The future of print magazines: Will they survive the digital age?

“Honestly, I am so battle-hardened, I didn’t feel very emotional about it.” Although these words were written in an email, I can almost sense the impassive expression that Flic Everett has while explaining how she felt after losing another job in the magazine industry.

“It was sad of course, but the worst thing for me was having to tell the contributors. I emailed them all individually and promised that they’d be paid”. From this impassiveness then came a sense of guilt.

For some people, magazines are seen as a luxury. Picking up a copy of your favourite glossy monthly and flicking through the pages, whether you’re browsing at the pictures or encapsulated by the carefully written articles. Some subscribe and look forward to their very own copy being delivered to their door, others occasionally fancy reading up on the latest in their chosen genre. For some, magazines are seen as a waste of money and just another thing to clutter the coffee table.

Image from UnSplash

Unfortunately, more people are seeing print magazines as a waste when content is easily found digitally these days, and free of charge in most cases. This has a negative effect on the journalists who work for them.

Flic is an experienced journalist, columnist and radio presenter, who has worked in the media industry for 28-years. In this time, she has lost various columns and editorships with magazines – her most recent was an editorship at Vegan Living, where her role had just begun 3 years ago.

“The role started in Summer 2016, planning the new magazine from scratch. I was promoted to Managing Editor in Summer 2018, and the magazine has closed as of December 2019.

“It closed due to lack of sales. We were not making a profit, and it didn’t seem likely that we would despite having a set of loyal readers who loved the magazine.

“I suspected it was coming, as I was sent EPOS sales figures every month, and ours were not going up. This was a similar situation to other vegan and smaller food magazines, but they often were produced by larger publishers, who could more easily absorb the loss.”

Flic is just one of many journalists who have lost various jobs in the industry. It is no secret that print magazines are on the decline as digital is taking over, but what does this mean for magazine journalists, and what does the future hold for them?

In 2020, a staggering 3.5 billion people own a smartphone, and the digital revolution has increased dramatically, meaning there are constantly ways of tracking down and finding information we would like to consume whenever we want it.

Statistic: Number of smartphone users worldwide from 2016 to 2021 (in billions) | Statista
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The internet means that magazine titles can have their very own website where they publish articles for their readers to look at whenever they wish to. Because of this digital rise, popular magazines such as GLAMOUR have become solely digital, and many other titles are now following in their footsteps.

Hopeful course director of Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University, Jane Bentley, believes that print magazines do have a future, but “content is king” as well as distribution.

“…it all comes down to genuinely original content. I think a lot of the really big lifestyle magazines are having a much tougher time because they haven’t necessarily got that exclusive content that you can’t get elsewhere.

“With the best will in the world you can produce an amazing print magazine, but if those young women aren’t going into shops and purchasing those magazines then there’s not that much point them being there. We’re talking about a generation who are used to getting all their movies and their music from their hand, and getting all their shopping from their hand, and all of their other media, so that makes sense for women’s magazine content as well I think. It’s all about a distribution method and just being where your audience is.”

Press Gazette have carried out their own research and formed this infogram to show how many print magazines have closed from 2014 – 2019.

It is no wonder that Flic is not so sure that magazines will live through the digital age, and is concerned for the journalists who face the consequences of these closures.

“[The future for magazine journalists is going to be] grim! Honestly, I think it’s just now a slow decline. Digital is the future, and I worry for how journalists will make any kind of decent living. Millennials and Z-ers are so used to reading everything digitally, that I truly believe all but the most successful mags will be gone within five years.”

The problem with the digital revolution is that anyone can now be considered a journalist. There are so many tools on the internet that allow people to create their own websites and post articles for others to view and enjoy for free. As well as these individual blogs, content is also posted for viewers to read for free on digital magazines such as Marie Claire, InStyle and GLAMOUR, as well as many, many more.

“There will always be people who are prepared to write stuff for free, and that devalues everybody else’s expertise who would want to be charging a good fee.” Jane believes that the industry has devalued itself by giving its content away for free.

As long as there is content being published for free, and print magazines carry on closing, what does this mean for those current training journalists? Where does their future lie?

With many people currently in education and attaining degrees to become qualified journalists, experience is key for them to really put their skills to practise. Most internships offered by companies are unreachable to many students because they simply can’t afford to work for free for the amount of time that they’re needed.

“I think the whole free internship thing is an absolute shocker and that’s making journalism inaccessible to lots and lots of people. The industry is sort of crying out for more talent but I think they could work a bit harder to find better ways to bring talent in than they are doing.” Jane says.

If current journalists can’t help out those who are learning, how can they expect the industry to be saved in the future?

There have been and there will continue to be cuts to the magazine industry, with media companies combining and making larger corporations with more and more magazine titles. Leading platform for magazines, Future, is planning to buy TI Media in Spring this year, which will make it one big giant media company if the deal goes through.

In an article written by Press Gazette, Future’s cheif executive, Zillah Byng-Thorne, said when asked if they would consider closing magazines to focus on digital: “None at this stage.

“We would never think about it like that, as in let’s close the print to focus online…”

Jane is sceptical about the potential that these magazine titles will have if Future do form this merged company, and the effect it will have on the journalists who work for them.

“[Future buying TI Media] would be a huge transformation, is Future going to keep all those magazines? I’d be very surprised.

“What you’re seeing is a lot of amalgamation of publishing companies coming together and making mega companies, and so there will inevitably be job losses there because you just wont need the same amount of titles.”

So, at the moment the crisis continues for magazine journalists. Here’s to hoping that magazine lovers save print and never let it die out.

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