A time for change: an investigation into the market strategies used by ‘The Lady’ magazine in the 21st century.

Increasingly, companies are expanding their virtual presence to capture new audiences and seek higher revenues. Magazine publishers are under continual pressure to move away from the traditional journalistic practices of their predecessors toward integrated, multimedia content creation. Readers now expect publications to generate print, TV, audio and digital content for a multitude of different platforms – a far cry from simple adverts on a printed page around stories. Everyone is looking for new ways to engage readers and ensure that their brands are everywhere consumers need and want them to be.

Many print magazines are now delving into the potentially crippling, competitive online world – not only offering readers to download their ‘favourite magazine’ straight to their digital devices but creating constant flowing multimedia content to share with readers, all-day-every-day. By offering content online to users (for a small price) ahead of a print publication, publishers can rake in additional revenue as the attractiveness for users lies as much in the timing (and “early exclusive” appeal) as in the quality of the content.

Numerous magazines have redesigned their websites to incorporate multimedia development: giving readers the option to ‘share’ articles with friends and family via social media (largely through Twitter and Facebook) – an extremely innovative and fantastically free way to self promote and attract new readers.

Multimedia for the web or tablet editions has become an integral part of the editorial process. For the tablet, that means providing interactive features or videos. Publishers initially had high hopes for digital tablet versions of their magazines following the launch of Apple’s iPad in 2010. However, even the most successful magazines of the print world report just a few thousand sales at most.

ABC circulation figures reported that sales of the hundreds of paid-for weekly and monthly titles fell at the beginning of 2014, by 4.4% – compared with the previous six months. Not long after, all women’s weekly magazines (bar three) saw their average circulations plunge in the second half of 2014. One of the magazines that bucked the circulation trend was The Lady magazine, achieving a circulation of 28,537 (print and digital) – up 3 per cent more in the second half of 2014 than in the same period a year earlier.

The Lady was founded in 1885 by Thomas Gibson Bowles. He also founded Vanity Fair, in 1868, but sold his stake in that title in 1889. The Lady was the go to place for those looking for a nanny or a butler and the magazine, said to be the Queen’s favourite read, spent many years cocooned in a 1950s version of England. The magazine is thought to have peaked in the 1960s with around 80,000 readers. Last month, The Lady had cause to celebrate when it turned 130 years old. The well-establied and historic magazine boasts the title of being Britain’s oldest weekly women’s magazine but with a considerably lower readership than it has enjoyed previously in the 60s – the necessity for change became crucial at the turn of the century. The Lady’s iconically Victorian office is based in the centre of London’s Soho and is run by male editor, Matt Warren. Warren was brought to the magazine as assistant editor by his predecessor, Rachel Johnson, in late 2010 and took charge when she left in January 2012. Johnson attempted to raise the profile of the magazine through the fly-on-the-wall Channel 4 documentary, ‘The Lady and The Revamp’.  As well as this, she worked on developing the brand by introducing new contributors such as Joan Collins and Sir Tim Rice. The documentary appeared to work initially, with circulation rising by around 7 per cent year on year to 30,769 in the first half of 2010. However, circulation dropped off again in the following months.

In a recent interview, I put forward the question to current editor, Matt Warren, how important is it in the magazine industry to change and adapt to attract new audiences?

“I think it’s enormously important that you keep changing. ‘The Lady’ was founded in 1885 and it’s had to evolve.

Even if you’ve got the same core reader who may be a woman of about 55 – who’s relatively affluent – her interests will change over the course of 100 years or 20 years or even 10 years and you’ve got to keep up with that. So even if your ideal demographic remains constant, you still have to be able to evolve with the times otherwise you just end up looking very fusty and dusty on the newsstand.”

Readers are becoming increasingly technically savvy and The Lady has clocked this by introducing a digital edition of the magazine to purchase online as well as giving readers the opportunity to share articles via social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter.

Warren stressed the importance of keeping a very close eye on who you are and who you are trying to appeal to, so that while you’re evolving you make sure to maintain your own identity as well, adding: “there’s no point just completely losing sight of who you’ve been in the past to something completely new because then your reader will wonder what on earth has happened – so it’s balancing the two”.

Matt Warren is believed to be the first male editor of the magazine for around 80 years. In 2013, he was named Editor of the Year (Women’s Brand Weekly or Fortnightly) by the British Society of Magazine Editors.

“I think you can have a male editor of ‘The Lady’ because it is a different sort of magazine”, he says. 

“It’s largely for people first so I think some magazines go: ‘men are interested in six packs and women in bikinis; women are interested in diets and gossip’ and there’s this ridiculous stereotype that tends to pervade the media.”

Although the magazine offers content that appeals to both sexes, Warren explains how it’s title can sometimes deter their male readers:

“I think if you were founding a magazine today you probably wouldn’t select the name ‘The Lady’. In some ways it’s fantastic because it links us with our heritage and when you hear the word ‘The Lady’ people think it’s trust worthy, it’s been there for a long time, it’s historic, it’s about heritage, it’s about reliability.”

However, there are still those who make swift-judgment decisions on the nature of the magazine. Warren explains how people’s prejudices of The Lady being ‘a bit old-fashioned’ are ‘unavoidable’ and that a lot of people may not even pick up the magazine but if they did perhaps they’d find something quite surprising in it.

Warren indicated that from about 1975 through to mid-2005 The Lady didn’t evolve and remained almost exactly the same magazine and it started to look ‘very dated’. Many changes have been made since, and plans are currently afoot to launch a new Lady website, which he says will be aimed at a younger audience. The Lady’s unique selling point is that it is unlike a lot of other magazines – offering readers something a bit more ‘quirky, interesting, different and challenging’ rather than ‘celebrity gossip’ and ‘salacious’ content. At the turn of the century The Lady had to decide what they were going to do with the magazine. One option would have been to become like other women’s magazines but in a crowded market they would have just vanished without a trace so what set them aside was their difference – the fact that they offered a genuine authentic alternative to a lot of other women’s magazines. This is perhaps the secret of The Lady’s recent circulation success. Women’s lifestyle and fashion titles saw their average circulations decrease by 0.9 per cent year on year on average in the second half of 2014 and perhaps this is because the content remains very much the same across these publications.

The Lady’s publisher and chief executive is Ben Budworth (founder, Thomas Gibson Bowles’ great grandson). Although the magazine has, and still is, successfully evolving, it has still kept many of its beloved features such as the Ladygram puzzle and Agony Aunt. From its beginning in the 19th century, the magazine has set out to help readers find a nanny or a butler, and keeping true to its past, launched The Lady Recruits online in 2013, offering a service of specialist recruiters, highly experienced within domestic service who now dedicate their time and efforts to recruiting private household staff. Advertising (particularly fashion) always has, and always will be one of the main tools in attracting revenue and this is true in The LadyThe Lady magazine is the longest running weekly women’s magazine and still holds a firm place in the industry when many others have failed. Perhaps the key to its circulation success is its loyal readership and its understanding to evolve but also to maintain its core values.

Traditional print titles are not only losing circulation but are also losing their relevance online and offline as women turn to alternative online and tablet brands. Digital rivals are producing better tablet and online offerings. Magazines must keep up with the times but maybe the key is not in competing to produce the most innovative and technologically advanced websites but to offer all the advantages of this digital world without losing their integrity.

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About brackenstockley

Contributor to the JusticeGap and WINOL. Currently studying journalism at the University of Winchester (Year Three).
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