Teens don’t read and other myths shattered in Mr. Magazine’s interview with Jayne Jamison, Publisher of Seventeen MagazineJuly 23, 2009
“Teens don’t read,” is the statement that you hear more often from media pundits and prophets of doom and gloom. But do they really don’t read and are the magazines aimed to teens facing a slow death? Is there a future for teen magazines? What are some of the innovative methods used by teen magazines to stay relevant and current? Well, I took those questions and a little bit more to Jayne Jamison, the publisher of the country’s largest teen magazine Seventeen looking for answers. And answers are what I received.
First for the skimmers, here are Ms. Jamison’s soundbites,and following the soundbites is the entire Q and A with Jayne Jamison.
People who say teens don’t read are simply misinformed
Without the magazine, the brand doesn’t exist because that’s where it all starts and ends.
Teens are looking for information from sources they know, they trust and they believe in
Advertisers want to be surrounded by synergistic content and they can’t get that on a social networking site.
There is always going to be a place for magazines in the media mix. I think engagement factors you have with the magazine reader and the synergy with content and advertising is unavailable anywhere else.
The industry has to wrap its head around selling print as a medium instead selling themselves versus their competitors.
SH: You have the toughest job in the world. You are publishing a magazine that people say the demographic doesn’t exist anymore, they don’t’ read, they don’t care about print… How do you feel when somebody comes to you and say’s, “Oh, teens don’t read. Oh, you’re the publisher of a teen magazine?” How do you respond?
JJ: I start out by telling them, in a nice way, that they are misinformed. Clearly, teenagers multi-task and they are veracious with their media usage. But magazines have always been and continue to be a really important source for beauty and fashion trend information for young women. What has been so interesting to me is when you see the success of Twilight for example, which sold 16% of all books in the United States in the first quarter of this year (all four books). I don’t think that those are a lot of adult women reading those titles. So, I think that what people need to understand is that teens, especially female teens have always enjoyed magazines. But advertisers have walked away from this market, and it’s not really a readership problem, it’s an advertising problem. And if you look at the magazines in this category that are no longer in business, all of them were delivering very large rate bases. It wasn’t like any of them had lowered their rate base. If you look at Seventeen, we’re going to be 65 years young this year. We sold 350,000 copies on average on the newsstands in the first half of this year, which makes us the 9th largest women’s magazine on the newsstands in America. So, I don’t know how people can say teens don’t read. However, is it a category where there’s room for 5 or 6 magazines? No. But, is it still a category that girls flock to? Every girl wants to know what’s in style for the coming season, and on the internet, you don’t know if the picture you’re looking at is from this month or last year. What has been interesting for us because we have a very large website, is to see how girls go back and forth. So, we know that they are engaged and almost every page in the magazine has a web prompt. There’s been a great ability for us to prove to our advertisers that it all starts at the magazine, then goes to the web, then goes to their cell phone. So, I think it all goes back to the strength of your brand, and we are an incredibly strong brand. Wherever we do business, whether it’s a licensing agreement with JC Penny, or it’s a text-to-get, or a coupon in the magazine, we know that girls are going to respond because they love the brand in all of its forms. Without the magazine, the brand doesn’t exist because that’s where it all starts and ends.
SH: I have noticed in your August issue at Wal-Mart that there was a special Wal-Mart insert in the magazine. My subscriber’s edition promised me to win 10,000 dollars. What other innovations are you doing with the print edition?
JJ: We have a couple programs. We call them our “Cover Currency” where you can get free stuff by bring free stuff by bringing the issue into a retailer. The issue you were looking at was “Bring this issue into a Nordstrom’s and you can get a free deluxe size sample of a Harajuku fragrance.” We got an email from the client about how they flew out of stores. The fact that editorially we have a response mechanism, helps on the advertising side too because ultimately these clients see how we drive in store traffic. For example we have advertisers like Macy’s running coupons within their inserts in the magazine playing off on what we’ve done with an editorial coupon, because our editor feels it is very important to give our readers stuff. There was one headline; I think it was a cover line in April, something like “27,000 freebies inside.” We definitely have a lot of equity in terms of what we’re giving girls. That’s the utility of the brand, that we give them great information, but they can also get great stuff, which is what every teenager wants. We give them all this great stuff and there is nothing a teenager wants more than to get something in the mail. It’s just so funny because people think that teens are so consumed with being online, but what they don’t realize is that when you’re a teenage girl you’re looking for information. There are certain things you’re just not just going to discuss with friends on Facebook. If it’s “How do I get rid of this pimple on my face? I’m going to prom, oh my God…” or “I have a period issue.” The beauty of our brand is that there is so much information and service we provide. We’ve asked girls, they don’t trust the web sites for that kind of information. They want to go to a source they know, believe in and trust, and that’s Seventeen. We have over 100,000 friends on Facebook, and we’re that popular girl in school, there is no doubt about it. We are the must-buy, that’s what’s clear right now. If push comes to shove, if girls are not buying more than one magazine, it’s Seventeen. I think that this whole recession has changed the perception about how people think about the magazine, because we have really preformed better than most. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not breaking any records this year in terms of ad-linage. We’re down 12.5% this year and I think the average magazine is down 25%, and luxury magazines are down over 40%. We’ve always been a magazine that talks about accessibility as well as aspiration, with realistic price points, so we’re not scrambling to change our editorial formula based on the economy.
SH: The teen magazines that folded had huge circulation numbers, but they still folded because they said they had no advertisers. Do you think that this economic crisis is making us change our publishing model and start depending less on advertisers and more on circulation revenue?
JJ: I think the consumer is going to have to pay more ultimately, and certainly with no competition or less competition, we should be able to do that. I think that we do have to reinforce the importance of bringing the next generation, of brand loyal consumers, into your franchise. If there is an advertiser interested in this market, we can get them into Seventeen magazine. There is no problem with that. I think the model has changed for us in that everything we do, pretty much, is cross-platform and we’ve sold some advertisers some very large schedules that include big web components, mobile components, we’re on “America’s Next Top Model”. The future is complete integration for the advertiser, which is what they want, and again cross-platform is so easy to do. The advertiser has the benefit of reaching girls on the web as well as in the magazine, on their cell phones and I think that’s going to be the future for everybody. We’re a little ahead of the curve because our target market is already ahead of the curve.
SH: Hearst has been leading the industry and doing things out of the norm like up-sizing Good Housekeeping, up-sizing Redbook, up-sizing Country Living. Are there any plans for re-inventing Seventeen as we know it?
JJ: I think that Hearst re-invented Seventeen when they bought it. By re-inventing it they went back to the roots of the magazine. They’ve owned it for 6 years now and since they bought it it’s been up 25%. I think our rejuvenation is complete. We’re not going to change our formula drastically because girls love it and it works. We’re not going to go up right now in trim size, but if the ad marketplace improves, I would love to. Other than really pushing the needle on integration, I don’t see any other real change in our initiative next year. For my sales staff, everything we put on the table is cross-platform, and that is how we are selling some very, very significant schedules. If you look at magazine websites, we have in an average month, almost 50 million page views and 1.5 million uniques, which puts us in the top 10 of all teen websites. It’s a very significant number. I think that advertisers want to be surrounded by synergistic content and they can’t get that on a social networking site.
SH: There are so many prophets of doom and gloom predicting the demise of the mass print market… Do you ever envision a media market with no mass print in the United States?
JJ: I think there is always going to be a place for magazines in the media mix. I think engagement factors you have with the magazine reader and the synergy with content and advertising is unavailable anywhere else. We’ve become marketing partner with our clients, and I think that has created a heightened level of importance for the medium. The number of experiential events that we do, contests, sweepstakes, all these engagement opportunities that we can actually start to prove the return on investment in a much better way for our clients is only going to make us more important in the future. There will never be a time when there are no magazines. There is no way I can even envision that. In the tactile way of going through pages that are printed until somebody can come up with a Kindle-type… That experience of reading a magazine or book is never going to be completely replaced. There maybe a certain segment of the population that prefers that format ultimately, down the road when it is perfected, but my lifetime.
However, I think unfortunately in our industry, in all of the good advertising years, just like any other category of retail or automotive business, there were too many products. At a given point there were too many magazines. I think the recession is a correction of that, but that should not put down in any one’s mind that the industry is in turmoil. How many millions of magazines are published annually? We’re selling 22 million copies a year of Seventeen, multiply that out… This is the correction year.
SH: We sell 25 million copies every week of magazines on the nation’s newsstands. The thing is we used to sell 25 or 26 million years ago, but then 30 years ago we only had 2,000 magazines, and now we have 7,500. So when you are selling the 350,000 copies on the stands, you are a big chunk of the newsstand industry.
JJ: The industry has to wrap its head around selling print as a medium instead selling themselves versus their competitors.
SH: One final question, what makes Jayne tick?
JJ: I think it’s just so fascinating about publishing and my job is that no two days are ever the same. Every day represents a new day and a new opportunity and that’s what keeps me jazzed. I’ve been doing this for a very long time and it’s never boring, never dull, it’s always interesting and I love the diversity in my job and the kind of different issues that we face and opportunities. I can’t imagine being in another industry. I’m very optimistic about the next generation who get to sit in my seat.
SH: Thank You