Printed media has seen a steady decline in circulation figures in recent years. On top of increasing numbers of people finding their news on the internet, the global recession also hit in 2008. “One of the major casualties of the recession has been the media itself,” said John Mair (2009:76). The rise of the internet is the primary reason for falling sales figures because people are able to choose the news they want to read and they can do it all without leaving their armchair. In addition they can find television programmes, music, videos and more online. The resultant content overload means shorter attention spans and a deadly war for easier and more effective ways of presenting information is raging on a daily basis.
However, despite the inevitable difficulties the magazines face it should be noted that the internet cannot replace the key qualities which make people purchase motoring magazines in the first place: reputation and access. The internet may promise information on almost anything in history but it doesn’t get people any closer to the supercars, group tests and breaking car news that they seek to find in magazines. For this reason the internet should not be seen as a problem for magazines but more of a change of direction (Dewdney and Ride 2006) and motoring magazines are already embracing the new technology and reaching out to an ever-increasing audience.
Presenting new media
New media is a term that has been around since the eighties (Lister et al. 2009) and has labelled developments such as DVDs, computer games, and of course the internet. The internet itself is now becoming the old media upon which new media is making its home in the form of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and blogging. Once the premise of desktop computers connected by telephone cable to the wall, the internet can now be found on mobile phones and touch-screen tablets and can be accessed wirelessly from all over the world. Everyday millions of people log on to the internet to get their information fix. Facebook now has over 400 million users with over 200 million of those logging on every day (Facebook 2010). The latest figures for Twitter showed 18 million users in October 2009, a 200 percent increase on the previous year (About.com 2010). Two billion videos are viewed on YouTube every day and 24 hours of video footage is uploaded to the site every minute (YouTube 2010), whilst WordPress has 22 million users of which 10.6 million have an active blog (WordPress 2010).
The figures for new media are astronomical and despite being slow to pick up the new technology, magazines like Autocar, Auto Express and Evo are now actively using social networking and video content to bring a wider audience to their sites whilst still selling thousands of magazines every week. Speaking at Coventry Conversations, Autocar editor-in-chief Steve Cropley (3rd February 2010) was optimistic about the future of car magazines: “When television was invented the radio didn’t die. We very much believe the same with magazines. They’re not heading for the stratosphere but they’re not going away.” It could be suggested that Autocar has become a hybrid magazine; printed and distributed weekly but also with a daily updated presence online at autocar.co.uk.
How magazines currently use new media
Looking at the media in question it is clear to see that motoring magazines are throwing a lot of weight behind the new technology. Auto Express and Autocar both have websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and YouTube videos, though Autocar has its own specific channel for hosting videos. Autocar also hosts a number of blogs on its website which suggests they are slightly more web-savvy and more experienced in the new media field. But what do the magazines stand to gain from using all this software? Chas Hallett (28th May 2010), Autocar editor, explained that Twitter and Facebook are used “primarily to get inbound links to the website. Twitter particularly is a good way of disseminating news. Every single thing we put on Twitter generally includes a link to an Autocar story or video.” Autocar are able to get their message out in more than one way on Twitter. To begin with they have 5,740 followers who will receive each tweet on their Twitter feed. On top of that those followers can then re-tweet that link to their friends. Alternatively, people might type in something that interests them, like Ferrari, and any related tweets will be found by the search engine. According to Chas, Twitter can also introduce people to the brand who hadn’t previously known or used it before and this is a major pursuit of magazines whilst publishing numbers are dwindling. According to Twitter experts Fitton, Gruen and Poston: “Twitter can have powerful effects on personal and professional networks.” Journalists can use it “to locate sources, publishers to discover new content, or any business to create better relationships with customers” (2009: 177). Autocar has as many followers as people who they follow themselves and by adding thousands of people as friends, people viewing the Twitter account of an Autocar follower will find the brand amongst their contacts and potentially be compelled to investigate.
However, Twitter is not the only site helping Autocar reach a wider audience. Achieving 5740 followers in 18 months of Twitter activity is nothing compared to the 3500 fans the Facebook page has picked up in just six weeks. Potentially with such a vast pool of Facebook users to advertise to, Facebook could help lift Autocar to a level the magazine has never previously experienced and it will be interesting to see just how quickly the Facebook pages of both Autocar and Auto Express take off in the coming months. Facebook also has one major advantage over Twitter. “The one thing about Facebook is that things like videos get passed from people to people who say ‘Hey have you seen this?’ like we all do,” said Chas (28th May 2010). Herein lies one of the key reasons that social networking sites are perfect for motoring magazines: They allow people to share the content. For Autocar it is a relatively autonomous task. All they have to do is tweet a story or post a video and then let the community pollinate the web with their content and spread it to all the corners of the globe. Particularly in Britain where the number of dedicated car magazines far exceeds that in other countries, making British motoring journalism the global figurehead for motoring conversation is surely a wonderful prospect for the British motoring titles.
Video journalism is perhaps where car magazines have struggled the most. For journalists aged in the process of writing articulate and interesting articles, being put face-to-face with a camera would be a daunting task. Jack Rix (30th March 2010), staff writer at Auto Express, said: “When I first joined I had never done any video work, then one day I was asked if I would be interested in presenting a video so although I was a little nervous I gave it a try. It certainly takes some getting used to, particularly having to develop your own presenting style.” Autocar’s staff were similarly inexperienced in video work but that hasn’t stopped their YouTube channel from gathering nearly 30,000 subscribers. “Video is a very good way of establishing us as a brand and establishing our expertise in testing. Most of our traffic comes from Youtube and we’re now the second largest motoring channel in the world on YouTube after BBC Top Gear,” said Chas (28th May 2010), adding that the Autocar channel is now in the top 50 channels on YouTube with over 30 million views of their content. With so much success it’s no wonder that Auto Express is also following suit by putting a lot of money into video content.
Blogging is another area where Autocar is making a name for itself. As Chas (28th May 2010) explains: “blogs are often independent and they’re ways of supporting stories. Blogs can be much more personal and express opinions which wouldn’t go in a news story but wouldn’t really go anywhere else either.” Blogs are very useful tools for generating the necessary content required to get a website onto the first page of Google. The technology that is used by search engines operates by finding a number of keywords and when a story is backed up by a blog, a Twitter post, and even a Facebook page, the chances of appearing on the first page of a Google search are enhanced, something which Autocar has clearly realised and is making the most of.
The benefits of new media for motoring magazines are quite clear. Reaching out to the millions of internet-users every day through the most popular mediums allows the brands to be seen on a scale that a single print publication cannot dream of achieving. In addition, the use of forums and comment boxes on videos, blogs, and social networking sites, allows the business to better understand its audience, allowing it to target more directly and successfully a wider range of people. For the consumer convenience is the major benefit but the feeling of inclusion in the brand is also key. Whilst reading or watching the content they desire anywhere in the world, they can also respond and converse with like-minded people from across the world about a topic they may have a strong opinion on. This enables them to feel part of the process and builds with it a strong community within the brand.
However, despite the convenience of the internet, the printed magazine is still surviving. Visually at least, it is often a far greater package than the internet copy so how are magazines developing the next generation of magazine?
Former editor of Sky News, Nick Pollard (30th September 2009), revealed at an edition of Coventry Conversations that he had seen a prototype of a folding screen which would work like an electronic newspaper, using the internet to gather the kind of news the user was known to prefer and displaying it on the screen. The benefits to the consumer are numerous and would count updatable content, pocket-sized convenience and print product visual flair amongst the list. A similar creation which has recently been launched is the Apple iPad which can be described as a touch-screen tablet, rather like a large iPhone. Aside from replacing Jake Humphrey’s clipboard during the 2010 season’s grand prix coverage, its potential has also been lamented by former Car editor Gavin Green (7th May 2010). Again speaking at Coventry Conversations, he said: “The iPad will do for visual arts what the iPod did for music”, adding that he believed magazines will one day be designed for tools like the iPad with the end result being the death of the printed market. Perhaps one debate may be whether people want to read magazines from screens instead of paper.
Digital screens are excellent because they can display text, pictures, and video. Rather than a page full of odd-sized images, a user could scroll through images swiftly and easily at full-screen size. All this technology and interactivity with audiences suggests that readers are no longer just readers. According to Lister et al.: “We have seen a shift from ‘audiences’ to ‘users’, and from ‘consumers’ to ‘producers’. The screens that we watch have become both tiny and mobile, and vast and immersive” (2009: 10).
Having tackled the perils of videos, blogs, tweets and facebooking, motoring magazines seem to have gained confidence in the alien technologies but as has become apparent, technology is constantly developing and nobody really knows what the next Twitter or YouTube will be. In the meantime the magazines are developing the core skills required for a multi-platform future. Auto journalists will always need to be good at writing but soon every journalist will be expected to be proficient in video production, presenting, editing, and some may even need to know how to develop electronic media such as web pages and online magazines. This is likely to require an influx of younger journalists like those being trained today on Coventry University’s Automotive Journalism Masters course. Steve Cropley told students at Coventry Conversations (3rd January 2010) that Autocar “don’t hire 28 year olds anymore. We don’t hire 35 year olds anymore. Now we hire people in their early twenties, you guys out there.”
As previously mentioned, the Apple iPad could have a massive part to play in the future of magazines. Autocar has already been looking at the prospect of an electronic version of the magazine and specially acquired an iPad from America two months ago. “We think we know now how to make a good iPad app and we’re going to investigate that pretty closely,” said Chas Hallett (28th May 2010), “We’re hard at work establishing a business case for it now. Tablets, e-Readers, they’re quite exciting really because they bring things back to the core magazine skills that you can’t have on the web, like really good design, lovely photography. The iPad brings it back to traditional magazine skills.”
The iPad could provide the basis for a host of electronic magazines with advertising tailored to the reader’s tastes. The major advantage of this is that advertisers will know that they are reaching their target audiences and people genuinely interested in buying their products. Similarly the ‘apps’ mentioned in relation to the iPad could also be developed for smartphones like the iPhone. ‘Apps’ is the widely used term for applications that can help do things like book a table at a restaurant or find a song title. Apps will appeal to those who don’t own a tablet and instead opt to use their smartphones. They would most likely work in a Twitter-like fashion with new stories being pinged to app users’ phones as and when they are uploaded. This would help the magazines to retain the loyalty of their audience whilst allowing magazines to keep, or even gain, a reputation for being the fastest and best producers of motoring news.
In conclusion, it is clear that the magazine is far from dead. In fact, it is facing a new beginning and new technology looks set to revolutionise the way we read publications. Perhaps the biggest problem facing the magazine publishers is the wait for iPads to become so popular that, like a mobile phone, everyone has one and uses one to access internet-based content. Many people have no doubt that the time will come, so in the meantime, motoring magazines have plenty of time to perfect the next generation of magazines. Key to their work will be the audience and difficulties will arise in striking a balance between electronic and hard-copy. Many will take up the new technology as they have already with laptops, games consoles, and high-definition televisions, but there is likely to be a core group of enthusiasts who enjoy holding a magazine and turning its pages. It will be interesting to see if the business case for an all-electronic format comes between loyal readers and their brand.
Cropley, S. (2010) My Brilliant Career. Lecture delivered for Coventry Conversations on 3 February 2010 at Coventry University
Dewdney, A. And Ride, P. (2006) The New Media Handbook. Oxon: Routledge
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