A stray pop-up clip, a video screen in a waiting room and Facebook midroll all have one thing in common: they trap us and sap our time.
Tim Wu from Wired calls this ‘attention theft’. Instead of paying for things with money or data, we pay with attention and time—and often without our consent. We find ourselves forced to watch content we simply do not care about.
“The key word here is ‘consent,’” Wu says.
“There’s a big difference between leafing through a magazine, reading articles and advertising by choice, and being blasted at by a screen when you have no place to go. Indeed, consent is the usual way access to the body is conditioned. The brain is a pretty intimate part of your body, from which it follows that your permission ought to be asked before having your synapses groped by a stranger.”
Bound pages of a magazine don’t leap off the coffee table and compel the reader to open the latest issue, and readers aren’t trapped on an ad for a set amount of time before they can access what they actually want. There’s always choice when it comes to magazines.
Despite the relative passivity of the medium, New Zealand readers are choosing to spend more time and attention on magazines, with an increase in the average time spent reading according to the Nielsen Consumer & Media Insights Q3 2016 - Q2 2017 data, over the last five years.
In terms of top ten titles for total minutes read, the clear leader was the Christian title The Word For Today with 192 minutes, followed by Word for You Today with 183 minutes, and Lucky Break at 91 minutes.
This is followed by more in-depth journalist titles such as NZ Listener and Readers Digest,lifestyle titles NZ Gardner, Simply You and Good alongside wedding titles Bride & Groom and New Zealand Weddings.
Editor for New Zealand Weddings Rachel Ramsay says it was good to see the title performing in the top ten as it showed people were engaging, and taking the advertisements and content seriously.
She says as a niche magazine, success comes from reaching out to the target audience.
“For brides who have not planned a wedding before, it’s a full-scale event and we offer guidance and help. [New Zealand Weddings] is successful because we provide practical content and also inspiration and this resonates with the audience.”
People are keen to read up on their interests as shown by the figures for the total minutes spent reading by the primary reader. The top three are the same as total in minutes but specialist titles Boating NZ (123), NZ Gardener (111), NZ Life and Leisure, (104), NZ Trucking(104) and NZ Geographic (103) are included.
Reader’s Digest, NZ Lifestyle Block, Australian Women’s Weekly and Simply You are the other titles in the top ten.
Kate Coughlan, editor of NZ Life & Leisure and managing director of Lifestyle Magazine Group which includes NZ Lifestyle Block, says all areas of the business are interested in engagement.
“If [the readers] are very engaged, we know they’ll be keen to purchase the magazine again next issue and it also means that our advertisers have people whose minds are open to the concept they’re then putting in.”
She says it’s thrilling to be in the top ten for hours spent reading by primary readers.
“It’s a success almost more than the circulation in a way. Delivering 100,000 readers who really, really want your product is a lot different from people who have seen it but haven’t even engaged with it. More than 50 percent of the audit and circulation [for both NZ Life & Leisure and NZ Lifestyle Block] is in paid subscriptions. We see that as the future, to keep those subscribers’ numbers strong and growing.”
Coughlan says the reading of a magazine is a physical experience, with a marked difference from digital.
“[NZ Life & Leisure and NZ Lifestyle Block] offer a proposition that isn’t easily found by Google searching. You don’t really know that you want to meet the people you meet in NZ Life and Leisure until you meet them, and then you think ‘oh I didn’t know I was going to be interested in a goat farmer…but gosh I’m really pleased I read about that’.”
She adds that if you decided you were going to spend an hour of your life meeting the 10 most interesting people across New Zealand you didn’t know about, you wouldn’t be able to find them online.
“That’s what our editorial skill is, bringing that whole collection together which can’t be found any other place. Magazines are crafted in a way you can’t do in a digital word, they’re very hand-made and polished and each page is carefully put together. It’s satisfying to know that those pages are appreciated and pored over.”
Coughlan says it’s also terrific for the industry to see magazines having such a length of engagement with their audiences.
“You can have a million people receiving stuff thrown at them and if they don’t want it, you’re not making any connection with them, but when people sit down and spend an hour reading your magazine you know they’re enjoying it. You also know that your advertisers are therefore in an environment where they’re getting noticed.”
Good quality magazines are really starting to hit their stride, in the sense of having a presence that is the quite the pushback against the high-touch world, says Coughlan.
Matt Smith, director and sales director for NZ Trucking, says the community who read its monthly magazine generally fits into two categories: business owners and those who are passionate about the products.
Smith says the style of the publication is aimed at business owners.
“They’re using the magazine to help guide them in their decision making. We report on industry changes and content that may influence on how they run their business, as well as pictures of nice trucks. We are fortunate having readers hungry for the style of information we have as it makes it easy for us to deliver to them.”
Smith says he was surprised but happy to be in the top ten.
“You don’t expect it, we’re a small business. It’s really pleasing, hopefully, it shows we’re giving [the audience] what they’re after, that we’re in touch with our audience.”
Be it religion, current affairs, the environment or the latest truck, when readers are interested enough in a topic, they’re willing to give their time to it. And in the fragmented media world where the minutes of our lives are dissected and sold to advertisers, the time we give of our own volition always has to count more than that which has been stolen from us.