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Editor vs algorithm – what’s the future for publishing? Anna Sampson Interview

We live in a tumultuous time for print publishing. The rise of social media combined with a larger societal shift to consuming content digitally has forced print publishers to rethink their approach. Anna Sampson, Head of Insight at Magnetic, the marketing body for consumer magazines in the UK spoke with WNIP contemplating the future of print publishing – and the ways in which publishers are evolving.

What do you think is more effective at reaching a relevant audience – editors or algorithms?

Algorithms are very efficient at reaching a relevant audience and are an important part of our world. All our publishers use algorithms to make their web content more efficient. However, the rush to efficiency can mean we ignore highly relevant opportunities to deeply engage with audiences.

Editors really know and understand their audiences on a human level, which enables them to surprise and delight with content and commercial ideas that are less predictable. For example, Not On The High Street wanted to broaden its appeal to a more varied customer base in the run-up to Christmas and developed the ‘Gift Like An Editor’ campaign. Developed as an umbrella concept, the editors of Hearst titles Country Living, Elle, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar and Red, each curated the most relevant Not On The High Street gifts for their readers. This tailored approach seemingly paid off – Not On The High Street saw an 100% increase in shopper basket size, made £358,000 in revenue from the ‘Gift Like An Editor’ campaign product sales, and reached over 2.5 million people on social media.

The reality is that the future of publishing involves successfully combining the two. In the short term whilst the balance has tipped in favour of algorithms it’s important to champion the role of editors. This is a big part of what we do with our LAB initiative, where we offer a forum for up-and coming media planners to learn the craft and influence of magazine media, and to great success.

Those who took part reported back on the transformative nature of the experience, as it exposed them to new opportunities they hadn’t previously thought due to the digital focus of industry training.

Is there potential for magazines to use technology to their advantage?

Definitely. We’ve seen Vogue making a big step in this direction with the hire of Elli Papadaki to head up its programmatic arm. Magazine brands are also able to learn from the experiences of other publishers, such as newspapers who were very quick to adopt programmatic, therefore giving magazine brands the benefit of second mover advantage.

Additionally data capture holds a huge opportunity for the media. The data magazine media possesses is enviable and can be used to plan a really effective campaign. Audemars Piguet’s partnership with Esquire is a great example of this. Winner of best use of data at our recent Spotlight event it combined great editorial and consumer insight with a customer data solution. ‘The little watch book’ was not only beautifully executed it resulted in significant web visits and an increase in brand favourability.

Finally, magazine brands are innovating with technology – Cosmopolitan has had great success with Snapchat, publishing a Snapchat edition at 11am each day. They are seeing great results, with a completion rate of 76% and a 56% of the readers coming back five days out of seven.

With trust in media declining amidst the fake news scandal, will we see a negative impact on magazine media?

Quite the opposite – people are turning towards established sources. The most recent magazine ABC figures released in February showed the performance of The Spectator up 14%, Private Eye up 9% and the New Statesman up 2% on the previous year.

Our new study ‘Matter of trust’ revealed that no matter which way you cut it magazine brands were more trusted than social media. It incorporated three different ways of measuring trust; a single direct question, factor analysis and IRT. Against the single direct question 70% of magazine users trust magazines, only 30% of social media users trust social media.

Our T score analysis (or factor analysis) helps to explain the result, magazine brands do better than social media on the factors most closely related to trust. We found that meaning and relevancy make the biggest contributor to trust (31%). A media brand that understands you, inspires you, you believe in and has your best interests at heart, combine to have a more significant impact on your levels of trust than any other factors. Magazine brands over index 140 against this factor compared to an under index of 71 for social media.

What about magazines that aren’t news-orientated, is there still a place for them in people’s media repertoire?

The magazine sector very much caters for people’s passions and interests, whether that is fashion, fitness or food. We’ve seen a growth in home interest and health in particular. People are willing to pay for content that caters to their passion, perhaps even more so than they are for news. Catering to consumer’s interests gives magazines a unique opportunity to build deep emotional connections with their readers. This relationship is based on a shared enthusiasm and rooted in the deep knowledge and expertise of the editors and writers in their chose specialist area.

What can we expect to see from magazines in the next 5 years?

In the last five years, magazines have been focused on extending their footprint so that they exist in digital across websites and social media. As well as extensions into live events. The launch of Audience Measurement for Publishers (AMP) in February next year will better capture the reach that can be achieved across these range of platforms. I see the next wave of innovation as being brand driven. There are lots of strong magazine brands that have a long history of meaningfully connecting with their audiences. There will be a renewed focus on building these brands as strong environments where advertisers can benefit. We will see more commercial opportunities in this space, with publishers offering more ways for advertisers to align with their brands.

Thank you Anna. We look forward to catching up with you in 2018.