US mags & newspaper grapple with ageing readership

The latest round of industrywide research revealed the average age of magazines’ readers is catching up with the overall population. The median age of adults in the U.S. increased 1.3 years to 45.2 since spring 2004, according to the spring 2009 Mediamark Research report. But adult readers at the nearly 200 publications and publishing groups tracked in both studies saw their median age rise 1.6 years to 44. About 56% of the titles tracked in both years posted age increases higher than the general adult population’s.

This article in Chicago Business states worryingly, that the audiences at many titles, moreover, are getting older fast. The median reader age rose 3.7 years at the Sunday Chicago Tribune, for example, 3.9 years at Car and Driver, 4.1 years at U.S. News & World Report and 4.9 years at Penthouse, according to the research.

An ageing audience isn’t always a problem, said one publisher, “Our readers are extremely loyal and have grown with the magazine over the past five years,”

And it’s not like the competition is getting any younger. Five years ago only one traditional women’s service title, Ladies’ Home Journal, had a median reader age over 50Now there are four with median reader ages of 50 or above.

Some categories, what’s more, practically demand mature readers – especially in recession. “To me, age is a good thing, because at that age, they’re the people who have the money left,” said Deb Burns, chief brand officer at Hachette’s luxury design group, which comprises Metropolitan Home and Elle Décor. Met Home’s median reader age is 48.2 in the new study. That’s 6.3 years higher than in 2004, which was an outlier – the magazine’s “youngest” year – and 3.6 years higher than 2005, a more typical year.

Motor Boating magazine supports the “aging baby boomer,” said Glenn Hughes, group publisher of Bonnier’s marine group. “This market is a bigger market than the younger market. Their discretionary time is on the water with the boats. The retirees have more discretionary time.”

“So the magazine’s changed with the times over the years,” he said. “We are supporting them editorially by communicating more messages of cruising on their boats than going fast on their boats.”