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Magazines’ pandemic pivots show value of DTC strategy

  • Date:

    11 February 2021

Magazines’ pandemic pivots show value of DTC strategy

Sue Todd, CEO, Magnetic

This article originally featured in Campaign

The most used phrase in business last year must have been ‘you’re on mute’, but a very close second has to be ‘just a sec, there’s someone at the door’. These interruptions were most likely a delivery driver bringing us a product from our increasing range of subscription services. From beauty to cocktails, food to fragrances, subscription boxes are predicted to become a £1bn industry by 2022 in the UK.

Media has had its own subscription bump, notably for streaming services, but also for magazine content. The double hit of consumers seeking more inspiring content to fuel their passions during times of limited activities, combined with a restricted newsstand, has led to substantial increases in subscriptions in parts of the market.

Bauer, Hearst, Immediate and Dennis Publishing have all seen 20-50% increases in subscriptions – print and digital – with some notable surges for individual brands. Immediate has reported that they now have over 1m subscribers.

Passions prevail

Cooking, crafts, fitness, gardening and homes have been obvious areas where demand has surged, but even in areas where active participation has been restricted, such as golf, demand for compelling content has increased as readers look for support, immersion and escape. This growth is not just from new users, but lapsed subscribers have returned as we look for ways to stay entertained. 

Individual magazine brands have shone, with titles like The Week Junior providing some respite to home schooling – leading to a double-digit year-on year-increase, driven mainly by subscription growth. For The Big Issue, the move from street sales was a rapid and essential transition to ensure business survival and a way to maintain support for vendors. The pandemic accelerated The Big Issue’s focus on print and digital subscriptions from zero to nearly 10,000 within 30 days.

The shift to direct to consumer 

Disrupted patterns and routines have created the opportunity for consumers to form new habits, enabling publishers to establish more direct consumer relationships. 

As the popularity of subscriptions increased, many publishers have been able to move away from low price trials, improving profitability, as well as broadening their offer with enhanced membership benefits to reward increased loyalty. Hearst, for example, reported that they were able to remove a number of their most keenly priced trial offers and still grow subscribers by 33%.

We’ve seen the direct to consumer relationship thrive, with Bauer launching two membership products in 2020; Empire VIP and Country Walking+. Empire VIP combines subscription to the print title with its ‘Spoiler Special’ podcast, access to events and Picturehouse membership (activated once cinemas reopen). For consumers passionate about film this access to exclusive extras is a benefit worth paying for. 

In 2020 large-scale events that are popular with readers went online, attracting vast audiences. Women’s Health Live was viewed by over 10.9 million across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube creating a new online fitness community in a matter of days.

Attention drives action

Growth in subscribers and increase in touchpoints is good news for advertising. Immediate recently polled its audience panel to ask if reading a magazine had led to purchase, recommendation and searching online for more information. They found subscribers were more likely to act than the broader readership, which has helped publishers and advertisers capitalise on the other great boom of the pandemic – ecommerce.

Immediate has reported an acceleration of ecommerce and affiliate opportunities and paid-content initiatives, including virtual events, digital masterclasses and webinars. Hearst UK saw ecommerce revenues up 322% last year and has been leveraging the power of its brands through licensed products. Homebase, for example, partnered with House Beautiful, Country Living and Good Housekeeping to create a new range of on-trend household and lifestyle products. Dennis similarly has seen a correlation between the increase in new subscribers to its automotive magazine brands, and the rise in awareness and growth in its partner BuyaCar’s revenue. 

The year ahead

Magazine publishers have started 2021 hyper focused on strengthening subscriber relationships, mitigating churn and leveraging data to remain competitive. 

The pandemic has emphasised the importance of direct customer relationships through both print and digital channels – without intermediaries – and we’ll see this continue to flourish. As these relationships strengthen, publishers will be able to sell other products and services to customers, along with the subsequent data insights and data driven products that commercial partners crave.

Personally, I’m pretty hooked on my Beauty Pie, Mindful Chef and numerous magazine subscriptions. I still get excited at the sound of the letterbox opening and the thud on the mat of Grazia, The Week, Red and my latest addition, Olive. Since the arrival of my lockdown puppy Bobby, I’m not the only one keen to consume the content. Let’s just hope that Bobby doesn’t get to the craft gin subscription before I do.

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