As reported by PressGazette late last week, Moshi Monsters Magazine, a print spin-off of the wildly popular online children’s game, was among the most successful UK magazine launches of the first half of 2011, boasting a monthly paid circulation of more than 113,000. With an audience that surpassed 50 million registered users in June, the Moshi Monsters online community has a massive following, and its expansion of the brand into a print publication appears to be paying off in spades.
With so many magazines struggling to retain readers these days, the “monster” achievement is more than a little impressive, completely bucking the tired notion that print is dead and no doubt making other publishers a bit envious of the feat. Clearly, that any magazine can accumulate such a large following in such a short time is ample evidence that, in fact, print is very much relevant, desired and profitable — given content that people are more than happy to pay for, time and again. Yes, the magazine industry is under increasing pressure to compete with countless sources of fun, distraction and information, but the success of Moshi Monsters proves that print is anything but defunct.
So how did they do it? Is there some lesson in this success story other publishers can apply to their own titles? Or is Moshi Monsters Mag some sort of fluke? The latter is highly unlikely. Success in print publishing simply does not happen by accident, so something else more fundamental must be at work here. Having a following of 50 million-plus online subscribers certainly makes it easier for the print companion to gain traction in the marketplace, and brand recognition and loyalty may prove to be the very keys to publishing success in the years to come as the dynamics between print and digital media continue to evolve.
Red Hot or Full of Bull?
Another recent entrant into the brand-driven publishing market is Red Bull, the wing-inducing energy drink beloved by legions of avid customers around the world. According to Wikipedia, in 2010 more than 4.2 billion (yes, BILLION) cans of Red Bull were sold — a statistic that alone demonstrates the brand’s power and loyalty with consumers. And to extend its identity with current and prospective customers, the company in April launched The Red Bulletin, “a modern lifestyle magazine focusing on sport, people, art and culture” with a global circulation of 4.6 million copies, distributed with a number of other magazines and newspapers in eight countries, according to the company.
So how does a traditional, presumably “dying” format like print magazines fit in with a trendy, high-octane brand like Red Bull? Otherwise known as “brand magazines” and “customer magazines,” a whole host of titles like Moshi Monsters and The Red Bulletin, including electric! from Richard Branson’s Virgin Media, BM Magazine from retailer Bonmarché and Harrods Magazine, is being churned out these days by companies looking to capitalize on the trust, familiarity and loyalty they hold with their patrons. The strategy makes perfect sense: For brands that already have successful marketing and communications machinery in place, extending their reach and influence into self-produced, self-contained content is the logical next step — a further development of the advertorial content featured in so many pubs in recent years.
And the strategy is working. Brand magazines are racking up sales and securing mindshare in ways that were probably largely unheard of a decade ago. According to MarketingWeek, in the UK “half of the Top 10 titles and 25 of the Top 100 by average circulation are magazines produced by brands as part of their marketing commutations.” So the trend toward brand-driven publications looks to be more than a passing fancy in magazines and might actually be a sign of where the industry as a whole is headed. With so many traditional magazines facing pressure to maintain their circ numbers and shore up their own imperiled brands, we shouldn’t be too surprised if more and more unexpected names start popping up on mastheads at the newsstand.
Whether this is a good thing for the state of the magazine world, however, certainly remains to be seen.
What’s your take? Is this a positive trend, or an industry-wide marketing attack on editorial in the making? Let us know what you think.