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Auto Trader leaves grimy void as publications continue shift online

Posted by Richard Lambert on 5th June 2013

Publications ceasing production of their print editions and moving to an online only format is hardly a new trend, and in many cases any such announcements are now unlikely to be greeted by much more than a shrug (particularly when they involve the likes of Woodchip Weekly).

What can’t be ignored, however, are the growing numbers of high profile trade magazines switching off their printing presses. Recent years have witnessed the likes of Newsweek, Computer Weekly and The Engineer going online-only.

What really grabbed my attention though was the Telegraph recently reporting that the last print edition of Auto Trader, the UK’s leading classified motoring magazine, will be published on 28th June as the publication shifts its entire presence online.

End of an era for grease monkeys

My interest wasn’t because I’m a lifelong reader or serial flogger of 1986 Ford Escorts. Auto Trader isn’t just another Top Gear magazine read by 40-something Jeremy Clarkson pretenders.

It’s an institution of the wider British motor scene, and the absence of its familiar red and blue masthead will leave a void in grimy garage waiting areas across the country. As the name suggests, a big part of its readership is actively involved in its celebrated buying and selling community. In fact, the shift of focus away from editorial content and onto buying and selling tools has been an ongoing process since 2009.

While it may have caught my eye, the move to online only is unlikely to have shocked too many of Auto Trader’s loyal punters. Indeed, EML Wildfire’s very own motoring aficionado Andrew Shephard admits to not having bought the paper edition for at least 3 years.

Fragmentation of services

Until recently, the publication had a monopoly in the car trading market – but that monopoly hasn’t necessarily been succeeded by any of Auto Trader’s media rivals. While the magazine continued to dominate, its print circulation was disproportionately low (7,000) next to its online circulation of 10-11 million readers a month.

Like many of the publications pulling down the shutters on their print editions, one of the major triggers to Auto Trader’s move has been the fragmentation of its central offering across a number of different competitors, in this case the obvious example being the success of the website WeBuyAnyCar.com and copycat sites such as WeWantAnyCar.com.

That might not be a completely level field of comparison, but the fact remains that the internet has become the go to place for car sellers – and that soon attracts the prospective buyers as well.

Just as with any business, it’s up to media outlets to keep up with the demands and expectations of their target audience.

With tablet computers surging in popularity to the extent that they’re expected to overtake the entire PC market in 2015, most of us now find it easier to browse our favourite reads on these devices in the same place as our favourite websites, films and other content – especially with the advent of tablet-optimised apps.

Tough times, tough decisions

We are operating in a period of extreme rationalisation. The market for multiple weekly (or even monthly) titles serving niche audience interests simply isn’t sustainable. These publications must either shape up, adapting their offering to work with the most cost effective approach, or ship out.

A number of publishers in the electronics trade media have consolidated their offerings already this year, with EDN Europe moving to online only in March while EPN closed entirely. As tech PRs, an important part of our role is to support these titles to stay in touch with their readers’ habits by providing compelling content in a web-friendly and easily shareable format.

While some publications could be accused of acting like rabbits in the headlights of the onrushing movement online, there are some excellent examples of dynamism and flexibility from traditional outlets – just look at Newsweek Global. Online identities are becoming so important in defining ourselves as people; media outlets must react to the demands of the market and supply us with content we want to share online to be a part of that process.