Mon, Feb 09, 2015 - Page 14 News List

Airlines’ magazines not ready to be written off yet

PAPER VS ELECTRONICS:Airlines are overhauling their magazines to make them more enticing, entertaining and better able to compete with passengers’ iPads

Bloomberg

The iPad era is wreaking havoc in airlines’ seat-back pockets.

With fliers no longer always required to turn off phones and tablets during takeoff and landing, they are glued to electronic devices for longer than ever, leaving little downtime for leafing through a magazine.

As carriers from American Airlines Group Inc to Air France-KLM Group vie for fleeting attention spans of hundreds of millions of passengers, they are turning to writers like novelist Dana Vachon and New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones to pen articles, producing glossy photo spreads and introducing digital editions. Whatever the format, the magazines are a way to connect with passengers and build an airline’s brand — and the advertising revenue helps, too.

“Onboard magazines are living print-dinosaurs,” said Rene Steinhaus, an aviation expert at consultant A.T. Kearney in Berlin. “While a lot of printed media disappeared in the last few years, onboard magazines are still ‘alive.’ They are a phenomenon.”

The challenge is to make the publications attractive and entertaining enough that passengers will actually open them.

In theory, airline passengers trapped on planes for hours at a time represent a lucrative audience for advertisers, Steinhaus said.

“If a large carrier has 100 million customers per year, and if just 10 percent of that read the magazine, that’s 10 million clients for an advertiser. That’s huge reach,” Steinhaus said in a telephone interview.

Emirates relaunched its magazine, Open Skies, last month and plans to increase the print run by 5 percent to keep up with a fleet expansion.

Changes include a focus on strong photography, a mix of short stories and long articles, and allowing readers to download a digital copy in addition to the print version.

“You can read an article in the magazine about a hotel then get online and make a hotel booking,” said Patrick Brannelly, vice president of passenger communications for the Dubai-based carrier. “They complement each other.”

Brannelly said Emirates’ onboard magazine has “healthy sales” and “more than covers itself” in terms of costs.

The profit it generates is “not inconsiderable,” he said. “We think it has many years ahead of it and will evolve further.”

The new platforms are helping to attract advertisers who want to be promoted digitally and in print, according to Raymond Girard, president of content marketing for Spafax.

The London-based agency produces AirCanada’s enRoute and Royal Jordanian’s Royal Wings, among others.

Publishers of print editions must balance between editorial content that interests travelers while still showcasing the airline and its advertisers, according to Girard. Passengers need to feel more like readers, not just customers, he said.

“If they feel they’re being oversold to, if they feel they’re reading a 160-page catalog for the airline’s products and services, I think you’re losing an opportunity to really connect with them,” Girard said in a telephone interview from Toronto, Canada.

Air France uses its two in-flight magazines to focus on luxury as a way to distinguish its brand from upstarts.

Air France Madame, started in 1986 as a women’s addition to Air France Magazine, taps into a rich vein of advertising from high- end fashion houses and sees itself among peers like Vogue and Elle.

In 2013 Air France overhauled its publications, tapping into the literary industry for prize-winning writers like David Foenkinos and Daniel Picouly to write short novels specifically for the flagship magazine, which also focuses on food and sports.

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