Wednesday, March 26

2008: Blogs & the 'traditional' press (Part 1)

About a year ago I posted an article considering the impact of outdoor blogs alongside the UK's traditional print magazines. Whilst questioning the role blogs played I concluded that it was an alternative format. One still finding its feet. But also very capable of offering things that the paper press weren't able to deliver - speed of news items, article relevancy, targeted readership.
It's been a busy year since. There's been innovation on the hard copy side with publishers setting up or rebadging magazine websites; Experimenting with podcast, vidcast and digital magazine formats.

Meanwhile the majority of UK based Outdoor Bloggers, coming together under the auspices of the have welcomed new members, and provided a strong support network for those seeking to get started, looking to improve their chosen craft, or just happy to be amongst a like minded community. With over 55 members it may not sound huge. But it represents the majority of those in the UK actively blogging on outdoor related matters. Specifically walking/wildcamping, but also including other outdoor interests. And using a range of methods to present the information on-line.

Any regular reader of these blogs could not have failed to notice comprehensive coverage of such things as the Outdoors Show. Providing a level of detail and reflection to a depth that just wouldn't be possible within a magazine issue. And more importantly making it available whilst the information remained fresh and relevant.

Tellingly, what the magazines may have to report is still awaited.

A throw away comment from one blogger made me return to my original piece to remind myself of circulation figures and to confirm the latest position. And all does not look good in print magazine land at present.

Anyone following the Lad's Mags (Maxim, Loaded, FHQ) circulation news will already be aware that their market share has been plummeting as their market audience moves away to other interests.

And whilst the outdoor sphere has always been of a less flighty nature, the comparative figures for 2006 & 2007 are worrying. Once again using the magazine industry's benchmark, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (the little ABC you sometimes see inside the magazine cover) and with due recognition of ABC copyright ownership a quick reprise of the state of the market using 2007 figures against those 2006 representative titles

Circulation : 39,349 (2006 - 40,552 - 3% drop)
Cost: £3.70 (2006 - £3.50 - 6% increase)
Subscription: 38% of copies sold (2006 - 41% - 3 % drop)

Circulation : 44,549 (2006 - 46,849 - 5% drop)
Cost: £3.70 (2006 - £3.50 - 6% increase)
Subscription: 42% of copies sold (2006 - 43% - 1% drop)

Mag: TGO
Circulation : 10,705 (2006 - 11,368 - 6% drop)
Cost: £3.40 (2006 - £3.30 - 3% increase)
Subscribers: 31% of copies sold (2006 - 38% - 7 % drop)

And the alternative outdoor offerings?
Magazine : WALK
Circulation : 105,168 (2006 - 105,809 - 1% drop)
Cost: n/a
Subscribers: n/a

Magazine : CUMBRIA
Circulation : 12,505 (2006 - 13,043 - 4% drop)
Cost: £1.99 (2006 - £1.85 - 8% increase)
Subscribers: 58% (2006 - 56% - 2 % increase)

Across all titles, even including the Rambler's Association Walk Magazine (part of the membership deal), there has been a loss of readership, accompanied by a loss of subscribers. Except for Cumbria, which I suspect has a huge readership outside of the Lakes, and naturally tends towards subscription for its circulation.

All the magazines, as you’d expect, have had a cover price increase. But that doesn’t appear to directly relate to readership loss with TGO hardest hit despite the lowest price change.

Across the big three UK magazines (Trail; Country Walking; TGO) total readership has dropped from 98,769 to 94,603

Similar figures for blog readership are notoriously difficult to acquire. But here's some rough figures based on average monthly visitors and a variety of different and regularly followed blogs (via RSS feeds- say 10 and 20 blogs)

A minimum audience of 15,000 and a maximum in excess of 30,000.
(But please - this is a very rough estimate based on very little hard fact, just feedback from my own site stats and a few others balanced against repeat visits throughout a "average" month. I wouldn’t want this taken as more than a poor indicator for comparative purposes)

So where has 4% of the 2006 print readership wandered off to? And what does this mean for those newer magazines such as
Active Magazine launched back in Feb just in time for the NEC Show?

Perhaps, similar to the advent of multiple digital TV channels the traditional mass audience has started to peel away. To follow stations geared to their own niche interests.

Or possibly, with lifestyle choice and shifting population demographics, the target readership has moved off to other things (But considering the level of mainstream press publicity given to reports on obesity and walking for fitness & good health one should expect the opposite?)

Or perhaps the print magazine is facing an increasingly web enabled audience. One who select their information sources to match their leisure activity niches, at a time and place of their choosing. And one that more immediately meets their need?.

We are constantly reminded that we live in a fast and ever changing world. The expectations of the present generations are radically different from those of only ten years ago.

As an alternative form of information, entertainment & communication 2007 has undoubtedly seen the consolidation of the Outdoor Blog as one format amongst many alternatives. And hopefully those involved have lifted their game to consider both regular readership, but also those coming new to the genre.

So for 2008:
Outdoor Blogs - still an alternative.
Definitely standing upright; And showing commitment to what they deliver.

But the question remains -are they a replacement for the traditional press?

As a committed reader of outdoor magazines, but on a less regular basis than in the past, I hope they continue. But edgy times indeed for those involved in static and cost heavy businesses.

And what about the hard working print journalist, with a network of contacts and providing that essential conduit between manufacturer/organisation and getting their product/news to you the public? If the print press does fade away, surely the quality of the information provided will similarly degrade?

Well - maybe not as much as you would think. A subject I will return to with the concluding part of this piece coming sometime during the next week.

(Well - you think this stuff is quick to produce? There is the day job to consider after all!)

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Hi John,

always hard to predict the future but my personal bet would be that media consumption as a whole will change in the future into a pay/view what and when you want it type of model.
Highspeed, affordable Internet access for all devices will be a given and you will pick and choose what and when you want to watch/read something. The evenings in front of a TV screen will be over when you are forced to consume in a given timeframe what others think they need to offer you.
Remember what Duncan said in the recent blogger podcast from Bob. Compared to the previous years he is the one now who can actively choose what he wants to consume and it opened him new opportunities he haven't thought of before.
Will print magazines die? No, I don't thing so but they need to offer additional channels for people to consume their content. E.g. pay per download for individual articles. And they probably need to concentrate on some core things which will distinct them from other forms of media. The in-depth background story for example.
it will be content not delivery mechanism in the end I think
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