Eye On Digital Media: Magazines Sites Enjoy a Fourth-Quarter Spike

By Steve Smith
02/18/2008

Steve Smith

Magazine Sites Enjoy A Fourth-Quarter Spike: Is That "Unique"?

After years of struggling for user recognition against the endemic Web brands, magazine publishers finally have something solid to crow about after all of their digital efforts. Audiences going to branded magazine sites were +8.1% fourth-quarter 2007-versus-2006, according to Magazine Publishers of America tracking data. This growth comes at three times the rate of overall U.S. Internet expansion during the same period.

Across the last four months of the year, the 320 magazine sites included in this survey averaged a reach of 67.6 million unique-visitor users–or 41.9% of the Internet audience in the U.S. The MPA findings are based on Nielsen Online figures for the select sites.

According to MPA president/ceo (since November 1999 Nina Link, this growth reflects the new aggressiveness of magazined online. "We continue to see a lot of stepped-up activity," she says. For example, online is up a third over last year. "We see a lot more investment in acquisitions or partnerships, and just more expertise being brought into the industry."

Smarter partnerships with such endemic Web properties as Facebook and YouTube reflect a new sophistication in how brands reach into the Web to acquire new audiences and remind loyal print readers that the brand may have a robust presence online.

And, frankly, magazine sites generally are just beginning to get savvy to the ways of online traffic building. The gospel of search-engine optimization finally seems to have reached most publishers. And, as Link says, the major brands are pouring new blogs into that part of the ecosystem. "We have been aggregating the magazine branded blogs [on the MPA site] and they now run into the multiple hundreds." In fact, the digital news and resource area of the MPA site consistently ranks among the three most visited areas, for industry insiders as well as advertisers and media.

Future surveys may aim towards a more granular understanding of features that drive growth for these sites, and somewhere on the wish list is tracking ad sales growth for the category. In addition to audience expansion outpacing the Internet generally, it would be interesting to see whether the branded media are also pulling in a disproportionate amount of ad dollars.

Finally, the best news for magazine sites may be in the engagement metrics. Sessions-per-month to branded sites were up 12.3% and time-spent was up 5.5%. Link says that the gains for magazines online does not come at the expense of offline loyalty. Overall readership for the print side has been up in recent years.

While true to a point, the Internet clearly has taken its toll on some categories, notably news magazines, which have had to reduce their rate bases (Time last year/Newsweek this year), and the teen girl segment, which has lost three major titles–Ellegirl/Teen People/YM this decade.

Will, online success notwithstanding, anymore join them in 2008? Ellegirl no longer exists, but ELLEGIRL.COM does.

Steve Smith (POPEYESMITH@COMCAST.NET) is Digital Media editor for min/min’s b2b, which includes weekly columns and the biweekly min’s Digital Media Report e-letter (complimentary to min subscribers). Smith also writes the Mobile Media Report for Access Intelligence, LLC’s biweekly Wireless Business Forecast.