Do People Still Read Magazines?


Me personally? I still love reading printed books and physical magazines, and I can’t imagine people who don’t.

But the truth is that my reading habits have changed over the last five years. Although research shows that people still read books, it also shows that we’re moving toward a digital-format consumption. And that’s what’s happening to me. Albeit slow, but nevertheless, we’re all moving in that direction.

What about you? Do you still keep a few of the latest printed magazines next to your bed?

Today we’ll get into a bit of research, a few stats, some facts you won’t want to skip over, and lastly, what we can expect for the future of magazines (from my perspective). But first, do people still read magazines? Yes, people still read magazines in 2020. But research shows a decline in readership for the first time since 2012. Sales of print publications, including magazines, have also plummeted from 46 billion U.S. dollars to an estimated 28 billion. Interestingly, millennial participants of one study predict that Generation Z will be responsible for pushing out print in favor of digital.

Let’s explore this whole thing a bit more.

The research

At first glance, things don’t look good and the trend is clear. A quick search reveals that essential search terms have steadily climbed down from January 2004 to November 2019. Terms such as; news magazines, fashion magazines, best magazines, the word magazines alone, heck, even free magazines by mail is down!

There was also a short-lived interest in tablet-style (digital) magazines from 2010 to 2012. These include the iPad, Kindle, and other tablets. But that interest quickly dissolved.

You may or may not remember when Playboy magazine decided to eliminate nude photos. This was and is still a testament to how digital information has overtaken most types of printed reading formats. Everything, including nude photos, is simply a click away today.

Now, we may not all agree with this transition or its side effects. But honestly, our opinions don’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. When was the last time you stopped at a 7-11 to pick up “the paper”?

Does all this mean people don’t read magazines anymore?

Yes and no. Let me explain. Most of us intuitively realize that fewer and fewer people are reading print versions of magazines. For instance, what do you do with those unexpected magazines that show up in your mailbox every week? Do you read them? I’m guessing, at best, you’ll glance at a few pages without doing much reading, and then delivering it straight to the recycle bin. Just a guess.

However, research showed there had been a slight, perhaps insignificant, increase in magazine readership since 2012. That changed in 2018. The number dropped by around 600 thousand, striking the first drop since 2012.

This same research also shows that the magazine industry has taken a nosedive in overall earnings (revenue). Down from 46 billion U.S. dollars in 2007 to around 28 billion in 2017. And I can’t imagine this stat getting any better for 2018 or 2019, but I’ll keep this post updated.

Now I’m curious.

Let me ask you something; how many magazines (print or digital) do you subscribe to? And how many of your friends or family members do you know subscribe to one? I’d love it if you could leave a comment below.

The print magazine industry is on life support

I came across a different research paper where the goal was to understand how Millenials feel about print magazines in a now mostly digital world. Surprisingly, most participants (73%) reported reading a magazine in the last month.

However, what captured my attention, was a section where participants predicted that it will not be them who pull the plug on good ol’ fashion print magazines, but their successors in Generation Z.

“Despite the strong feelings group members reported for print magazines, many participants were unsure print holds a secure position. Participants predicted that they will not be the generation to do away with print magazines in favor of digital formats, but their successor, Generation Z, could make the final push toward fully digital media.”

So, what happened? Are most of the cases where magazines have disappeared, an issue where they failed to keep up with technology (think Kodak)? I’m not so sure. Information is just so widely and readily accessible nowadays, that it continues to be difficult for magazine and publishing companies to stay afloat or be different in some way.

Again, look at the enthusiasm for the iPad or Kindle magazines. There was some initial excitement, but it quickly dwindled down… and I mean quickly. Within just two years!

Should we continue to push subscription models?

I’m not convinced the subscription model – for magazines – has any future. Especially in the hands of Generation Z. For example, I’m not sure how many subscribers or the demographic breakdown of those subscribers, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal has. But I have to imagine that younger generations, including Y, Z, and definitely Generation Alpha, will be less inclined to subscribe to such platforms just to get the “latest news”. And with more and more celebrities and businesses adopting social media and sharing exclusive content, for free, fashion and other similar types of magazines may soon face the same demise. It’s really just a matter of time.

What does Facebook say about magazines?

I could not end my research without surveying the Facebook community. So I made a pit stop on one of the small business groups I belong to. I posted a quick poll about this article (on whether people read magazines or not). I was pleasantly surprised… at first.

I gave my survey a full 24 hours so that I could reach as many people as possible. Last night (when I first posted this) it was looking like most people still read magazines. When I checked back this morning, things changed. More people replied, but now the percentages changed.

Although this was not a huge sample of people or a formal survey, the response was clear – half of the people don’t read magazines anymore and no one reads digital magazines.

Here are the results;

  • 67% don’t read any magazines
  • 18% read both print and digital magazines
  • 15% read print magazines only
  • 0% digital magazines only

What happened to all those magazine stands?

Some still stand (no pun intended!), particularly in large crowded cities. Manhattan, Washington D.C., Chicago, all have a few left. However, they are not what they used to be.

That gets me thinking…

How many millennials have actually stopped at a traditional newsstand to grab a newspaper or magazine (not a water bottle, candy, or a hotdog)? My guess is not many.

So yeah, a few are still around. But they are barely surviving. For instance, in New York City, subway newsstands have been steadily closing. They have left behind a lot of empty space which is being replaced by vending machines.

This tells me they are just not the business they once were and can no longer provide consistent or enough income for their owners to live on. They’ve been forced to move on. And the ones that I see still survive, when I’ve had the chance to visit downtown, seem to be selling everything else except magazines or newspapers – drinks, food, candy, calling cards, and even small gifts! But very few magazines or papers.

Unfortunately, the fate of traditional newsstands is clear.

What’s the future of magazines?

Unfortunately, in case you haven’t already felt the sentiment of this post, I don’t have much hope for… well… anything that’s print.

Subscription models for news sites are still fragile in my opinion and barely hanging on. Don’t get me wrong, some may very well succeed. But if they do, they will be 100% digital. Traditional printed magazines will die. 

Everything is slowly transitioning to digital format. However, what is still not clear, is their monetization strategies that will help these great publications survive and depend on a viable business model.

The disadvantages of print media when compared to the digital and information age, are clear. There’s a winner and that’s ok. Magazines will always have a place in history. And that is just as valuable.

With two Generation Z’ers and one Generation Alpha in my household, I can already see the future. There is a clear winner, and that’s ok. I’ll continue to read my magazines as often as I can. I’ll continue to cherish them. I’ll most likely continue collecting them. And they’ll always have a place on my bookshelf. Until… until they don’t.

Finally, let me leave you with short film I found online about a lady who’s owned a newsstand in Manhattan since the early 50’s. The video was published in 2017, over 2 years ago, and makes me wonder how she’s doing – I hope well. Here’s a quote from her when asked about retiring and leaving the newsstand for good.

“I think I’m going to be here until the day I die, because this is something that I love.”

Play Video