Innovation launch: Here’s where and how magazines and other media innovate

By Jessica Patterson

It’s been another year of rapid change and innovative publishers continue to assemble a quiver full of new solutions to drive their businesses forward – something that becomes apparent when you page through the new 2018/19 edition of Innovation in Magazine Media 2018-2019 World Report, launched today at Digital Innovators’ Summit (DIS) in Berlin.

The new report, the 9th annual worldwide innovations survey by Innovation Media Consulting (IMC) for FIPP was launched by Juan Señor, senior partner IMC and editor of the Innovation World Report, before a packed DIS audience.

We caught up with Juan’s Innovation Media Consulting colleague and author of the report, John Wilpers, ahead of the launch. He struck an upbeat tone, particularly when it comes to magazines. “I would characterise the magazine industry today as refreshingly positive. After a decade of uncertainty and despair, we not only see the light at the end of the tunnel, but some media companies are already through it. A good number of companies have actually replaced print revenue with reader revenue and other income sources.”

We asked Wilpers to highlight some of the key chapters and conversations in the book.

Why only journalism worth paying for will save journalism 

In the new world report, Wilpers focuses on a number of case studies about how to make money from readers. Reader revenue is increasingly important for magazine publishers, as digital advertising alone can’t carry a substantial editorial business.

Reader revenue involves myriad monetisation strategies, including subscriptions, memberships, ecommerce, events, newsletters, video, programmatic, advertising on voice platforms, product licensing, and advice revenue, among others.

“It's really time for the people for whom we create this great but expensive content to pay for it,” Wilpers said. “If it is valued, if it is unique, if it is something you can't get anywhere else, and if it speaks to their passions, makes them smarter, gives them advantages, and entertains them, then much like everything else that does that, readers should pay for it.”

However, Wilpers noted that reader revenue can’t carry the load by itself, it must be accompanied by a variety of other revenue strategies.

“There’s a limit to what we can charge,” he said. “Even if you did get a lot of readers to pay, it’s not enough to carry a substantial editorial operation.”

Audiences everywhere are hungry for reliable, high-quality content, which is to the advantage of magazine media. With the tsunami of information online, readers are bombarded by content that is questionable in terms of its provenance, Wilpers explained. “You don’t know if you’re getting quality, trusted information, or if you’re reading advice from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” he said.

“Of all the free information out there, what is trustworthy? Are the authors really experts, or are they poseurs? What is fake news? What is real?” Wilpers wrote in the report.

The very essence of the internet — tons of information for free — had become its undoing, and this last year has demonstrated that readers will pay for news and information that is trustworthy, unique and high-quality.

But the key to jumping into reader revenue is to figure out which strategies work for your particular business model and for your unique audience, and then executing the strategies with teams that can see it through.

Companies ought to be using data to determine when, where and why their audiences consume content and how to approach them with their advertising partners. 

“Any magazine that doesn't have a data analyst of some sort to pull apart reader behaviour data is lost. Without data, you’re flying blind,” Wilpers said. “Data analysts will break down the reports and be able to say to the editors, your readers are looking at your Instagram feed the first thing in the morning, but they’re consuming long, interactive stories in the evening. And they are consuming quick updates on Twitter throughout the day.” And then they will dive into each reader engagement to determine what’s working and what’s not. 

New ways of telling stories

The new Innovation in Magazine Media World Report also includes chapters on digital narratives, highlighting the best new storytelling tools for magazine media. “Content creators have never had more tools at their disposal,” Wilpers wrote.

The chapter highlights seven different digital narrative approaches: audio, automated journalism, chatbots, horizontal stories, interactives, live-streamed video, and multimedia stories.

Each narrative tool helps media companies achieve different goals.

Automated journalism, for example, can help media become more efficient, covering niche areas they don’t have the staff to cover. It would only work for situations where data can provide insights into stories and may not be for everyone.

Chatbots are great tools for engaging audiences or telling stories, if done right. But, not every media company has the resources to build artificial intelligence chatbots that learn from their interactions with users. Wilpers suggested that expectations for chatbots are high, so if done wrong, they have the potential to turn off readers.

The key is to know readers’ preferences, because readers now have such a quantity of choice at their fingertips, they are picky with what they choose to consume. “With limited time, they will only choose the sites that use the most rewarding, unique, engaging, entertaining, efficient, informative, and convenient storytelling tools on the platforms they prefer,” Wilpers wrote.

So, media companies ought to know what digital narrative platforms and approaches their audiences love and consume frequently, or else they’ll simply move on.

Media tech

Another chapter highlights the top trends in media tech, covering areas including artificial intelligence, voice-activated devices, chatbots, the Internet of Things, and visual search.

The right technology helps publishers offer what readers are looking for, on the platforms they want, at the time and in the format they want. “The smart media companies will create content that uses the technologies their unique readers find useful,” Wilpers explained. 

Tech that “fits within a publisher’s existing tech stack can yield operational efficiencies, audience growth, cost savings, and above all, revenue, according to Wilpers. And, instead of jumping on the shiny new things whenever new technology comes out, publishers need to wait a second. “Will readers be likely to use it?” Wilpers asked. “Media companies have to pick and choose.”

Print innovations

Print, once said to be disappearing, is going to be around for years to come, Wilpers said. “Print is going to have a place in the media landscape. It will never go away; it is just not going to be the monster it once was,” he said.

For publishers, print is still a tactile, lasting, sensory experience. It’s a quiet luxury, a retreat from the ubiquitous digital experience of pop-up ads, notifications, and text messages. Print is seen as an antidote to lives lived in front of a screen, Wilpers wrote.

“What we're finding, what millennials are telling us, is that they look to print as an escape from their daily life on screen,” Wilpers said. “Print is a lean-back, off-screen, relaxing activity.”

According to several studies outlined in the new report, millennials are huge fans of print, and in some cases, reading more than their Baby Boomer parents. For example, millennials are subscribing to The New Yorker at a rate 10 per cent higher than older demographics, and millennial subscribers at The Atlantic jumped 130 per cent since November 2016, according to Wilpers’ report.

Off-beat innovations 

Tactile experiences were also highlighted in the stunning Off-beat chapter, where Wilpers presented some of the most weird and wonderful print innovations he collected over the last 12 months.

In previous years, readers of the Innovation Report have been introduced to a magazine page you could eat, one you could plant, one you had to bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes in order to read, one with a solar phone charger and one that played music on the cover.

This year was no different, displaying the 10 best innovations including a Brazilian magazine ad in the April 2017 edition of Runners that used thermochromic ink that reacted to body heat, creating an image of a runner’s feet to indicate the type of shoe that runners required, an ad promoting a movie series using ink with a popcorn aroma, another that asked pregnant women to pee on it to reveal a savings on a baby crib, and an ad that, when wet and wrapped around a beer bottle in a freezer, cuts beer cooling time in half.

“It's a testament to the ingenuity of the human spirit,” Wilpers said. “Just when you think they can't possibly do something new, they do!”

Find out more in Innovation in Magazine Media 2018-2019 World Report.

The Innovation in Magazine Media 2018-2019 World Report is written for FIPP every year by Innovation Media Consulting Group — a global consultancy helping publishers succeed in the digital age. The report author is John Wilpers, senior director USA of Innovation Media Consulting, and it is edited by Juan Señor, senior partner.