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Magazine publishers beef up contents to reverse slumping sales

  • 2016-02-03 15:00:00
  • , Kanagawa Shimbun
  • Translation

(Kanagawa Shimbun: February 2, 2016 – p. 5)


 Sales of publications fell to a record low in 2015, according to Research Institute for Publications. The precarious situation of magazines shocked the industry. There is a growing trend toward digital media, but some publishers are sticking with print, aiming for a comeback through beefed up content including scoops and attractive features.


 Total sales of publications (books and magazines combined) were 1.522 trillion yen in 2015, down by 5.3% from the previous year. This is a record low for two consecutive years. Weekly magazine sales dropped by 13.6% year on year, a remarkable plummet.


 “Sales were worse than expected,” said Managing Director Takashi Sakamoto of the Japan Magazine Publishers Association. “Takarajima” (published by Takarajimasha) and other magazines suspended publication one after another in 2015. Other magazines migrated to the Web. One was “Keiko to Manabu,” a self-learning magazine published by Recruit Lifestyle.


 The consumption tax hike in 2014 depressed sales of magazines, but there is no similar factor explaining the double-digit drop in sales last year. Although the association conducts a women’s magazine fair and other promotional events, it is not likely to reverse the negative trend.


 “Magazines are uninteresting in the first place; that’s why they don’t sell.” To counter this widely held view, Sakamoto, who has long been involved in publishing magazines, says, “We will consider starting to provide editorial support for magazines.”


 Shingo Tachibana, one of the many Japanese who browse magazines while standing in convenience and other stores, is pessimistic about the future of magazines. “People now gather from TV gossip shows the sorts of information they used to glean from magazines,” says Tachibana. “There seems no effective way to reverse the current slump.” He went on to say, “There are too many similar magazines, especially in the field of fashion, which makes magazines less attractive. Consumers will not buy magazines unless publishers demonstrate originality and offer striking features.”


 But a good plan can turn things around even in these difficult times. Bungeishunju brought out a special edition of its sports magazine “Number” featuring the Japanese national team in last year’s World Cup Rugby. The magazine sold like hot cakes, and the publisher reprinted the issue several times. The edition included timely contents such as an interview with former head coach Eddie Jones, photographs, and news flashes. “Readers liked the photographs because they brought back the excitement of the rugby matches,” said Chief Editor Kazuaki Matsui. “Magazines still have potential.”


 Takarajimasha aims to attract readers by jointly developing with the makers of popular brands goods such bags. It reportedly boosted the average net paid circulation of women’s magazine “Sweet” by 30% in the last half year compared with the first half. “Fujinkoron” (Chuokoron-Shinsha) reprinted editions of its Jan. 26 centennial issue featuring celebratory comments by influential persons connected to the magazine.


 Recently, scoops by weekly magazines have become the talk of the town. “Shukan Shincho” (Shinchosha) reported rumors of the possible breakup of the popular group “SMAP.” “Shukanbunshun” (Bungeishunju) reported an allegation of the inappropriate receipt of money involving former Minister in Charge of Economic Revitalization Akira Amari. “Scoops on politicians’ scandals are a specialty of weekly magazines,” said Tachibana. “Scoops are what make magazines valuable. The inclusion of more photos catching pols in the act would boost readership.”


 Magazines have long surpassed books in sales; however, the difference has narrowed. Their relative sales figures could reverse in the near future. Magazines are on the brink of losing their role as a driving force in the publishing industry. Now is the time for magazine publishers to earnestly ask themselves, “What is the essence of a magazine?”

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