|Illustration: Ellen Weinstein|
|After an unfortunately long period that saw publishers clutch their visions of magazines as beloved, essentially tactile periodicals -- certainly not anything so gauche as brands -- it has officially gotten pretty hard to find a title whose only platform is paper.|
After an unfortunately long period that saw publishers clutch their visions of magazines as beloved, essentially tactile periodicals -- certainly not anything so gauche as "brands" -- it has officially gotten pretty hard to find a title whose only platform is paper.
In fact, when Dennis Publishing finally confessed last month that it was seeking a buyer for most of its assets, the biggest buzz belonged to Maxim. Not Maxim magazine, although its circulation plateau remains imposing, but the brand that now threatens to eclipse the magazine.
Even the terse official statement from Dennis devoted less space to the print titles than their iterations across other platforms. To take a quick tour: In addition to a website, mobile site and an online store, the Maxim name has been licensed or affixed to a furniture line, a "Maxim Rocks!" CD, a bedding line that's carried in Macy's, a 24-hour station on Sirius Satellite Radio, a VH1 special, cellphone wallpaper and the "Maxim/Bud Light Real Men of Comedy Tour." Maxim Hotel & Casino, a partnership between Maxim and the developer Concord Wilshire Partners, is expected to open in 2010. And restaurateur-in-the-news Jeffrey Chodorow is working on a Maxim Prime chain of steakhouses.
"There are a lot of different models flowing around," says Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of research, Horizon Media. "I don't think the decline in circulation for magazines has been as appreciable or newsworthy as it has been for newspapers. Nonetheless, publishers are coming up with strategies about multiplatform and digital for their print vehicles.
"This thing is moving a lot faster now," Mr. Adgate adds. "We've been talking about this for five or 10 years, but now it's picking up speed."
At Time Inc., where Chairman-CEO Ann S. Moore has undertaken a contentious plan to transform the company from an unwieldy giant into a nimble, forward-leaning enterprise, In Style is one of the company's biggest recent print successes. Since its 1994 introduction, however, the title has grown into a broad brand by spreading across platforms such as TV programming, books and the de rigueur website, InStyle.com.
'In Style' goes mobile
And even that wasn't good enough for long. In February, In Style introduced In Style Mobile to Sprint phones for a $3.99 monthly subscription, with plans to extend to all major carriers. The service provides daily content updates, shopping tips, celebrity style news and fashion photos, with tools to save content, share it with friends and direct InStyle.com content to users' phones.
"We're creating a platform that engages and connects with this modern In Style woman wherever she is," says Amy Keohane, VP-brand development at In Style.
That "wherever she is" bit partly explains why the doubters and devout print-only loyalists find themselves in smaller and smaller company. Consumers just aren't going to limit their media consumption to their parents' media channels.
Oddly enough, being old can help brands as they enter the new. "You just hope that for these print vehicles working in this new world of media," Mr. Adgate says, "that they've been around long enough that consumers know what they are and know what to expect from their web pages."
Big 'BH&G' move
Sure, some of the country's longest-running magazines are so constrained by tradition that their every move past a stapled or perfect-bound spine is tough. Not so at Meredith's Better Homes and Gardens, which was first published in 1922 under the title Fruit, Garden and Home, before switching in 1924 to Better Homes and Gardens. The women's magazine is relaunching BHG.com at the end of March to show off a "big investment" in video, says Andy Sareyan, Better Homes and Gardens president and exec VP-Meredith Publishing Group.
"We've got a long history of using the brand across various media forms," Mr. Sareyan says. "We've got enormous special-interest publications reach, a very significant website, branded and licensed products for quite some time. We have dabbled in the television world and have quite a bit of experience in the events arena."
"The brand is extremely well-defined and very clear as to what it is and what it offers," Mr. Sareyan adds. "We've been able to use the values of the brand and the qualities of the brand-whether in print or elsewhere."
Put another way, Better Homes sought opportunities beyond its original format not because some electronic media gadget might erode its circulation -- but because it could. And the growing prevalence of that attitude-that there's something to gain, not just threats to counter -- might best explain why the "multi" in multiplatform has come to seem so automatic.
The risk of print-only strategy
"The risk of staying in print only is to fail to understand the potential of the web," says Jack Hanrahan, U.S. director-strategic print communications at Omnicom Group's OMD.
Just take a look at the just-redone site for U.S. News & World Report, he says. "They're essentially becoming a resource, so if you're thinking about health issues, they want to be your information providers on hospitals, disease conditions and way, way beyond what they could do in the magazine."
"Some of these magazines will be more of a web presence than a print presence," Mr. Hanrahan adds.
It could go further. Some of today's magazine brands will be best known on mobile phones, in home decor, on TV or as restaurants. The distance down the road until we reach that point isn't clear, but we're definitely headed that way faster and faster.