The Nature of Gen-Z’s Influence on the Future of Printed Surf Magazines

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The digital versus print narrative is inescapable in any analysis of today’s
rapidly evolving media ecosystem. The general consensus revolves around predictions of the wholesale abandonment of traditional print media by youth, in favour of digital media. Within the sport media category, magazine closures are becoming increasingly common, and magazines related to the sport of surfing, a quintessentially youthful pursuit, have not been excluded. Addressing a paucity of recent scholarly work about how youth view magazines, the aim of this study was to analyse the media choices and perceptions of Australian Generation Z surfers to advance theory and identify what functionally differentiates the printed surf magazine from its digital disruptors.

Applying a combination of three conceptual lenses in generation theory, uses
and gratifications theory and media substitution theory, this study utilised a mixed methods approach. This approach commenced with an online survey of 1639 participants and concluded with 17 in-depth, semi-structured interviews.

Findings revealed that despite Gen-Z’s prolific and habitual social media use,
this generational cohort of Australian surfers have low levels of trust in social media and high levels of trust in surf magazines. Surf magazines were also found to exert influence on individual and group identity, and were effective in delivering liminoid experiences for readers through their travel content. Ultimately, four factors that contribute to the functional differentiation of surf magazines in the modern media landscape were presented: trusted expertise, identity influence, travel escapism and emotional attachment.

Contributions to theory include an extension of McQuail’s (1983) four-motive
typology of media uses and gratifications; an application of the dialectic model of media interaction by Adoni and Nossek (2001) that facilitated a deeper understanding of media consumption in an Australian youth context; and a response to Bonner and Roberts’ (2017) call for more research into the role Gen-Z could have in determining the future of print magazines in this digital age. Contributions to practice include a hierarchical typology of Gen-Z surf content preferences, and the media platforms that are best suited to their delivery; a model explaining the role surf magazines play in supporting the underlying drivers of demand for surf brands; and finally, the four factors that contribute to the functional differentiation of surf magazines in this digital age. The research findings will be relevant to scholars interested in the content needs and media
channel choices of the demographic cohort known as Generation Z, as well as industry practitioners such as sport magazine publishers, and sport governing bodies and commercial organisations that target youth and niche sport markets.
Date of Award2 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDanny O'Brien (Supervisor), Lisa Gowthorp (Supervisor) & Olan Scott (Supervisor)

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