Young Subscribers Flock to Old Media

By: Jason Schwartz


As President Donald Trump wages daily war against the press, millennials are subscribing to legacy news publications in record numbers—and at a growth rate, data suggests, far outpacing any other age group.

Since November's election, the New Yorker, for instance, has seen its number of new millennial subscribers more than double from over the same period a year earlier. According to the magazine's figures, it has 106 percent more new subscribers in the 18-34 age range and 129 percent more from 25-34.

The Atlantic has a similar story: since the election, its number of new subscribers aged 18-24 jumped 130 percent for print and digital subscriptions combined over the same period a year earlier, while 18-44 went up 70 percent.

Newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times typically do not share specific subscriber data, but according to a Post spokesperson, its subscriber growth rate is highest among millennials. A New York Times representative relayed that the paper was “seeing similar trends” in subscriptions and pointed to public data on digital traffic that showed its online reach among millennials to be up 9 percent from the same period a year ago.

Even The Wall Street Journal—not a paper usually known for being left around dorm rooms—said that it has doubled its student subscribers in the last year. And a spokesperson for the famously staid Economist reported, “We are seeing that the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups have been key drivers of new subscriptions.”

Oft derided as pampered, avocado-toast-eating layabouts, millennials have long been seen as unlikely to pay for news.

“Information wants to be free,” the cliché went, and, not long ago, headlines like, “Why Millennials Still Won't Pay Much For The News” were easy enough to find. But according to Nic Newman, the lead author of the 2017 edition of the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report, two major things have changed.

The first is that subscription streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Spotify have conditioned young people to be more willing to pay for quality content.

The second is Trump.

According to the Reuters Institute report, which surveyed more than 70,000 people in 36 countries and was published last summer, the United States was the only country studied that over the last year saw a major increase in the proportion of people who paid for online news, jumping from 9 percent in 2016 to 16 percent in 2017—and millennials were a big part of the reason.

Between 2016 and 2017, the share of Americans aged 18-24 who paid for online news vaulted from 4 percent to 18 percent, the study said; the age group 25-34 rose from 8 percent to 20 percent. Those two age groups, Newman said, collectively represent about 30 percent of the market.

To be sure, the “Trump bump” has existed across all age groups—the New Yorker reports 100 percent year-over-year increases in new subscribers for every demographic—but, in the Reuters Institute study, the millennial age brackets grew at a rate three times greater than any others, and no other age group boasted as high a percentage of people paying for news online.

“The big boost we saw in subscriptions in the U.S.,” Newman said, “is driven by people on the left and younger people are more likely to be on the left. That is really a lot of what’s driving it: young people who don’t like Trump who subscribe to news organizations that they see as being a bulwark against him.”

Newman said that 29 percent of Americans responded to the survey that their reason for paying for news was, “wanting to help support or fund journalism,” which was twice the average for all countries included in the study. Americans on the political left were four times more likely than those on the right to cite supporting journalism as their reason for paying, Newman said.

According to Sam Rosen, the Head of Growth for the Atlantic, the magazine has seen steady growth in millennial engagement over the last four years, but numbers surged after the election. Last July, Rosen ran a survey on the magazine and was struck by the results. “I noticed a really strong engagement in terms of enthusiasm for the brand among the 25-34 year old demo, as well as 18-24. And it was striking to me, because from a print standpoint, typically the Atlantic skews a bit older,” he said.

That brand identification is important, according to Stephanie Edgerly, a professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism who has studied how young people engage with news. “This is why the NPR tote bag is a big deal, this is why the New Yorker had a tote bag that was viewed as a hot commodity,” she said. “News is a brand and it stands for certain types of values you want to associate yourself with and that becomes even more important in this political climate.”

“By values I don’t want to just mean liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican,” she continued. “It’s a lot more complex than that. These stand for lifestyle values, this stands for how you see yourself, whether you want to be identified as a socially conscious intellectual who value the arts or a snarky contrarian who knows obscure political arguments.”

Rosen, from the Atlantic, said that, for younger people, he’s seen this type of broadcasting on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. “We’ve heard from even high schoolers who share Atlantic content on social media that, when they share the Atlantic, they know that they’re signaling that they’re thinking more deeply and critically about the world,” he said.

That signaling can also be a stand against Trump. Dwayne Sheppard, the vice president of consumer marketing at Condé Nast, which owns the New Yorker, said that he’s also observed a sense of brand identification—but said that, for millennials, it extends beyond social media and into the real world. Those subscribing to the New Yorker can choose between a print and digital subscription or a less expensive digital-only option; Millennials, he said, are opting for print at a rate 10 percent higher than older demographics.

“Millennials are choosing print overwhelmingly, or digital and print,” he said. “It’s a physical manifestation of the relationship. You’re on the subway or you’re in the airport and you’re carrying your New Yorker, that’s another signal of what you care about and what you choose to read.”

In the age of Trump, a dog-eared New Yorker or Atlantic may serve as a small token of resistance, but the question remains whether this trend of younger people paying for news is sustainable. Newman, from the Reuters Institute, said that even when the Trump effect wears off, millennials’ embrace of subscription services is a positive sign for the industry.

There was a strong correlation in his study, he said, between people willing to pay for streaming services for music and video and those willing to pay for news. “Other online services have basically given people the grammar by they can understand what subscription is,” he said, in terms of offering different levels of subscriptions and various types of insider benefits. (Newman acknowledged, though, that part of the connection was simply having disposable income).

Both Rosen and Sheppard are bullish that the trend will continue. Shortly after the election and around Trump’s inauguration represented the biggest surge, but “We’re not seeing a downshift or a quieting of interest in subscriptions,” Rosen said.

For all the good news, the truth remains that those willing to pay for journalism still represent a relatively small group—according to the Reuters Institute study, 84 percent of Americans do not pay for online news. Subscriptions are not cheap, and Newman pointed out that there is danger in quality journalism becoming an increasingly elite product. “The danger is that you get a two-tiered system,” he said.

Still, for an industry that has been pummeled for more than a decade by terrible financial news and, for the last 10 months, by the President of the United States, the growing willingness of millennials to open their wallets is welcome news.

“It’s not going to save journalism,” Newman said of the past year’s millennial surge, “but it’s a hopeful sign that people are prepared to pay for quality.”

Author: Jason Schwartz

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Ebook Sales Continue to Fall as Younger Generations Drive Appetite for Print

By: Sian Cain

Readers committed to physical books can give a sigh of relief, as new figures reveal that ebook sales are falling while sales of paper books are growing – and the shift is being driven by younger generations.

More than 360m books were sold in 2016 – a 2% jump in a year that saw UK consumers spend an extra 6%, or £100m, on books in print and ebook formats, according to findings by the industry research group Nielsen in its annual books and consumer survey. The data also revealed good news for bricks-and-mortar bookshops, with a 4% rise in purchases across the UK.

While sales through shops increased 7% in 2016, ebook sales declined by 4%. It is the second year in a row that ebook sales have fallen, and only the second time that annual ebook sales have done so since industry bodies began monitoring sales a decade ago.

Sales of printed books rose 7% in 2016 while e-book sales fell as mobiles and tablets overtook dedicated e-readers.

In 2015, the Publishers Association found that digital content sales had fallen from £563m in 2014 to £554m, while physical book sales HAD increased from £2.74bn to £2.76bn. The Bookseller also discovered a similar result, finding in its own report about the five biggest general trade publishers in the UK – Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan and Simon & Schuster – that their ebook sales collectively fell 2.4% in 2015.

The shift was attributed to the explosion in adult colouring books, as well as a year of high-profile fiction releases, including The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. “Readers take a pleasure in a physical book that does not translate well on to digital,” the Publishers Association report read.

But Nielsen’s survey of 2016 attributed the increase in print sales to children’s fiction and to younger generations preferring physical books to e-readers. A 2013 survey by the youth research agency Voxburner found that 62% of 16- to 24-year-olds preferred print books to ebooks. The most popular reason given was: “I like to hold the product.” While Nielsen found that 50% of all fiction sales were in ebook format, only 4% of children’s fiction was digital.

Steve Bohme, research director at Nielsen Book Research UK, who presented the data on Monday ahead of this year’s London book fair, said young people were using books as a break from their devices or social media. “We are seeing that books are a respite, particularly for young people who are so busy digitally,” he said.

“Over the last few years we have seen a return to favouring print, partly from what is really successful, this year being non-fiction and children’s books,” he said. While adult colouring books were popular in 2015, last year saw books about healthy cooking and the latest Harry Potter sell well – which Bohme noted are “books that tend to translate better in the print form”.

The Nielsen survey contained another first: mobile phones and tablets overtook e-readers as the most common device used to read ebooks, with readers favouring multifunctional devices over dedicated e-reader brands such as Kindleand Nook.

While ebook sales had plateaued, Bohme said it was important to remember that the figures were still higher than they were five years ago, holding a 25% share in 2016, compared with 26% in 2015 and 18% in 2012. The average ebook price increased to £7.

Bohme said ebooks sales would continue to decline in 2017, barring a new development in e-reader technology. “One thing we’ve seen is that when print sales surge, industry confidence in the print increases. If publishers are confident, they can have huge success,” he said. “If we have a couple of years of that success story, print sales will keep going up.”

Author: Sian Cain

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Teens and Tweens are a Print-Hungry Audience

By: Caysey Welton

Bauer Media Group has made no secrets about its love of print magazines. Evidence of that is its continued commitment to the newsstand and its aggressive strategy to keep launching new magazines. Over the past few years the company has been more than bullish about introducing new titles, which has worked out pretty well for them. Brands like Closer and Simple Grace, for example, have thrived on newsstands and gained recognition among industry pundits. But last year the company targeted an audience that some might think wouldn’t be all that interested in an old-school medium like print—female teens and tweens.

Last year, Bauer Media Group launched five newsstand titles specifically for that audience, and added to a portfolio that already included four magazines for that segment of readers. So what is the company going to do for an encore? Well, we caught up with editorial director, Brittany Galla, to find out and learn more about the audience she serves.

min: Tell us about some of your big wins over the past year and how you’re building on that momentum in 2017.

Brittany Galla: Without a doubt, 2016 was a big year for us! In one year, our team launched five new magazines: Puzzle Fun, J-14 Decorate, Star-tastic Coloring Book, Girls’ World’s Bake It Up and Dot Dot Dot (on top of working on our four other publications, J-14, QuizFest, Girls’ World and Animal Tales). 

J-14 Decorate was even selected as one of the 30 Hottest Launches by Samir Husni, which was a big win for us— and a welcomed surprise!

Launching so many magazines successfully in 2016 gives me confidence that we can do the same in 2017 and still succeed in the market.

min: What are the unique challenges do you face reaching your audience in a progressively more digital age?

Galla: There’s no doubt that our older tween and teen audience are plugged in on their phones. They get their news on and follow all their favorite stars on social media—they are the most clued in audience we’ve ever had. It’s impressive, but I find the digital age to be incredibly helpful to me—and the team—to connect with our audience in ways we were never able to before. In a matter of seconds, I can get instant poll results on a poster, see what my readers are wearing to school that day (thanks to Instagram), see who they’re tweeting about and growing more interested in, and all in all, have this vital pipeline into what they’re thinking and doing at any moment. I love corresponding with our readers on social media and email—it’s a sense of a community. 

So I don’t see this digital age as only a challenge; I see it as an opportunity to use different outlets to really connect with my readers, who always are at the forefront of my mind. 

min: How have your readers changed in recent years? 

Galla: I touched on this earlier, but we are definitely seeing our audience be completely in-the-know when it comes to celebrities. Thanks to social media, they’re able to see celebrity photos and entertainment news a lot faster than it was 10 or even five years ago. For this reason, we have to be really on the pulse with what we do, coming up with new and creative ways to present celebrity news in an entertainment-centered title like J-14.

And I think for Girls’ World, we’re seeing a lot of readers who are passionate about the world around them and what they can do to make it a better place. Whether it’s the current political atmosphere or just a feeling of girl power in general, our readers are really responding to empowering and meaningful content—and that’s really inspiring to see.

min: Conversely, what has remained a constant?

Galla: Teen and tween girls have always been savvy. They don’t like to be tricked and they’ll turn away from a magazine that tries to  talk down to them. That’s why I’ve always seen a magazine like J-14 as the cool, big sister to readers—not the annoying know-it-all sister. 

I also think our readers’ optimism has remained a constant. They pay attention to the news and they realize we’re living in a particularly volatile time, but they look to our magazine to be an escape, and we’re proud to provide that. It’s even an escape from the drama in their personal lives.

Bullies might be in their school hallway and on their Snapchat account, but the bully doesn’t follow them when they sit down to read our magazines. So I think they still look for that loyal escape, that friend, and I’m happy we can be that for them.

min: Young people have so many distractions in their lives now, and several ways to consume media, how does print fit into that equation? Is your audience as passionate about ink and paper as they are digital mediums?

Galla: Social media is great, but you can’t print out a poster of your favorite celebrity or TV show/movie from your phone that’s going to be good quality. Even with a computer and printer it’s still going to be smaller paper size and not great. With our magazines, posters are a huge sell for us that our audience is still very passionate about. They love tearing them out and putting them on their walls or lockers. We get tons of photos of girls whose rooms are decked out with our posters.

Besides posters, we worked really hard on our magazines to give readers content that is unique to paper and not something they can get online as quickly. 

So for example, in J-14 Decorate, you’ll see pages like beautiful gallery wall images that they can assemble into a gorgeous gallery wall for their rooms with our directions, and grid sheets where they can actually “play designer” and fit furniture different ways in a room. And in Bake It Up, you’ll find cut-out recipe cards, helpful conversion charts for the kitchen and even placemats for them to use.

min: What has you excited about magazine media in 2017? And more specifically, the brands you oversee?

Galla: Creativity! Magazine publishers are truly thinking outside of the box for 2017, and that’s exciting to see. We’re seeing new avenues to reach our audiences, as well as connect with audiences we haven’t reached before. Specifically for the brands I oversee, I’m excited to continue our growth and reach even more readers this year.

Author: Caysey Welton

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