How Instagram is killing Irish women’s magazines
How glossies and lifestyle titles aimed at women’s market are faring in the digital age
Women’s magazines in particular have suffered enormously amid the print media tumult, with several titles forced to either switch to digital or fold altogether.
Back in May, Look magazine published its final issue. The magazine was launched in 2007 and quickly established itself as one of the UK’s most popular glossy titles, shifting 300,000 copies per week at its peak. Over the last few years, however, it fell prey to declining sales and the decision was taken to shutter it for good, with publisher Time Inc citing changing reader habits as the chief reason for its closure.
Look’s final issue included an exhortation to readers to save women’s magazines from extinction. “Ladies, if you have a top read, go out and buy it, otherwise the closure of our beloved brands will continue,” it warned, before imploring readers to buy magazines such as Grazia, Cosmopolitan, Red, Marie Claire and others.
It’s no secret that it has been a tumultuous time for print media, with newspapers and magazines haemorrhaging readers and struggling to keep their place in an increasingly digital media landscape. Women’s magazines in particular have suffered enormously, with several titles forced to either switch to digital or fold altogether.
The likes of Company, Look, and More have all gone out of print in recent years while British Glamour has slashed its print offering to just two issues per year. Stateside, magazines such as Self and Teen Vogue have ended their print editions and become exclusively online publications.
Last month, Irish magazine U followed in their footsteps and announced it was ceasing publication of its print edition. The monthly glossy had been a fixture on Irish magazine shelves for nearly 40 years, but was no longer a “commercial proposition”, said publisher Ciaran Casey of Irish Studios. In a sign of the times, the magazine is now focusing its efforts on becoming a “digital-first title”.
Readers and industry figures alike mourned its exit, but editor Aisling O’Toole says the transition to digital was inevitable.
“Of course it was bittersweet to send the last issue to print, but to be honest by the time that happened the way we engaged with our readers had evolved so much it felt like a natural progression,” explains O’Toole.
“Online has definitely changed the way millennials consume media,” she says. “They’re impatient and they don’t want to wait four weeks for their next U fix. But what they want to consume remains the same, as does their loyalty to brands they know and relate to.”
The key to survival for women’s magazines, not just in Ireland, but globally, is to stay agile, adapt to change and consumer demands
In recent years, women’s magazines have not only had to contend with dwindling circulation figures and shrinking ad revenues, but they have also been forced to compete with social media and digital influencers.
“Women’s magazines have faced a drastic onslaught of competition in recent years, particularly through the popularity of sites like Instagram, ” says Brooke Erin Duffy, PhD, author of Remake, Remodel: Women’s Magazines in the Digital Age. “The sleek images shared on sites like Instagram rival the stunning photography long associated with women’s glossies. Moreover, so-called influencers are considered more ‘real’ or ‘relatable’ sources of information and advice than traditional media sources.”
Robust online presence
In order to stay relevant, women’s magazines have had to reconfigure their identities, she says. No longer is it enough to create a magazine from scratch once a month, but you now also have to have a robust online presence, busy social media channels, exclusive readers’ events, and killer branded content. The days of the humble magazine are behind us. It’s all about the cross-platform media brand now, darling.
So just how are Irish magazines faring in this new climate? And what can they do to remain relevant in an industry that is constantly transforming?
“The key to survival for women’s magazines, not just in Ireland, but globally, is to stay agile, adapt to change and consumer demands, while also staying true to the brand heritage and USP,” says Rosaleen McMeel, editor of Image.
Over the last year, McMeel says Image has instituted a number of significant design changes which have included increasing the physical size of the magazine and remodelling its layout. Likewise, it has developed the branded content side of the business and regularly host ticketed events for readers.
“We were once a 2D print product, but have now created a completely 3D experience communicating with our reader,” she explains.
This multipronged approach can be seen elsewhere, too. Stellar, for instance, has made a concerted effort to ramp up its online presence of late and will soon launch a beauty podcast called The Glow Up. Irish Tatler has also made the leap to digital in an effort to keep up with readers all month long.
We know our reader has changed. She’s older and has grown with the magazine over the last decade
“We stay relevant by being where they are: online and on social platforms, delivering great content in the same voice and with the same authority as the magazine,” says Shauna O’Halloran, editor of Irish Tatler. It’s not about print versus digital, but figuring out a way for both to coexist and complement each other.
The content has changed, too. Where women’s magazines were once justifiably criticised for making readers feel bad about themselves, they are now more concerned with things like empowerment and inclusivity.
“We live in a unique time of empowerment for women and that means rethinking every way we represent our female heroes, how we showcase women in fashion and beauty and make sure that we’re always talking about the real issues that affect us,” says O’Halloran.
Vicki Notaro, editor of Stellar, says she has made an effort to hit a broader demographic of readers (“20 to 40ish”) and feature a wide range of cover stars “from beauty bloggers to businesswomen, sportswomen to models, singers to reality stars”.
“We’re celebrating 10 years in October, and we’ve moved with the times. We know our reader has changed. She’s older and has grown with the magazine over the last decade. She might be a student or a married mother. She might be single, she might be LGBTQ. She most likely works and cares about her career. So we represent all of that.”
One magazine that was arguably ahead of the curve when it came to women’s representation was Stylist. The British magazine launched nine years ago and is now distributed for free every Wednesday in many of the UK’s major cities.
At the time of its launch, editor Lisa Smosarski sensed a growing frustration with the content in many women’s magazines and set out to create a product that upended the notion of what a women’s magazine could be.
“My vision was to create a magazine that treated women with the intelligence they deserved, delivered through a feminist lens,” explains Smosarski.
“We wanted to create a magazine that celebrated women, made them feel inspired and excited by life, and who would fight their battles and quest for equality on their behalf.”
I love the pace, the drama, the aesthetic and intimacy of print
The magazine immediately struck such a chord with readers – so much so that there is now a sizeable cohort of readers with paid subscriptions. No mean feat for a freesheet.
“We know we could distribute double the amount we do,” says Smosarski. “Even in 2018, demand is still there for great quality print. We proved – and continue to prove – that print isn’t dead. It’s paying for print that’s the real problem.”
What is it about print that she holds so near and dear to her heart?
“I love the pace, the drama, the aesthetic and intimacy of print,” she says. “The visual nature, brilliant design and great images mean people cherish their print media. Readers send me pictures of every copy of Stylist they’ve ever picked up. That’s 430 issues loved and cared for and referred back to again and again. Print is special in a way that digital doesn’t allow.”
This sentiment is echoed by her Irish peers.
“For me, a fashion magazine is very hard to reproduce online in its entirety,” says Rosaleen McMeel. “The impact of a 10-page fashion editorial, for example, simply can’t be replicated online. I still remember minute details about magazine shoots I admired as a teenager, but I can’t remember one of the thousand images I scrolled through on Instagram last week.”
Indeed, flicking through a print magazine can provide a welcome respite from scrolling mindlessly on a phone, says Shauna O’Halloran. Just think of it as a “micro digital detox”.
“It’s a whole different experience to the tap, tap, scroll that we’re hooked on,” she says. “It is the kickback moment that people deserve to give themselves at least once a month.”
Over the last few years, Irish readers have bid farewell to print titles such as Kiss, Xposé, and U as blogs, websites and digital-first titles have sprung up in their place. It’s likely that existing Irish titles will continue to be tested and challenged, but their survival is essential for Irish women, says Vicki Notaro.
“It’s hugely important that Irish women have Irish glossies to read,” she says. “The internet is so wide and cavernous, with thousands of competing voices. While it’s of course important to know what people are thinking around the world and see different points of view, it’s also hugely important to have local titles that cater to the Irish demographic specifically because Irish culture is so unique and personal to us.”