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Is mobile killing regional magazines?

With the news that New York magazine is cutting its printing schedule from weekly to biweekly, regional magazines are some of the publications hit hardest by mobile, despite the increased interest around local advertising.

With mobile bringing in more than half of Web traffic for some publishers, the threat of mobile cannibalizing existent print subscribers to free-wielding digital readers is a threat that publishers are increasingly worried about. New York magazine is the latest publication to announce that it is cutting back on its print distribution as a way to pour more investments into digital and mobile. 

?We?re forecasting being up 15 percent in terms of revenue in 2014 versus 2013, so we see strong continued digital growth in terms of both audience and revenue,? said Michael Silberman, general manager of online at New York magazine, New York.

?We?re launching a new blog, we?re adding resources to our existing blogs and Web sites, so we?re fully expecting to see continued strong growth,? he said.

Regional moves
New York magazine?s push into digital is aimed at helping the magazine churn out more content and beef up ad revenue.

New York magazine will hire 15 people for editorial and sales roles.

The regional magazine will also launch a blog focused on the science of human behavior. Additionally, the amount of music and fashion content will ramp up.

New York magazine has a tablet magazine app and mobile templates for parts of its Web site.

Currently, the homepage and all of the brand?s fashion content from The Cut is designed responsively to render the same on any type of device.

Additionally, all of the magazine?s listings for stores and restaurants are optimized for mobile since consumers are likely not accessing this type of information from a PC.

In the first half of 2014, the magazine will also roll out responsive pages for other sections of the site, including the Daily Intelligencer news content and the Grub Street food section.

Interestingly though, the magazine has not found that mobile requires a completely different set of content.

?When we look at what content does well in mobile versus what does well for desktop, it?s pretty much the same,? Mr. Silberman said.

?The one pattern that we?ve noticed is that when a story does really, really well in getting traffic from social, especially Facebook or Twitter, that a lot of that audience comes in via mobile,? he said. 

With New York magazine reporting that 80 percent of its online traffic comes from outside the New York metropolitan area, the magazine?s digital focus is primarily skewed towards a national audience and therefore attracts the attention of bigger brands that also want to reach New Yorkers as well as local advertisers.

Take Macy?s, for example. Macy?s advertises in both New York magazine?s print and digital content. Even though the company has a national footprint, the brand is especially interested in promoting its flagship store in New York.

On the other hand, Bergdorf Goodman advertises in New York magazine online to support its online business even though the retailer?s bricks-and-mortar presence is limited to New York.

Depending on the brand?s objective though, the move to a national-reaching Web audience could negatively impact some advertising interest from local marketers, according to Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates, Williamsburg, VA.

?The more highly localized you are or are supposed to be, the less valuable that national traffic is because your local advertisers don?t want it ? they don?t want the national traffic [because] it doesn?t serve them well,? he said.

?But in a scenario where you have the vast majority of people like New York magazine coming from outside the market, it dictates that you?re going to be more attractive to national advertisers, which typically play a lower CPM, and you probably should be charging more for a subscription if you have that broad of an audience.?

Publishers move to mobile
In addition to New York magazine, Los Angeles Magazine and Chicago Magazine are two other examples of how some of the country?s largest regional magazines are increasingly moving towards mobile.

Similar to New York magazine, one of the primary uses of mobile for these two publications is to serve local listing information for bars and restaurants. What is different about the two magazines is the focus on packing content into applications.

Both Los Angeles Magazine and Chicago Magazine have iPhone apps that aggregate restaurant and bar content so that consumers can find a recommended restaurant or bar while on the go. Both are also ad-supported through sponsorships from brands including Ketel One Vodka and Bailey?s.

Where Chicago Magazine stands out though is with the mobile Web since Los Angeles Magazine does not have a mobile site.

Chicago Magazine has a full mobile site that is ad-supported with banners and native ads within a stream of news content. 

However, Chicago Magazine is also owned by Tribune Media Group, which includes a portfolio of publications including The Chicago Tribune, and 

The media company has a dedicated mobile advertising component to media plans that includes mobile inventory.

Digital pitfalls
As more publishers move to digital to keep up with readers, there is plenty of speculation that print will eventually die.

However, the reality is that magazines, particularly regional magazines with smaller circulations, still heavily rely on print to keep their business afloat.

Additionally, publishers have not cracked the nut on what types of advertising models work best on digital and mobile properties to make money.

?I think it would be very difficult to operate a local or regional magazine in digital-only ? there?s just not going to be enough advertising to support the content,? Mr. Borrell said.

?However, there is a model supported very heavily with print where you can have a simultaneous print and online and you see a lot of newspapers doing that right now,? he said. ?What we?re discovering is that the online model actually serves the print model a bit more.?

?It is a very problematic business model to go digital-only. I don?t think in the short run there?s enough advertising support on mobile devices since the screen is much smaller, thus the advertising can be a bit more intimate, but there is far less of it.? 

Part of the problem with traditional publishers making the switch to digital is that readers continue to push back from paying for content online. This is particularly true on mobile devices where consumers are reading quick stories while on the go.

News Corp.?s launch of the subscription-based mobile-only publication The Daily in 2011 that was then shut down last year is a perfect example of how consumers are not willing enough to pay high subscription rates for digital-only premium content (see story). 

According to Mr. Borrell, newspapers receive ten times more revenue per print subscriber than a digital subscriber.

Therefore, it is possible that more regional magazines may move to online and mobile pay walls that newspaper publishers such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have been fairly successful with in controlling the amount of digital content that consumers can access.

The key for publishers with digital is to figure out precisely how readers consume content on digital devices and then tailor editorial articles and ads to match those intentions.

?I suspect that if they can prove a deeper bond with their local market consumer, and they have the data to deliver to those consumers, then they may shift to a digital-only distribution in time,? said Susan Bidel, senior analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA.

On the advertising side, larger magazines with niche content tend to draw in big brand advertisers, meaning that they can charge more. These types of national advertisers are more focused on using advertising for branding than pushing a hard sell.

However, at the local level there is a greater demand for direct response advertising since local advertisers cannot afford to do a lot of branding.

This suggests that mobile advertising may not be working as well at a local level that publishers and marketers believe it is.

Additionally, the nature of the content that regional magazines produce may not be particularly attractive to advertisers.

For example, regional and local magazines tend to focus on lifestyle content whereas big publishers focus on content that is targeted in consumers who are actively researching products before they buy something.

The exception to this is Consumer Reports magazine since the publication?s demographic is primarily made up of consumers looking for information to help buy something.

?In Chicago magazine or New York magazine or any of these other magazines that are regional or local ? [the readers are] just trying to get some entertainment information, find out what?s going on around time, they may or may not be predisposed to going out to eat or see a play or something like that,? Mr. Borrell said.

?So it doesn?t hold as great of value as some of these other categories where people are actually ? kind of like the YellowPages  ? going through an app and researching something or looking up something before they buy,? he said. ?That is the highest value content.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York