Magazine, Newspaper Readers Aging at Accelerated Rate

Digital Media Has Drawn Young Eyes Marketers Covet to Screen From Print

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NEW YORK ( -- Print is not aging well. Or, rather, its readers are aging rapidly.

That's been suspected and alleged since digital media was born, of course, but the latest round of industrywide research revealed just how much has changed in the past five years.

Aging magazines

THE AGING PROCESS: Five titles aging fastest and give getting younger.*
The average age of magazines' readers is catching up with the overall population. The median age of adults in the U.S. increased 1.3 years to 45.2 since spring 2004, according to the spring 2009 Mediamark Research report. But adult readers at the nearly 200 publications and publishing groups tracked in both studies saw their median age rise 1.6 years to 44. About 56% of the titles tracked in both years posted age increases higher than the general adult population's.

The audiences at many titles, moreover, are getting older fast. The median reader age rose 3.7 years at the Sunday Chicago Tribune, for example, 3.9 years at Car and Driver, 4.1 years at U.S. News & World Report and 4.9 years at Penthouse, according to the research.

Some magazines and newspapers are even seeing their audiences age in real time -- or faster. Readers' median age has increased 6.6 years since spring 2004 at Motorcyclist magazine, 6.8 years at Street Rodder and 6.8 years at Motor Boating.

Readers' ages can be a big deal. "From a holistic business perspective, having your readership age go up is not a good thing," said Jason Snell, VP-editorial director at Macworld, where the median reader age has actually fallen since 2004. "You want to be in it for the long haul."

Often advertisers also covet younger people. "There are many product categories that are particularly interested in younger consumers," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of research at Horizon Media. "And they generally will pay a premium for that, because they're so hard to reach and there's that notion of them having a 60-year lifetime value."

That's true even though older consumers typically have more money, said David Leckey, exec VP-consumer marketing at American Media, which publishes magazines including Shape, the National Enquirer and Star. Readers' median age at Star has declined 4.5 years since 2004, partly because it converted from newsprint into a celebrity glossy and partly because it's been emphasizing newsstand sales, where younger readers buy, and de-emphasizing subscriptions, which skew older.

Three ways to keep your readers young

  • Go bigger in supermarket checkouts and at newsstands, where younger people pick up more publications.
  • When you do push subscriptions, lean on the web as much as possible -- including servicing and upselling subscribers through your web platform.
  • Change with the times. "We could have decided to ignore the iPod and iPhone and really focus on the Mac," said Jason Snell, VP-editorial director at Macworld magazine. "The fact that we embraced the iPhone and have done a lot of iPhone coverage, including a lot of iPhone covers on the newsstand, has probably helped attract the younger readers and repel the older audience that's not so interested."
  • "If advertisers could have their pick, they would like youth vs. household income," Mr. Leckey said. "Getting them earlier than later might translate into more potential. I'm sure my daughter at 17 would be more willing to accept a new product than her father, who is much older than 17."

    An aging audience isn't always a problem, said Greg Slattery, publisher at First magazine, where the median age shot up 5.9 years. "First readers are extremely loyal and have grown with the magazine over the past five years," Mr. Slattery said.

    Getting old together
    And it's not like the competition is getting any younger. Five years ago only one traditional women's service title, Ladies' Home Journal, had a median reader age over 50, Mr. Slattery said. Now there are four with median reader ages of 50 or above. "From a competitive standpoint within the women's service category, our position has remained the same," he said.

    Some categories, what's more, practically demand mature readers -- especially in recession. "To me, age is a good thing, because at that age, they're the people who have the money left," said Deb Burns, chief brand officer at Hachette's luxury design group, which comprises Metropolitan Home and Elle D├ęcor. Met Home's median reader age is 48.2 in the new study. That's 6.3 years higher than in 2004, which was an outlier -- the magazine's "youngest" year -- and 3.6 years higher than 2005, a more typical year.

    Motor Boating magazine supports the "aging baby boomer," said Glenn Hughes, group publisher of Bonnier's marine group. "This market is a bigger market than the younger market. Their discretionary time is on the water with the boats. The retirees have more discretionary time."

    "So the magazine's changed with the times over the years," he said. "We are supporting them editorially by communicating more messages of cruising on their boats than going fast on their boats."

    But it's still not good news for print to see its consumers on the whole aging faster than the population. At least print's not alone in the challenge. "All traditional media, mainstream media, are struggling to maintain younger consumers," Mr. Adgate said. "Even 'American Idol' has a median age of 44. It was 32 when it launched."

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    CORRECTION: An earlier version of this chart mistakenly used a picture of First magazine, rather than First for Women, to illustrate the First for Women age statistics.
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