How Australian magazine publishers have embraced a digital detox

Alex Smith, Head of Client and Retailer Services, Retail Distribution, Ovato

With magazine readership down by 1.3 per cent in the last year, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all doom and gloom for the print magazine industry. But in an era of digital detoxes and a growing awareness of the downside of too much screen time, niche magazines are paving the way to steady growth by tapping into a cultural shift towards mindfulness.

On average, we spend more than nine hours a day in front of screens, often on social media. Our attention spans are getting shorter, and many have noted the potential psychological toll of being online 24/7 – having the world available at our fingertips isn’t necessarily making us happier.

So, it’s no surprise that taking time out of a busy day to read a magazine is on the rise for certain groups. Millennials, accustomed to always having a screen within arm’s reach, are one audience seeking a slower pace of life and returning to formats that hold a sense of nostalgia for a pre-digital age. Here are three niche magazine categories experiencing steady growth in this shift to offline engagement.

Solving the puzzle of puzzle’s success

On average, 1.4 million Australians aged 14 and up read puzzle magazines on a monthly basis, and readership is holding steady year on year. With 44 per cent of people in Australia actively trying to reduce time spent on their phone, it’s easy to see why. They’re a great way of unwinding at home, whiling away a lunchbreak, as an alternative to staring at Facebook on your commute, or spending more face-to-face time with your kids.

‘Brain training’ apps have also popularised the notion that puzzles are a way of exercising your brain, assisting brain functions during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and improving cognitive skills. Consumers spent over $1.9 billion last year on apps to keep their brains sharp – and many might be turning to a manual alternative that gives their mind a workout while reducing screen time.

In an increasingly hectic “always on” existence, more people are choosing to take a break from their devices and screens for their physical and mental wellbeing. Puzzle books give you something to do that keeps you away from your device and keeps your brain active.

Taking the time to smell the roses

Just as puzzles are an alternative to staring at a screen, mindfulness magazines act as encouragement for people to take stock of their busy lives, when the always-on nature of smartphones and social media makes it hard to slow down.

In a time when many publishers are cutting titles, local publisher Lovatts has trounced expectations by launching three new titles following its flagship mindfulness magazine Breathe in 2017. The new titles are a whole family of wellbeing and mindfulness publications: Teen Breathe, Mindful Parenting and KIT. In addition to the monthly magazines, Lovatts also offers special “one-off” magazines under the banner of mindfulness and wellbeing, including inspirational planners, seasonal specials and even colouring books.

Breathe’s current issue extols the benefits of going slow. “When did you last take time to breathe?”, the website asks. “In our chaotic lives, it’s easy to forget the importance of investing in our body and soul.” For a generation that is constantly scrolling through a crowded feed of news and other people’s highlight reels, taking a moment to just breathe is a powerful concept and one that’s obviously resonating.

A new generation of magazine readers

For a generation of parents that wants to step away from screens and embrace the printed page, its important these same values apply to their kids. Research indicates that too much screen time is having a negative impact on children’s development, so the fact that children’s titles are outperforming other magazine titles indicates a shift to offline entertainment. Many health services suggest limiting screen time is in children’s best interests and parents are taking action.

The likes of Lego, Peppa Pig, Spider-Man, and Adventure Time are not only appealing to the main demographic of kids, but for many Mums and Dads, grabbing the kids a magazine is a way to keep kids entertained that doesn’t involve a device.

The ties that bind us

On the whole, today’s consumers are showing a return to nostalgic formats. While streaming still dominates the music industry, vinyl record sales are enjoying constant growth, and are set to outsell CDs for the first time in 30 years. Independent bookstores are thriving and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that millennials are driving the rise in printed book sales – as well as the use of print catalogues.

That same generation is also having kids, and they’re passing on a love of magazines to them. By appealing to the strong emotions that connect us to times we remember fondly, these three niche magazine categories are bucking the general decline in physical magazine readership.

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