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A Flourishing Future for Magazines in Brazil

The most pressing problem in journalism is not moral collapse but the collapse of ‘the story’.

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Adriana Prado

Proof 2010: Journalists Defending Journalism
Set 2, September 2010 Politics, Postmodern Journalism, and the Public

The consumption of commercially produced culture is still relatively low in Brazil; but it is growing fast. The Brazilian magazine market has been expanding since 2005. Prompted by rising living standards, national and international publishers have invested in existing titles and created new ones. While the magazine industry is facing a decline in circulation and advertising revenue in consolidated markets as the United States, in Brazil the sector is expected to grow further, with new readers coming into the domestic market and new content enabling them to explore a widening range of interests.

New consumers of information

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is widely known in Brazil by the metaphors he uses to explain almost everything. In October 2008, for instance, he used metaphors to play down the impact of global financial crisis on the Brazilian economy: “There in the U.S., it is a tsunami; here, if it arrives, it will be such a small wave that I will not be able to surf it”. This statement, and other, similarly optimistic declarations, provoked widespread outrage among Brazilian voters. Yet in 2009 Brazil did emerge as the eighth largest economy in the world, and its accelerated economic growth is expected to continue into the next decades. According to a study released in January 2010 by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, auditing supremo to the corporate sector, Brazil is likely to become the fifth biggest global economy by 2025.

The consistently strong performance of the domestic economy has contributed to large-scale upward mobility, with 25 million Brazilians entering the middle class between 2002 and 2008, acccording to the Ministry of Finance. The definition of ‘middle class’ is moot, but in any case more people now have some money left to spend on luxury items such as magazines. Issued by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture, Culture In Numbers: the Cultural Statistics Yearbook 2009, suggests that Brazilians put cultural goods at No 6 in their list of spending priorities, after food, shelter, clothing, health and transportation. Meanwhile, social policies such as “Bolsa Família” (a federal income transfer program to poor families) has helped to increase literacy rates. The new mass of (literate) consumers is already showing its commercial potential.

According to the latest available data from Instituto Verificador de Circulação (IVC, the institute which verifies the circulation of newspapers and magazines in Brazil), magazine circulation has been rising since 2005. In the first quarter of 2009, it increased by 4.1%, in comparison to the same period in 2008. Between 2000 to 2008, the number of periodical publications jumped from 586 to 2,255, due to the emergence of both broad-based popular titles and specialist titles in newly emerging market segments such as food, tourism and men’s health. At the moment when magazine circulation in the United States was reported to have fallen 2.3% in the first half of 2010 (the second consecutive year of overall decline), the Brazilian media reported a joint venture between the publishing houses Globo, from Brazil, and Condé Nast, from the USA. The new company, named Edições Globo-Condé Nast, will launch Condé Nast titles in Brazil. At the press launch Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International, clearly relished the opportunities for expansion in what is now the largest magazine market in Latin America: “Globo is the leading media company in South America….it is the ideal partner for Condé Nast, which aims to expand its activities in this key market.”

Another factor which works to the advantage of print magazines, is that only a third of the population has internet access, according to the latest available data. While in the USA the web is already the main source of information, in Brazil that position continues to be occupied by television. As a print journalist, countless times I’ve had editors say “Oh, it doesn’t matter, nobody saw that”, when telling me to write an article very similar to a piece I’ve already read online. Though this is a source of frustration to journalists, as far as print publishers are concerned, the relative absence of the internet as a competing information source, is cause for celebration. Publishing models that have already run their course or are currently declining in the USA still work in Brazil.

Similarly, print magazines do not face much competition here from reading devices like Kindle (Amazon) or iPad (Apple). While it is much harder to keep paper in circulation wherever many people have easy access to these gadgets, taxes make such devices far more expensive in Brazil. The same Kindle on sale for 139 dollars at Amazon costs about three times more in my country.

Brazilians still read very little — but love to read gossip

The circulation of celebrity news magazines is dropping in the United States, but a “new” title has just been released in Brazil, the Spanish Hola! I say “new”, because in 1999, more than a decade ago, Hola! prompted the launch of one of the most popular magazines in Brazil, Caras (average circulation: 312,000). The two publications are very similar. Altogether, there are five popular celebrity magazines. “If the demand now exists, it must be supplied with appropriate products, publications with popular appeal”, says Pedro Silva Martins, CEO of Instituto Verificador de Circulação. “Popular appeal” means both a simpler approach to subjects and also specific matters, such as the life of celebrities (or housekeeping, or the curative power of plants).

Although things are getting better, Brazilians still read very little, not only in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality. A review released in 2009 by the Brazilian Book Chamber showed that expenditure on reading takes up 0.5% of family income, while spending on TV, video, music and computers amounts to 2% of the average household budget. When spending on print, however, Brazilians prefer magazines to newspapers and non-didactic books. Families spend, on average, 42 reais (around 24 dollars) on magazines per year; on newspapers, 17 reais (9 dollars); on non-didactic books, only 11 reais (6 dollars). Now that more people have more money to spend on “superfluous things” as culture, they look for publications which satisfy their specific needs. That is why the “popular megazines” are best-sellers in Brazil. Among the top ten weekly titles, six are “popular” (2009).

Weekly news magazines are also tracing an upward curve. Although not originally intended for the more “popular” reader, they are now assuming a more popular “tone”. The three main titles, Veja, Época and IstoÉ are full of the so-called lifestyle stories — some of then are really pieces of self-help. At least, that is how I would define a cover story headlined “How to achieve inner peace”.

Published by Editora Abril, Veja is the third largest weekly news magazine in the world. It is also the largest in Brazil, with an average circulation of more than one million copies. Época is a relatively new publication: it was launched in 1998, along the lines of the German Focus. Published by Editora Globo, it benefits from being part of Organizações Globo (the largest media conglomerate in Latin America), and is now overtaking Istoé to become the nearest competitor to Veja. With an average circulation of 417, 000, it is often sent as a “gift” to the subscribers of the newspaper O Globo (also part of Organizações Globo). Boosted by this extra distribution, although it comes only third in sales (averaging 338,000), IstoÉ is considered the second-most influential magazine in the country, immediately after Veja.

Founded less than a decade apart (Veja in 1968, and IstoÉ in 1976), both publications became famous for their political coverage, with scoops that helped to bring down, for example, President Fernando Collor de Mello, impeached in 1992. Since the launch of Época, however, their focus has begun to shift. Época was the first to offer a very colorful summary of the main topics of the week. Now, all three of them do that — even though their respective publishers claim they provide depth alongside succinct analysis. Nowadays scoops and comprehensive, investigative stories are exceptions. Many articles are only a page long, and surveys show that these pieces have the largest readership. Besides, the three magazines were recently redesigned in order to guarantee a more pleasant, less demanding experience for the reader. In short, the photos are bigger and the text, shorter. The pages have more white space, so that the reader can “breathe”.

Shorter, Better?

There has been considerable debate about the ongoing changes in the news weekly magazines and their impact on the quality of journalism. “An article does not need to be long to be good. We can indeed provide reliable information in one page. We deliver the same content, but without much details”, claims Carlos José Marques, editorial director of IstoÉ, which hits the newsstands every Saturday, at the same time as Veja and Época. The intention is to give readers the opportunity to get updated with the most relevant facts during the weekend, when people have more free time. For this same reason, weekly news magazines may seem more appealing to someone who cannot afford (and/or is not willing to have) multiple sources of quality information (TV is generally considered superficial).

Although only one third of the population currently has access to the internet, Brazilians are already demanding more specialized information, in contrast to the general-knowledge provided by the news and popular magazines. Decoration, running, travelling, food, fashion – these are some of the interests that the “new middle class” is developing and, as a consequence, demanding information about. Another relevant example is the “teen” niche. One such teen-oriented title is Gloss, published by Editora Abril. The magazine was released in 2007 and has already reached a circulation of more than 140,000 copies per month. The average circulation of such titles increased by 33% in first quarter of 2009, and the trend is expected to continue.

Conclusion: Promising Future

The demand for special-interest titles will surely rise further, in line with socio-economic growth. After facing hard times in the first half of this decade, media companies are now financially healthy and eager to take opportunities, by themselves or in partnership with international players. There is still much money to be made from magazine content that fills newly identified gaps in the supply of entertainment and information. In the long-term, however, Brazilian publishers might face problems and challenges related to increasing internet usage, as already experienced by the American magazine industry.

Adriana Prado is a Brazilian journalist and writer. She plans to come to London in September 2011 to enrol on the MA Magazines programme at the University of East London.

dricaprado@gmail.com

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