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The Three Surprising Trends Taking Shape in Print

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As Americans find new ways to consume content across an ever-expanding range of media and digital channels, the next generation of print has arrived. Susan Severance, Director, Advertising Sales, AARP Media Advertising Network explains more…

Print consumption among U.S. adults was up in 2023 and is likely to continue its ascent in 2024, especially as publishers prove adept at evolving their offerings to meet the needs, interests and behaviors of consumers who, despite leading digitally-first lives, clearly value print media.

That’s not to say that magazine audiences aren’t smaller than they once were. MRI-Simmons reports that 80%+ of 100+ national magazines have lower readership than they did a decade ago. However, over the past two years, nearly 90% of those have maintained or actually increased readership. What’s more, 80 of these magazines have at least 2 million readers per issue; 17 of which have at least 10 million readers.

Some clear market trends are crystallizing as consumer preferences converge with publications that are tracking and adapting to these preferences.

These are the three big trends shaping the future of print

1. Doubling Down on Reader Relevance: Home-Centered Magazines

Today, brands and experiences that demonstrate the ability to focus on consumer interests in contextually relevant ways are breaking through.

When the pandemic forced people to stay at home, marketers of home-centered products and services benefitted, including magazines. Home and food magazines grew, including those primarily read in print at home.

Home and food publications with significant, stable or growing audiences include Good Housekeeping, Southern Living, Food Network Magazine and Taste of Home – all of which have 8 to 12 million readers and have grown between 2% to 28% percent over the past two years.

High in-home readership magazines are also poised to thrive in the future of print. AARP The Magazine and Costco Connection have 89%+ in-home readership and enjoy a base of 32+ million readers. Other in-home magazines like AllRecipes and TV Guide have seen double-digit growth over the past two years.

While consumers are no longer confined to their homes like they were during the pandemic, more people are working from home with nearly one-third of adults working in a hybrid arrangement. With consumers fully entrenched in home life, in-home and home-centered publications that reach them in this central environment and provide value are likely to continue to engage print audiences.

2. Right Place at the Right Time: Specialty Content Publications

Consumers are drawn to publications from trusted authorities that provide a wealth of information about a specific topic of interest. Think holiday shopping, life stages and fashion. Vogue and Cosmopolitan, for example, are up 21% over two years ago. Other savings-focused publications like AARP The Magazine and Costco Connection similarly maintain robust audiences and readership growth.

Catalogs are also back in a big way, including Amazon’s Holiday Dash catalog, which tops 100 pages and has been described as a mashup of the iconic Sears catalog and Highlights magazine. And it’s been a huge hit with kids and parents alike. The Neiman Marcus holiday catalog turned 97 this year and shows no signs of slowing down — as its 2023 luxury travel section and 80-page fine jewelry insert clearly suggest. And L.L. Bean, which famously shifted its focus to TV and digital in 2017, is also now leaning back into print.

This trend mirrors the shift towards niche content on social media, reflecting a larger specific-interest driven focus across media at-large. Culture and trend research suggests that culture is adopting a more individualized approach with 65%+ of younger audiences like Gen Z saying interest-driven content is more relevant that more general content.

Print publications that see this trend and proactively tailor their content to consumers’ shifting preferences will solidify and even grow their reader base.

3. Tangible Benefits: Membership Magazines

Consumers join membership organizations to gain access to exclusive benefits, typically of the purpose-driven or money-savings variety. Membership magazines play a critical role in meeting expectations and delivering for people on what they signed up for.

The growing popularity of membership magazines like AARP The Magazine and Costco Connection, which saw its readership climb 2.5% to nearly 32.4 million according to MRI – underscores the way consumer-brand relationships are changing.

Notably, every-issue readership of these two publications is significantly higher compared to the other top 10 magazines in their cohort. Not surprisingly, the two measured magazines that reflect all three trends—AARP The Magazine and Costco Connection—are the nation’s No.1 and No.3 most-read magazines.

The bottom line:

Home-centered publications, specialty content focuses and benefits-driven magazines are at the foundation of a new generation of print that’s actively taking shape. Magazines that fit within these three trends are thriving in today’s digital world and remain highly relevant – with more than 191 million U.S. adults in agreement.

These readers aren’t alone. Not only do consumers continue to value print, but the data shows marketers similarly find value in print as a marketing channel with magazine spending forecast to hit $5 billion in 2023. Clearly, it is money well spent.

THis article originally appeared in Media Makers Meet.