend has been growing across most luxury segments. However, online budgets have been much smaller than print budgets in previous times. Partly because the lion’s share of digital ad spend is going to Google and Facebook, and not towards traditional publishers and print magazines’ online editions. Aside from Google and Facebook, brands’ owned websites have played a significant role in diverting marketing spend away from print and established publishers’ online publications."

Chloe Reuter, founder and CEO, Reuter Communications

"I don’t believe that this is the end of beautiful magazines. There is still a market for them. However, it lies with a specific target audience who really appreciates the value and experience of reading and savouring a print magazine.

Much of the media spend in China has already shifted to online. For brands who are looking to engage with a savvy online audience, they have been migrating budget to social media engagement and spending. It really depends on which brand. DTC brands have always parked the majority of their budget online, driving content to commerce.

For businesses that haven’t yet embraced digital fully and were relying on offline engagement, it has created a bigger challenge. In China, we see this behavior has been fast-forwarded. Especially when consumers were house-bound, it meant that even among the most connected, we made a further migration to living our lives online."


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