Can Digital Publishing Keep Adult Mags Alive?

Aug 1, 2014 12:30 PM PST

LOS ANGELES — Walking down to the corner newsstand to pick up the latest porn magazine may be a thing of the past, what with nearly everyone in the core adult demographic glued to their smartphones or tablets in order to get their hardcore fix. But that doesn’t mean publishers have given up on the periodical format that’s been around for decades — they’ve just gone digital.

Top brands like Hustler, Penthouse, Club, High Society, the U.K.’s Men Only and others have either adapted to the landscape by creating their own digital platforms, or are using new services that offer their publications electronically with new rich media bells and whistles.

But are digital publications really the saving grace of adult magazines, or just a band-aid for a dying format? Unlike text-heavy mainstream magazines, the meat of porn publications are photos — even in those that carry a number of articles. And as any consumer knows any type of porn can easily be accessed on the Internet, in any format or electronic delivery system available.

So why does the digital adult magazine live, and what lies ahead?

According to BlueLight Media’s SkinMagz.com, the independent successor to the now defunct mainstream digital publisher Zinio’s UnderCovermags.com adult newsstand, the market segment is not only alive, but is humming along nicely.

SkinMagz has been in operation since 2012 filling the void left by UnderCoverMags and now boasts 89 titles from 11 publishers including titles from Penthouse and Hustler. And according to CMO Chris Kelly, there is a constant increase in the titles being offered.

Kelly attributes the growth of SkinMagz to powerful cross-platform capabilities (created in cooperation with eDition Digital) that provides a comfortable user experience to those who want their mags digital. Readers can enjoy rich, interactive and engaging digital publications complete with links, video and animation, wherever and whenever they choose: on all desktop and mobile operating systems, including iPad, iPhone, Kindle and other Android devices.

Digital publications also increase readership reach and decrease distribution costs for the publisher, according to the SkinMagz executive.

The digital newsstand service also offers publishers a “Private Label Newsstand,” that gives them more control over particular title/brand promotion and additional sales channels through a unique business model.

As appealing as SkinMagz is to print publishing weary publishers — what with no development or up front technology cost investments — SkinMagz does take a cut of sales. So some publishers have opted to go it alone and produce their own digital mag platforms.

Magna Publishing, producers of Club, Swank, High Society and other titles took a unique path by using the Magazine Cloner electronic publishing service and melding it into its own web operations.

Although the company admits that using a service like SkinMagz offers the benefit of “coat tail sales” from traffic to the newsstand site, it doesn’t see a great deal of revenue from its digital magazines so it decided to go it alone. A company spokesman explained that by using the digital tool it can control the amount of traffic the publications receive and also offer the digital magazine as a bonus to its website membership.

Some publishers have gone the extra step and created their own proprietary newsstands, including adult giant Hustler that’s reporting success with HustlerMagazine.com.

Hustler president Michael Klein notes that as long as the print version of the company’s flagship mag continues to be profitable they will keep it alive, but eventually it might be solely in a digital format as the consumers gravitate more to that realm for their monthly magazines.

Rich media and extras — a key to digital magazines as noted by SkinMagz’s Kelly — are included in the Hustler digital version including special articles posted daily, videos of the photo shoots, some classic features, and a Hustler magazine archive from the last 40 years.

“This is just the transition that is taking place for all periodicals, whereas with the growth of the Internet and the massive use of tablets and mobile phones, consumers are just moving towards getting their articles and viewing images on the web more than in print format. So in order to continue to reach the consumers, you have to move your products to where people want to see and read them," Klein says.

And Hustler’s not the only publisher high on a digital solution.

British men’s sophisticate publisher Paul Raymond recently launched its own digital newsstand, DigitalMagazines.xxx, working with Electric Magazines that offers its five main titles including Mayfair, Club International, Escort, Razzle and Men Only along with their relative specials, "best of" issues, and two years of back issues

Although it's ventured into digital publishing, the company continues to maintain a print newsstand presence and believes paper is still alive and kicking. “Yes, the market has shrunk massively in terms of competition for Paul Raymond Publications and like with most magazine sectors, circulation has fallen, but we are doing whatever we can to buck this trend and have seen some great results. Mayfair for instance has seen its best selling issue for more than two years recently and a majority of our other titles have leveled themselves out year-on-year. So print will always continue to be a very important part of the Paul Raymond business for many years to come,” says Mark Hassell, group ad and marketing manager for Blue Active Media Limited.

That being said, Raymond notes that the consumption of digital magazines is growing at a rapid rate, with digital copy sales growing at a rate of more than 60 percent a year. “Our digital newsstand will not only give us access to the digital magazine market, but it will also allow us to reach a whole new audience, not just here in the U.K. but from all across the rest of the world,” Hassell says.

Digital publications may have a leg up in the new connected environment but can they ever replace the tangible feel of print magazines?

Both Hassell and SkinMagz’s Kelly agree that convenience of having magazines available on demand on any device trumps tactile enjoyment, and there’s the added benefit of adding value to the ‘flat’ pages of print, via rich media, hyper linking and physically engaging articles and advertising is possible. But print could survive. “Of course one cannot replace the tangible nature of actually reading a magazine, so we are not looking to compete against print, but rather complement it with currently available technology,” Hassell notes.

Kelly says print publications will always be around, but today’s consumers expect content also to be available through various other practical channels and future technology would have to provide “highly interactive cross platform experience.”

So what’s on the horizon for digital mags? Kelly believes the future is already here and doesn’t expect any dramatic changes in technology — just improvements in accessibility and production processes.

Raymond is so optimistic about digital publishing the company is open to the idea of opening up the newsstand to other publishers. “But as we would like to be as flexible as possible with discounting and freebies at this stage in order to achieve critical mass, we cannot expect other publishers to allow us to slash their prices or give away free magazines. Once we are ready though, it will be a usual rev share arrangement, as one would expect, with interested publishers getting in touch should they wish to be present on the platform,” Hassell reveals.

But unlike days gone by when adult publishers flourished and could pump out a new magazine every time a new niche popped up, today it appears as though despite the availability of electronic platforms, it’s tough going for aspiring adult magazine publishers.

Klein says to have a successful adult magazine website, there needs to be an established brand. “So while there are other types of adult websites and businesses that are very successful, and areas for newcomers to enter the field, I don’t think you will find any new company being successful in the adult magazine website arena.”

Hassell agrees and says it’s a really tough market, so a new publisher would have to have a really unique product to make it work. “I feel it would be easier for someone interested in publishing a new magazine to leverage an existing publisher, should they really want to enter the market,” he advises.

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