Change the audience or change for the audience?

So maybe I already mentioned… wait, checking… no I didn’t.. Ok, I art direct a high-end audio publication, whose demographic in a nutshell is an older male, kids (if any) have split for the big city, lots of time on his hands which he doesn’t remember having a few years ago, and some disposable income to blow on some high-end audio equipment. The magazine has a very established readership, and a very highly regarded (in its own field) editorial staff. I mean, they really don’t come much better than this bunch in the world of audio equipment. (The challenge I face with this particular magazine is working around enormous amounts of copy, and an incredibly small art budget. We basically have to rely on manufacturer supplied photography for almost all our products. I use the entire art budget each issue on photography for the cover and feature well, which I think we do a good job of considering our financial and reader expectations.)  What worries me however is the age of our readership. I’m not trying to be rude or funny here – we target a very specific age bracket, and they’re not getting any younger. So how do we start planning now for ten years or more down the road when our readership may literally be dying off? How do we gradually introduce new concepts to such a narrow and expectant readership?The magazine needs new blood in its readership if it’s going to survive, of that there is no doubt. But it also places tremendous value on its current readership and the last thing anyone there wants is to alienate or turn any off its loyal following off with changes engineered to attract a younger demographic. Talking from experience, I can say that they’re a charming and eccentric group, but change is not something that they can accept easily. And they’re not to blame for this, some of them have subscribed to this magazine for almost thirty years!   So, you say, in thirty years the magazine must have already cleared this hurdle more than once. Well, I may be wrong, but I don’t think so.  I believe the magazine picked up a large core audience early, and was able to hold on to it with consistently good content. But changes in technology and trends in the past ten years have made the high-end audio market even more elitist (for want of a better word), intimidating and harder to break into or even understand. Why consider spending $29,000 on an amplifier when you can simply buy a dock for your iPod that looks like it came from the future for $600? The obvious answer is to write for a younger, less experienced audience, but then you run into the alienation problem mentioned earlier. So do you then turn around and try to convince your base readership of the merits of ‘low’-end audio? Or do you just throw your hands up in the air and start another magazine?

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2 Comments on “Change the audience or change for the audience?”

  1. Some of both sounds good. Education can be an important part of an ongoing project (like any magazine). It’s a big problem with a lot of established magazines, I’d hazard.

  2. I think you’re right yes, and unfortunately the more successful a magazine is, the harder it becomes to extract any kind of useful information from them regarding changes they may have made in order to work on the same problem.

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