Transforming the Magazines Industry: The SPH Magazines’ Journey

(This is the first of a two-part article on innovations in SPH Magazines)

The print industry is battling a headwind of digital disruption. And like any industry amid turbulence, magazine publishers need to dig deep for the courage to transform—not just to ensure survival, but more importantly, to advance resilience.

This was the essence of the speech by our Editor-in-Chief of English and Malay Newspapers earlier this year when he spoke about transforming the media business in the digital age. The words were not verbatim—this author admits to be seduced by Christensen’s idea of disruptive innovation—but the call for transformation was unmistakable in its urgency. The publishing business needs to accurately identify its core strengths and relative advantages, to quickly formulate responses in this volatile media climate.

This is the story about one such journey of transformation. This is a narration of learning processes we undergo in SPH Magazines as we revolutionize our businesses by disrupting the traditional magazines business cycle and opening new opportunities in the process.

The Death Watch: How did we get to this point?

Contrary to how it may sound, there’s nothing cool about this. In fact our journey began from an unenviable starting point: a death sentence. Such as this one. Or this one. And since third time’s the charm, this one.  You know you have hit the rock bottom when you have Newspaper Death Watch and a Museum of Dead Magazines erected in the industry’s honour.

Death of Print

Clearly the old publishing model no longer works. Magazines cannot survive simply by offering paid ad spaces to brands. Technological sophistication means that brands are becoming savvier in developing their own private label media. Social media platforms allow brands to directly communicate with customers, while the latter make their sentiments—good or bad—known in real time.

So this leaves only two options for magazine publishers. We can resolutely believe in the power of print and make print ads more attractive—experimenting with creative print executions, give more editorial support, boosting our titles’ visibility through strategic partnerships—in short, offer continuous innovation. Or we can revamp the whole business model—accept that print is not the be-all and the end-all, develop non-print platforms, and repackage our offerings to remain relevant to our partners.

In other words, continue the print publishing cycle or disrupt it altogether.

We decide to do both.

Magazines as a multiplatform solution provider

As the first step, we went back to the drawing board to rediscover our raison d’être. We asked ourselves three tough questions. Who do we serve? Who else are in the landscape? And what is it really that we bring to the table?

The fact remains even today that magazines serve two masters: readers and advertisers. More specifically, we act as a bridge between the two entities—reaching them wherever they are, understand their needs and delivering a satisfying solution that meaningfully bring both together.

In fact, putting customers (that is, readers and advertisers) at the centre of our approach shifts the focus away from the print versus digital debate, which on hindsight was perhaps the biggest red herring in the publishing industry. As Earl J. Wilkinson, the Executive Director of International News Media Association (INMA) puts it, “We are too obsessed about print versus digital. Where we are … is neither print nor digital. We are a print + digital industry… a hybrid industry.” Publishers gradually discover that it makes more sense to put the two together rather than pit them against each other.

                     360 content solutions     

So taking stock of all our existing brands, we lay them out according to print, online/social and digital platforms to meet readers at every available touch point. A brand campaign should be able to reach out to their target audience at any time of the day—whether they are taking a quick browse on mobile while commuting, leisurely browsing on tablet at night, catching a post-lunch read on their desktop, or flipping the glossy at the dental clinic. Also, it is important to offer them a consistent user experience which they have come to expect of a particular magazine title.

Still, the magazine reading experience does not limit itself to passive textual and visual consumption. Magazines offer an immersive, interactive experience offered through events that embrace the brand’s DNA. This is why our signature events such as Shape Run, Men’s Health Urbanathlon and Female 50 Gorgeous People have been such hit year after year.

Magazines also offer a physical tactile experience, highlighted through creative executions on print (e.g. paper creatives) and on digital (e.g. microsite, augmented reality and branded apps). Lastly, and true to our mission of bridging advertisers and consumers, we make a concerted effort to get to know our readers and offer advertisers a clear view of their consumer’s insights.

The SPHMag 360 Approach

Consolidating these, we herald the birth of the SPHMag 360—a customer-centric, platform-neutral approach which we adopt across all titles and all platforms. This is our attempt to extend our core offering—decades of print publishing expertise—to make it more intuitive for readers to enjoy their magazine moment across touch points, while value-adding our professional partnerships by tapping into solid technical, event management and research expertise.

This is all well and good until we realize that we are no longer the only kid in the playground. How do magazines, as paid media, navigate its role vis-à-vis other types of media to remain relevant as a bridge between brand owners and consumers? Find out more in the second part of the series, Strengths of a Legacy Publisher, out next week.

(If you are keen to know more about the SPHMag 360 solution, drop us a line here and our team will be happy to follow up with you.)

SPH Magazines Blog

Welcome to our blog. Through this new channel, we hope to connect better with you, and provide you with the latest happenings at SPH Magazines, such as our new titles, new sections in our magazines, events you can participate in and best of all, attractive promotions. We hope that you will find the postings here informative and fun. We would also like to hear from as many of you as possible. So leave us a note and let's connect now!
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