A publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

Magazine editors say Australians appreciate luxury of quality paper and a good story

The editors of three Australian glossy magazines have argued that print and digital formats could co-exist in today’s cut-throat media landscape, especially when Australians are still the world’s most voracious consumers of print magazines.

Words by Kate Stanton
Storify by Hugh McMaster
 

Helen McCabe, the editor-in-chief of Australia’s top-selling magazine, the Australian Women’s Weekly, said she still viewed the print version as the “bedrock” of her brand, despite the industry’s increasing reliance on digital formats.

“I honestly think the printed version of the magazine will be around for a long time to come,” Ms McCabe said on the final day of New News 2014. “My job is to insulate it for the next 80 years and continue to make it relevant for women.”

Amy Middleton, the founding editor of Archer Magazine, a journal of sexual diversity, said she chose to start a print magazine because she wanted it to serve as a “relic” for the sexual equality movement.

She said the permanence of paper meant print content could stand the test of time, unlike a more ephemeral online format.

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“Everything moves, everything shifts,” she said of online publishing. But print magazines such as Archer – set to release its third issue next month – bottled cultural ideas and norms for posterity.    

Ms Middleton said the design of Archer’s first issue, which looked very modern when it debuted in 2013, was “starting to look dated, which is what I wanted”.

The session, held at the Wheeler Centre, was chaired by media academic Carolyne Lee who captured the mood by declaring that there was nothing like the “sheer, tactile pleasure” of a glossy magazine.

The Women’s Weekly celebrated its 80th birthday last year, reminding Ms McCabe that her editorial decisions would serve as a snapshot of the lives and concerns of Australian women for generations.

“I’m acutely aware that no matter how long I’m at The Weekly, it will be looked at in historical terms,” she said.

Ms McCabe made a splash last July when she put burn survivor Turia Pitt on the cover. The move made headlines around the world, a reminder of the continuing power of a print magazine’s cover.

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“You’re only as good as your last story, and in my case, my last cover.”  

Ms Middleton continued to champion the medium, even for young people, calling herself a “big print fan”.

“I just can’t believe that the state of the industry is that bad when I walk into Mag Nation,” Ms Middleton said. “There are kids spending their money.”

Ms Middleton said she knew of Archer readers who carried the magazine around as “as an accessory and talking point”.

A Deloitte Media Consumer Survey, published in July, supported the editors’ views, finding nearly half (49 per cent) of the survey respondents who subscribed to magazines said they would prefer print versions to a digital alternative, even if the latter was cheaper.

Ms McCabe, a former newspaper editor and London-based correspondent, noted that there was increasing value in niche markets, reflecting a trend towards specialization across all forms of media.

She added that in recent years, Women’s Weekly had been “swamped” by niche publications such as Archer and COSMOS. She noted Taste’s decision to take their online magazine to print format, and had suggested MamaMia’s Mia Freedman do the same.

“That’s the gear shift,” she said. “I’ve got the hardest gig in a big, mass-market title.”

Bill Condie, the production editor of COSMOS, said the science focus of his publication was a “strength, not a weakness”. Long-form science pieces worked better in the print version of the magazine.

“We can present it much more beautifully, much more accessibly in the magazine,” he added.

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The print version was “a lovely thing to own, a lovely thing to read, a lovely thing to rifle through”.

Mr Condie brushed off the notion that COSMOS had decided to “shift emphasis from print to digital”. Instead, he championed the utility of the digital format as complementary to print and vice-versa.

“Our strategy is to publish digitally first and treat the print as a slightly different product that focuses mainly on the things that print does best – photo and long-form journalism, and produce it as a tactile product with high production values,” he told The Citizen.

Mr Condie said the digital side of his brand kept his readership engaged in between print cycles.

“You are using the online for things that does best, but retaining the magazine for the things the magazine does best,” Dr Lee added.

“Best of all possible worlds,” Mr Condie concluded.

[<a href=”//storify.com/hughmcmaster/magazines-set-to-hold-their-gloss” target=”_blank”>View the story “Magazines set to hold their gloss” on Storify</a>]

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