Stack of about ten magazines including National Geographic.
Stack of about ten magazines including National Geographic.

Single-copy sales of magazines in the United States dropped 10% in the first six months of 2012. This is the latest major shift taking place that merits study by news publishers everywhere.

Hamish McKenzie writes in Pando Daily: “Ten years ago, (magazine) readers were on the bus, on the couch, in waiting rooms, and on the beach — places where paper could dominate, and where PCs and even laptops couldn’t offer competitive long-form reading experiences. Today, tablets and smartphones accomplish what paper owned in those years, but with added benefits — no pages that flutter in the wind, instant access to information from all over the world, supreme portability, and the ability to immediately share content with friends.”

McKenzie warns that the magazine package on tablets and smartphones no longer makes sense. While journalists and editors continue to have value, “we don't need them so much to bundle disparate pieces of content into one immutable chunk.”

Clearly, this echoes loudly for newspaper publishers.

While bundle defenders advocate serendipity is lost by disaggregation, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that social media has become the new serendipity.

McKenzie then posits this in his recent Pando Daily article: “In the future, magazine brands will be producers, endorsers, commissioners, curators, designers, and promoters — but they won’t primarily be bundlers. The bundle may exist, but it will be a much smaller piece of the magazine than it is today.”

I characterise what will happen next for publishers in general as the atomisation of content. Branded journalism will have to be of a higher quality to stand out in the digital sea as it leaves the mediocre standards of a print bundle.

McKenzie seems to agree: “They will have to produce content that can move easily outside the borders of pages and apps, content that can be shared — even purchased — at the click of a button, content that can live on the strength of its reporting and writing.”