When was the last time you saw someone reading a magazine? If you and your friends primarily stick to scrolling on social media, it may have been some time since you’ve seeing someone reading a physical, printed magazine. But according to the numbers, print magazines are still doing quite well – and millions of people are still reading them.
How, in this age of digital accessibility and free content, are printed magazines still relevant and performing well?
According to information from Statista, “An annual study found that the total number of magazine readers in the U.S. remained above 220 million in every year between 2016 and 2020, having previously hovered around the 210 and 215 million mark.” The number of printed magazine readers in the United States has dropped, but not by much – even extreme estimates project that magazine readers have only dropped by about 10 percent.
Further, “…the average monthly audience of popular magazines exceeded 50 million for each of the top five publications appearing in a 2020 ranking, and weekly magazine People enjoyed an average monthly reach of over 90 million that year.” The current U.S. population, for reference, is 331.9 million people. In other words, the most popular weekly magazine in the country reaches more than 27 percent of the population on a monthly basis.
There are several possible explanations for this phenomenon.
- Writing and printing magazines is more accessible than ever. These days, thanks to the availability of online printers, you can print your own magazine – and relatively affordably. If you have the content to assemble into a magazine, you can print it and distribute it for a profit. This has led to a surge in the development and availability of independent magazines.
- Digital fatigue. There are many advantages to reading and consuming content online. If you’re willing to look for it, you can find information on almost anything. You can instantly and consistently connect with people from all over the world. And you can access all of these things conveniently as long as you still have a connection to the internet. But digital content consumption also comes with some downsides, including everything from eye strain to exhaustion from low-quality content sources. People suffering from any form of digital fatigue are likely to seek out alternative forms of content, including printed magazines.
- Nostalgia. For some, the magazine reading experience is a form of nostalgia. They read magazines in their youth, so they continue the habit to this day. They may also have some favorite titles that they read as a kid or a teenager that they continue to read to reminisce or tap into their past experiences.
- Brand loyalty. There are also magazine subscribers who stick with their favorite titles out of a sense of brand loyalty. They love the writers and publishers of these materials, so they’re willing to continue paying for a magazine subscription so the magazine can continue running. They may be subscribers to their favorite magazines for many years, or even decades, making these subscriptions hard to justify cutting.
- Trust in a low-trust age. Trust is notoriously low in our society. For obvious and valid reasons, people don’t have much trust in mainstream media, politicians, or thought leaders in general. Despite this, many people still hold trust in the magazines and publications that they’ve trusted for decades; in this way, magazines are a source of trust in a low-trust age.
- The physical experience. For some people, reading a magazine is all about the physical experience. Your tablet may be able to simulate the appearance of turning a page, but it can’t possibly replicate the tactile feeling of turning one. Turning pages, looking at printed images, cutting out clips of content, and folding corners as bookmarks aren’t experiences that can be replicated in the digital world.
- Luddites and traditionalists. Of course, it’s also worth noting that some people still read magazines simply because they refuse to adapt to a digital world. These luddites and traditionalists would never give up their printed magazines, even if the experience could be perfectly replicated in a digital format; they simply don’t like the idea of changing.
It’s likely that all of these factors, and some factors we haven’t even identified, play a role in the lasting relevance of printed magazines. It’s hard to say exactly where magazine and general content trends go from here, but in line with the data we currently have, it’s likely that printed magazines will remain indefinitely relevant.
If you’re already a printed magazine subscriber, you’re part of a bigger audience than you realize. And if you’re not, now may be the perfect time to get involved – whether you participate as a reader or a creator of your own magazine content.