Magazine VR: Is Our Industry Ready for Yet Another Innovation?

For the modern magazine, VR is emerging as another opportunity in multiplatform strategy, but as some publishers prepare projects, others warn of pitfalls

If you’re running a digital magazine, VR, or virtual reality, is not at the forefront of your mind right now. You’ve got daily content concerns, tech to catch up with, and a multi-front battle against ad blocking and other viewability issues to contend with.

But at the same time, you’re also always looking for more ways to get your content in front of more eyes, and VR can literally make that happen. The question is, how to acquire, integrate, and master the technology? Well, we’re starting to see some precedent established with major multiplatform publishers, and they’re setting some examples for digital magazines with virtual reality aspirations.

VR is part of a natural progression from video, podcasts, and other multimedia publishing tactics, and as with those tactics, it’s important to resist the urge to go all in. Rather, it should be phased in and used only if it fits your audience development strategy.

[text_ad] has coverage from both angles. Let’s start the week by strapping on the goggles and getting a look!

“If you want to know why magazine brands are investing in virtual reality, just look at the numbers. NYTVR, the virtual reality app launched by The New York Times Magazine last November, has an average of 6.5 minutes of audience engagement per session. … On Nov. 7 and 8, in conjunction with Google Cardboard, 1 million home subscribers received VR headsets with their daily newspaper. With an invitation to download the app, and The New York Times Magazine cover story to match, readers were engulfed in a multimedia journalistic experience called ‘The Displaced,’ which follows three child refugees from around the world. … The New York Times now develops VR content across the magazine, newspaper, and T Brand Studio. An additional 300,000 Google Cardboard headsets were sent to select digital subscribers in spring. The app now has over 850,000 downloads and over 10 million views. New content is uploaded a few times a month, but Wright says that will increase exponentially into next year,” Becky Peterson writes.


“Outside of The New York Times, it’s not uncommon for publishers to team up with external VR producers. Time Inc. published 360 video under the Sports Illustrated and InStyle brands, and in May it announced an impending project called LIFE VR in conjunction with the existing LIFE brand. The business model for Time Inc.’s VR seems to be under renovation. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit app, which promises ‘exclusive virtual reality content that will put you on set with Swimsuit’s hottest models,’ is presented by Lexus, with the brand’s logo on key pages of the app. In-app purchases from $1.99–$4.99 open more content, though magazine subscribers can access premium content for free. LIFE VR, however, will be operated in part by The Foundry, Time Inc.’s own branded content studio. While spokespeople wouldn’t comment on the topic, it seems possible that Time Inc. will also unveil branded VR content.”

Meanwhile, others are advising caution.

“This has put pressure on brands to rush out VR experiences without first taking the time to deepen their understanding of the technology, what can be accomplished with it and how and, most importantly, why they would engage with it. The good news is that while technologists continue to improve on the technology and consumers get familiar with VR, there is still plenty of time to hammer out a winning VR strategy. (Can’t imagine a day when VR headsets become the norm? Remember how not so long ago we were quite happy with mobile phones that just did phoning.),” Economist Vice President PR and Thought Leadership Charles Barber writes. 

“I have come to see that VR journalism will allow publications like The Economist to deepen engagement with readers by taking things that are very flat and bringing their imaginations to life. The key is to start with the content first, not the technology. Don’t create a VR experience just because it’s new and exciting. Understand how it fits in with an editorial program.”

Are you a managing editor or content director at a magazine? VR on your radar? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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