What’s The Future For In-Flight Magazines?

The future of air travel is changing – and so is the in-flight magazine. As most print editions are currently grounded due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will they ever take off again? And if so, what might they look like?

flight passenger reading inflight magazine

Compared with their newsstand equivalents, in-flight magazines have been relatively unchallenged by the rise of digital due to their very healthy marketing ROI.

They have an almost captive audience of plane passengers – a Harris poll found that 89% of passengers will check out the in-flight magazine, perhaps to while away the journey in the absence of WiFi.

Magazines are used to advertise on-board goods such as snacks or duty-free perfume, and to cross-promote airlines’ own services. And they’re highly attractive to advertisers seeking an affluent market for travel or luxury goods.

All of which kept this segment aloft while other print titles crashed. British Airways’ High Life magazine, for example, had a potential monthly audience of 3.8 million, with 60% of readers spending 20+ minutes perusing its pages. For advertisers, that represented a great opportunity for a reliable marketing ROI.

inflight magazines

The COVID-19 effect

However, the pandemic is now hitting the market hard. Plane travel has floundered: globally, April’s passenger kilometres were down 94% on the previous year.

While flights are now gradually taking off once more, they are carrying fewer passengers and are subject to stricter regulations.

Due to tight turnarounds between flights, it is hard to clean plane interiors thoroughly – let alone the seat pockets where magazines live, which have long been known to harbour germs.

Although the risk of transmitting COVID-19 indirectly via paper or cardboard is thought to be tiny, passengers are reluctant to handle well-thumbed magazines.

So most airlines have removed in-flight magazines for the time being, and in many cases replaced them with digital alternatives. British Airways is widening its offering, inviting all passengers to access 7,000 global titles through the PressReader service.

Frequent Flyers

However, not all publishers have pressed pause on print. Kirsten Galliott, editor-in-chief of Qantas’ in-flight magazines says: “We think we may be the only in-flight magazine in the world to publish right through the Coronavirus.”

The magazine’s distribution model has changed dramatically. “We are obviously not on board planes,” says Ms Galliott. “Instead we are sending 40,000 copies to Qantas’s most valuable frequent flyers. The magazine is being sent directly to their homes.”

Quantas, then, is using its print product as a way of building loyalty among customers while flights are grounded – and inspiring their post-lockdown travels.

Print-digital mix

Other publishers are also now emerging from lockdown with creative ideas to keep the marketing ROI flying high. Many of these involve enhancing their digital magazines.

However, that will entail persuading customers to download them. And digital media is a very different prospect from print for prospective advertisers, with potential consequences for marketing ROI.

Michael Keating, CEO of Ink Global, which publishes print and digital titles for more than 20 airlines, says his company is planning several comeback issues.

“None of the airlines we work with have turned their back on print. The more interesting and exciting opportunity is how all the customer communication touch points work together – email, .com, in-app, print, on-board and so on. Right now, airlines need to communicate with their customers more than ever.”

Michael Keating, CEO of Ink Global

Perhaps the Qantas model of sending print magazines directly to customers presents a way forward: passengers will be able to take their paper copy and combine it with digital in the air.

Money-off coupons in the print edition could encourage passengers to flip through their magazines prior to their flights – and keep spending when they’re on board.

Certainly, the in-flight magazine will change with the times. But as planes start to fill the skies once more, it looks like print titles will be back up there, too.


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