Take a visit to your nearest news-stand and you’ll find dozens of magazines all vying for your attention and your money. With the magazine publication sector as crowded as ever, one would think publishers would make an effort to differentiate their titles from their competitors. Yet as you stood in front on the newsstand, you may have noticed something: these magazines all look the same. For an industry which visually driven, this can be classified as counter-intuitive.
Market Segmentation: the end justifies the means
Magazine readers are one of the most widely segmented markets within media consumers. Through segmentation, publishers can break down broad markets into infinite clusters, using a combination of geographic, demographic and psychographic variables. High level clustering like this can enable independent publishers with niche titles to build a cult loyal readership base. By partitioning the market, publishers can study and understand their target market more deeply; which then enables them to focus their publications on highly specific consumer groups.
The cluster diagram below shows a simple example of how publishers (or any marketer) can break down markets in order to identify commercially viable sectors. The diagram shows two regions within a target population. Each region is further differentiated by gender and income.
After clustering, it is obvious that for a publisher specialising in high-end female fashion magazine, targeting the southern region provides the best chance of commercial success even though there is an overall larger female population in the western region. This is simply because there are more high female earners in the south. Likewise, a moderately priced men’s interest periodical would do well to target the male dominated western region.
Cover pages: same difference
When it comes to design and creative originality, independent magazine publishers appear to leading the way ahead of their mainstream counterparts. There are some exceptions like Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Wired Magazine and The New Yorker who often have some of the most creative covers out there.
However on the whole, there is a general sense of ‘creative inertia’; one which reminiscent of the movie industry’s approach to movie posters designs. It appears once a template for success has been established, the studios (and in our case publishers) tend to become less inclined to try new things. Perhaps there is a method to this madness. Decisions on cover designs would appear to have been made under the consideration of extensive research on the readers’ preferences and interactions. Essentially, we are continually shown what we love to see.
This lack of creative originality is prevalent most in the fashion and lifestyle “glossy mag” category. Titles which target a defined group all share similar traits in brand styling and presentation. This approach appears to be in contradiction with one of the underlying principles of branding: to stand out from competitors. The differences between these magazines are very slight and the logos on the magazine could easily be interchangeable.
To illustrate this point, I decided to analyse the covers of the flagship fashion and lifestyle magazines of two of the biggest magazine publishers in the world, Hearst and Conde Nast. Given that these 2 are direct competitors it was interesting to see so many similarities between competing products.
Serif fonts = high price
The following women’s magazines are positioned similarly on the market as high-end fashion editorials and their prices reflect that; so does the branding and appearance. High subscription prices are seemingly not an issue for the target market. The median household incomes (HHI) of target market are as such: W – 158,940, Vogue – 69,447, Harper’s Bazaar –70,208, Elle – 79,898.
Pink, sex and all the single ladies
These general interest magazines are marketed as affordable and aspirational. The cover usually features a well know female personality surrounded by messages intended to promote self-improvement. The word ‘Sex’ is used repeated throughout the magazines and the highly feminised design scheme (a lot of pink and purple) also support circulation statistics which show reduced male readership compared to high-end female magazines*. The median HHI of Glamour and Cosmo readers are 66,992 and 61,150 respectively.
Men in suits or half-naked women
The male lifestyle magazine market is comparatively small so the number of men’s magazines on offer is limited. The two most popular choices are GQ and Esquire. They are both positioned similarly on the market, share identical brand values and target the same market (Median HHI: GQ – $72,374, Esquire – $75,766). Like their female counterparts, the theme of the men’s lifestyle mags similarly aspirational. Their quest can be simplified as ‘the most fashionably stylish man with the sexiest woman. This is perhaps a sweeping generalisation about men who earn above $70000, but a combined circulation of over 1.5 million per issue may suggest otherwise.
It is clear that segmentation allow magazine publishers to position their product across a wide market. However, the most successful magazines brands tend to take a similar positioning stance for every market segment. Yet the fact that these magazines remain relatively successful suggests they may be doing something more beyond the cover page.
This is a heavily watered down version of an academic report on Market Segmentation report I wrote as part of my MSc course. In my quest to make the article short and somewhat interesting, I have omitted some important (but very boring) data out.