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Audience First And The Four Cs*

March 21, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 8.05.28 AM Since the dawn of the digital age, certain people have been predicting the demise of print magazines.

As many of you may or may not know, I am a follower of magazines. Well, actually, that’s not exactly accurate. I would define myself as much more than a mere follower; I would lean more towards the word ‘disciple’. You know who they are; those cynics and prophets of gloom and doom who apparently have nothing better to do than spout rhetoric about subjects they actually know nothing about. It would be absolutely comical, if it wasn’t such a thorn in the side of print producers globally.

For much longer than the 30 years that I have been documented as an ink on paper zealot, I have lived, breathed and loved magazines. For that reason, since the beginning of the nonsensical cries of ‘print is dead’ or ‘print is in decline’, I’ve censured that discussion with more than just my own passion for the medium. I have produced new launch numbers every month each year on my Mr. Magazine’s Launch Monitor that contradicts such negativity.

Some have listened and some haven’t. Regardless of that, the numbers exist and the proof is in the addition.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 8.17.16 AM Take 2015, for example**. There were 814 new magazine launches, with 237 of them promising frequency. Healthy numbers for a declining medium, I’d say. And many of these new titles are from some of the biggest names in the publishing world. And when major industry leaders launch new print magazines, that’s something that surely must be recognised because it speaks volumes about the power of the medium.

These people aren’t in the business of wasting dollars on something that has no value, especially when some of those new babies are the best of the best. From companies like Meredith, Smithsonian and National Geographic to Rodale and Bauer, these mega giants of the industry have managed to create magic with titles that are content-engaging and design-brilliant.

So, what’s the secret to print success for magazines in the 21st century? Well, it’s really no big secret.

It’s based on Audience First and the Four Cs that are needed to secure a print future in a digital age, and how those Four Cs relate to the culture and the community of the different parts of the world.

The Audience First movement

In order for us to achieve the highest power of print that relates to the customers and culture of the community, we must focus on the community itself, making the message loud and clear: Audience First, rather than digital first or print first or anything else first.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 8.16.58 AM The Four Cs that are vital to the future of magazines in this digital age are:

Content
Creation
Curation
Credibility

Now, how can we put those Four Cs into the service of the customer and culture? Putting our customers and our culture first is an essential vehicle for future survival and for not only selling content, but to be in the business of serving content on a silver platter to audiences in each region of the world.

What’s most essential to remember about the Four C approach is the importance of creating more with less and of achieving a link with your audience – your customers – based on their preferences, choices and giving them the sense that they are the ones really in control. It really is all about ‘Audience First’.

In the world we live in today, change is the only constant. That’s an irrefutable fact.

And while change in the media in general and in the magazine industry in particular has been occurring at record speed, the Audience First movement is based on the premise that the focus of media managers today should be on the audience and not on the platforms themselves.

So as we experience all of these technological and digitally-inherent changes, we must never lose sight of what’s important: the audience, not the platform they consume their content on. The ‘Four Cs’ strategy puts that premise into action by linking the first Four Cs with the Foundational Four Cs and using ‘C-Power’ to keep our customers engaged.

The Foundational Four Cs are:

Customer – the audience is our customer
Choice – the customer wants choices
Control – the customer is in control
Change – the only constant in our business

It may sound like a whole lot of Cs, but we’re surrounded by seas in just about any country we may live in, so we have to sink or swim and it’s time we all learned to do more than dog paddle!

Customer

Call a customer a customer. It is what it is. Customers are our main goal, main source of revenue and the only reason that we in the magazine business have a job.

So, the first thing publishers and makers of content have to do is to know their audiences. It’s as simple as that. You can’t sell milk to someone who already owns ten cows, unless those cows are unable to lactate.

You have to give your audience something they need and want before they’re going to become addicted to your product.

Choice

Creating relevant and important content is a must. In this day and age the customer already has so much choice. They can find content anywhere, anytime on the internet. From their PC and laptop to their mobile device, choice is a plentiful commodity.

Therefore, you have to make your product even more engaging and relevant to the customer if you even hope to have a snowball’s chance in summertime Mississippi of creating a dent in the competition’s armour. It’s up to you.

Control

Truly, the power of audiences has never been greater. It’s certainly an on-demand world when it comes to content consumption and magazines have learned the hard way that getting information to the ones ultimately in control – the audience – in the way that they want it, is key to maintaining relevance.

There are mediums for each type of content the audience wants and needs to consume. And magazines may not be for breaking news, but they do have a collectability factor that digital does not have.

And audiences have long-recognised that fact. It’s time magazine makers did as well. Ceding control is never easy, but it’s sometimes mandatory for survival.

Change

Instead of fearing change, we need to embrace it. We must recognise the fact that technology isn’t going away. Magazines and magazine media must face that and grow along with the rest of the world.

Through creativity and innovation, magazines can and will survive and in fact, thrive, in this digital world. We just have to be willing to realise that as fast as technology evolves, magazines have to evolve too.

You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. However, there’s no sense in overstaying your welcome in the past.

Acknowledge it, revel in it or wallow in it for a moment, whichever is suitable for your particular situation, and then move along.

I dare say that the future of magazines is what we make it.

After all, no one can define magazines like the people who create them. So, we have to be relevant and necessary, content-engaging and offer a viable, collectable choice for our customers. And above all else, we have to put the Audience First at all times.

There’s nothing more important than the hands that choose your product from the newsstand or retrieve it from their mailboxes.

Many things come next when it comes to the future of magazines, but only one thing will ever come first: the audience.

*This article appeared as a chapter in the magazine section of in The Media Yearbook, an annual book from Wag the Dog Publishers in South Africa.
** The 2015 numbers that appeared in that chapter were estimates. The numbers in this post are the final numbers of 2015.

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