The traditional print media still hasn’t recovered from the walloping it took during the Great Recession, when circulation and revenues at metropolitan dailies plummeted as more readers looked to online sources.
But one piece of the print news sector has remained resilient—not just holding its own but actually growing.
It’s the so-called “mature press.” The nation’s newspapers, tabloids and magazines intended exclusively for older eyes are seeing a bump in interest from readers and advertisers.
“Seniors and boomers are used to picking up something in printed form and they love the touch and feel of turning the pages,” said Gary Calligas, executive director of the North American Mature Publishers Association.
NAMPA began in 1994 when a handful of publishers of senior publications got together to swap ideas about stories and sales strategies with their peers. Now the trade organization’s membership has expanded to 106 independent publications, including seven papers added in the past year. Combined circulation for the publications stands at 4 million.
“NAMPA grew by 50 percent in the past decade, with new publications springing up and existing ones adding pages. Many of our members also now put out an annual resource guide, a directory with listings of all the services and providers in their community.
“They also have the ability to sponsor and cross-promote their own senior health and wellness expos with their advertisers. There are more seniors and boomers every day, and they’re looking for this kind of content like never before,” said Calligas, who also runs The Best of Times, a monthly senior magazine in Shreveport, La.
With names like Forever Young in Buffalo, Prime Time Monthly and Active Age, the specialty publications aim for a broader appeal than the previous generation of senior papers, which devoted more editorial space to senior center activities, meal menus and transportation schedules for the older end of the demographic.
Now the publications are skewing younger, looking for a readership that starts at age fifty.
A recent cover of Minnesota Good Age, a free glossy monthly stacked in a thousand magazine racks around Minneapolis-St. Paul, featured a full color photo of a vocalist, hip-hop dancer and member of Prince’s reunited New Power Generation band who happens to be fifty-five.
“We serve two audiences,” said Minnesota Good Age publisher Terry Gahan. “Our readers are people in their fifties and early sixties, and the older people they’re responsible for. We have to create well-rounded, relevant content for both of those life experiences.”
Gahan deliberately reconfigured his magazine to always place a local high profile baby boomer on the cover—a chef, actor or media personality. That’s bait to get boomers to flip through the publication, where they might spot an ad for assisted living, home health or a Medicare supplemental insurance plan that they—or their parents—might need.
“We’ve become a very efficient way for advertisers to target that audience,” said Gahan.
While news junkies have innumerable options for coverage of the day’s national and international headlines, in many markets the senior publications have a lock on delivering hyperlocal content.
“Readers are looking for information and perspective they can’t get anywhere else and ideas to improve their lives. Publications that deliver that reader service build trust and loyalty,” said Heather Lamb, a professor of magazine journalism at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.
Lamb believes that specialty publications that deliver on that promise are more vital than prevailing wisdom might suggest.
“Many of the publications that are thriving and successful now are those speaking to a niche interest, and if it brings the right readers, the niche can be viable even when it’s small,” she said.
Arwen Rasmussen publishes five versions of the Senior Review, which covers five west central Wisconsin communities including Eau Claire and Wausau. Her publications were once the newsletters from the local Aging and Disability Resource Centers, focused on how local seniors could access social services.
“Locally, I don’t really have any competition,” she added. “It’s a good time to be in this business. The older consumer needs to know what advertisers offer, not just housing and hospice, but travel agencies and lawyers for wills and estate planning.”
“Some of these publications are substantive and news-oriented, with reporters who are experienced and well-respected. Others are put together by someone with a sales rather than a journalism background,” said Paul Kleyman, national coordinator of the Journalists Network on Generations.
Kleyman looks to traditional news media sources, not the free senior papers, for consistent coverage of the more complex and troubling public policy issues on aging. He sees topics like inadequate retirement income, health care disparities and age discrimination getting bypassed in the mature specialty publications in favor of lifestyle features for more upscale readers.
“Everyone wants to speak to that quintessential affluent, active silver-haired retiree,” he said. “What about the others?”