Where are the great online magazines? Where?

Magazines have not enjoyed the same high profile, runaway success of their newspaper counterparts in the online world….

Magazines aren’t big online. Websites of print magazines have had a rather low profile in more than 10 years of internet in this country. Compare this to the high-profile online news brands that rake in big numbers and you will see what I mean. It’s no secret that the news brands dominate the top half of the local online readership rankings, whereas very few magazines even make the top 50 sites.

The glossies just don’t yet see their online operations as separate businesses or profit centres. Online magazines are often just copies of their print parents, with very little extra value. Magazines jealously clutch on to their content, reluctant to put it online for fear of cannibalisation.

Very few magazines have discernable online advertising strategies to sell their website either on its own or as a package with print. Online magazines in the lifestyle sector deal in small traffic and don’t really touch sides. They are often there as an after-thought because everyone has to have a website these days, right? When last did you hear someone raving about something they just read in a local online magazine? Hardly ever. They’re not worth talking about. Yet magazine print brands are world-class and very much worth talking about.

Before I carry on, I need to point out that there are some notable exceptions such as offerings by the Ramsay, Son & Parker group which include cartoday.com, getawatoday.com, and some websites by Touchline Media which include the excellent menshealthsa.co.za.

But why is it that magazines are, for the most, not cracking it online?

For one, magazines tend to be published monthly, bi-monthly and a few weekly. This means their websites aren’t updated frequently because there is less content. Compare this to most news sites, which change at a frenetic pace. But this is also an opportunity for an online publication to offer a daily version of the monthly print brand, so differentiating itself and giving the reader a reason to visit.

But some would also argue that the net is a poor substitute for the glossy, silky pages of a magazine. Glamorous pictures and luxurious layouts don’t work too well on the net where graphics are generally beaten into compression to maximise download speed.

Reading a magazine may just be a premium experience not too easily replicated on the web. In contrast with newspapers, perhaps readers don’t feel the same attachment to black and white, text-heavy newsprint? I don’t know, but to me this sounds like a cop-out.

Maybe it’s the length of magazine articles? Readers may not have time to trawl through long online features during their lunch breaks where there is pressure to get on the net, get their information, then get off and back to work.

Maybe it’s because reading a lifestyle magazine means relaxation. It’s something done after-hours, on weekends and holidays, which is not traditionally a good time for online usage.

But the evolving internet should be an increasingly conducive space for adapting glossy magazines. Although the internet is in its infancy, broadband — which is on the rapid rise — means online consumption patterns are changing.

Broadband means we spend more time online. Broadband means we use the internet during leisure hours, in evenings and weekends. And broadband means video, audio and animation are handled more efficiently – all ideal for online magazine formats.

Some argue internet penetration is still too low to bother. But hear this: Magazines that appeal to higher-income readers must realise internet penetration is far higher in their target markets.

It means that the timing is ripe for magazines to rise up and grab their rightful share of the online audience. Now who’s going to lead the way?