Column: The Buzz -- Pass Along or Click Through?

With its September issue, Teen People published its final print edition, deciding instead to focus exclusively on an online edition. This transition made sense, of course, because readers of teen magazines have recently shifted their attention to online sources — usually either the online editions of the magazine or social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Booming online outlets such as these are benefiting from an increase in traffic because they provide an experience that the print editions of magazines simply cannot — an interactive network with continuously updated, peer-generated trend reports. But is this simply too much of a good thing?

Teen magazines have long held a special place in the market. Whether introducing hot new stars or detailing the trends of the upcoming season, they bonded groups of girls, and even some guys. Celebrity cutouts soon became locker collages and cover models became icons.

Fast-forward to today’s market, where weekly magazines fascinate readers with up-to-the-minute gossip, tips on how to get “Beyonce’s look for less,” and dish about the top movies of the week, and you’ll see how teens have started to shift their attention, making monthlies work four times as hard to maintain just half of their readers.

The emergence of social networking sites presents opportunities for information exchange between teens never before seen by news sources. For the first time, teens (along with users from other age groups) are able to sign on and make comments on content provided by peers. Apart from a monthly feature where readers can write in and provide feedback about a publication’s content, print editions of magazines will never be able to match an online networking site’s capabilities to allow users to initiate and exchange commentary.

And it’s becoming clear that teens prefer to get news from a free and easy-to-use online network rather than shelling out a few bucks to thumb through glossy pages filled with content that has been chosen for them.

But while it may be true that print teen magazine coverage is on the decline, teen news sources should take caution not to divert too much attention from their print editions just yet. Teens still enjoy the tangible experience of picking up the print edition, as it provides an opportunity for information exchange that even the Internet cannot. A magazine can literally be passed from person to person, facilitating a traveling discussion of image and trend.

While online networking raises the promise of meeting new people exponentially, passing back and forth print editions of news and gossip magazines allows teens to stay in touch with a circle of friends with whom they tend to be the most truthful, especially when it comes to style and fashion. For print editions to thrive, they must focus on their core strength: the tightknit social networks that regularly gather to talk, in person.

One editor who has connected with her readers is Atoosa Rubenstein, editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine. Recognizing the importance of social networking, Rubenstein has launched several initiatives, including her own MySpace page. As one women’s magazine editor said to me recently, “Magazine editors must be both editors and consumer marketers.” To reach the teen audience effectively through the media, you have to understand their wants and needs. Rubenstein has demonstrated that when you really take the initiative to understand your market, you’ll maintain your loyal readers.

Traditional print teen magazines can’t compete with their online counterparts in terms of information volume. And while the lack of control over user-generated content might make print publishers even more likely to filter their content, if it’s done right, such precise selection of content can be seen as a way to balance a brand that includes both print and online editions, rather than as a dismissal of online content generators.

By allowing Internet readers to liberally provide content, both good and bad, print edition editors can learn what their core readers prefer and still feature it within their own framework and style with each print edition. The print edition of a teen magazine could soon become a “featured content” arm of its online sibling — if it doesn’t get amputated.

Tina Wells is CEO of Buzz Marketing Group. (

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