The Future of Magazines
The Elevator Pitch for the Future of Magazines
- Data to end of 2011, courtesy of The Association of Magazine Media: shows that magazine advertising pages have dropped to 1992 levels, based on 20% more titles.
- As the success of most consumer magazines is driven primarily by advertising revenue (rather than circulation revenue), the simultaneous shift of ad dollars to web advertising is the one of the largest problems facing large-circulation magazines today (whether before or during this soft economy).
- Few magazine publishers could survive the loss of ad revenue if they discontinued their print versions. While they are becoming increasingly adept at generating revenue from their web sites, web-only publishing models cannot supplant a print and web model. Some publishers have made the move. It’s a work in progress.
- At the same time, much of the value from magazines: for example, timely, directed editorial, is moving to other web media, including blogs and special-interest sites. Can magazine publishing endure the competition?
- New digital magazine formats (described below) are extending the reach of the printed versions. This is a positive development, with many benefits, but not likely to prove the salvation of the industry. (Although the majority of publishers offering digital magazie formats recognize correctly that currently they augment their existing subscriber benefits rather than supplant them.)
While not as challenged as newspapers, magazines in North America are clearly on the Internet hit list. For most periodicals, the long-term prognosis looks grim. Business-to-business magazines may fall first; the future of consumer magazines is more cloudy.
- Overview of the Future of Magazines
- The Key Distinctions in Periodical Publishing
- Looking at Ad-Supported Magazines
- Magazine Statistics
- How Many Magazines?
- Small and Literary Magazines/Journals
- International Data
- Magazines in Canada
- The Economics of Magazine Publishing
- Magazines and the Internet
- New Digital Formats for Magazines
- The Leading Vendors of Digital Magazines
- Why Are Digital Magazine Formats Thriving?
- Summary of the Future of Magazines
Overview of the Future of Magazines
This article first challenge is of definitions. The real topic could perhaps be “The Future of Periodicals,” as there are a range of periodicals that most people would not define simply as “magazines.” Getting a clear definition of the range of published periodicals is not straightforward.
The Library at the University of Texas in San Antonio, using a frequently-quoted definition, claims that there are five types of periodicals:
1. Newspapers (which I cover separately)
2. Popular magazines
3. Trade magazines (synonymous with “business-to-business” [B-to-B] periodicals)
4. Journals of opinion
5. Scholarly journals
The Library at the University of South Alabama expands the definition slightly, noting first of all that librarians to do not refer to “periodicals” but to “serials.” It then goes on to separate the equivalent of popular magazines, noted above, into two categories, “Magazines” and “News Magazines.”
Having reviewed two dozen charts defining the varying types of published periodicals I note that most adhere to similar explanations, and that all omit “Literary Journals/Magazines,” which I feel are a decidedly separate category from “Scholarly Journals,” and worthy of separate consideration (see below). Later on I’ll also look more closely also at “controlled circulation magazines.”
The Key Distinctions in Periodical Publishing
Let’s just call it as it is: you publish for love or you publish for money. The idea of publishing for love and money is at best misguided, at worst, a quick road to the poor-house. (OK, there’s one other factor that can apply to either of the above categories, publishing for an ego boost. But economists have been unable to define the business impact of this motive.)
Most newspapers and consumer magazines publish with the profit motive paramount. They make the usual claims of freedom of expression as essential to the functioning of democracy, but fall mute when the black ink turns to red.
The periodical category loosely defined above as “journals of opinion,” may include a social or political agenda which can mitigate fears of the color red, provided the publisher can convince him or herself that minds are being swayed (c.f. The National Review).
Looking at Ad-Supported Magazines
Question: how much to charge for a yearly subscription to a consumer magazine? Answer: as little as possible. The lower the subscription cost, the higher (at least in theory) the number of subscribers, or eyeballs. That’s why we still see improbably low offers for magazine subscriptions. A recent issue of Harper’s magazine is more than pleased to offer you 84% off the cover price on a one-year subscription.
With most of its revenue derived from advertising, the traditional task for the average consumer or trade magazine is to deliver eyeballs to ads. The only metric for success in this endeavor was to deliver the most eyeballs possible (aka “large circulation”). Circulation revenue for the average consumer magazine has been, with few exceptions, a breakeven proposition (or modestly profitable). Trade magazines derive very little of their revenue from circulation, as the bulk of their subscribers are “qualified,” i.e. in the target group for the advertisers in the publication, and receive the publication for free.
The second most common impediment for most periodicals (and indeed for many other publishing media) is the cost of distribution. While newspapers usually employ paid contractors to handle the physical distribution of the paper in their immediate urban market, magazines rely heavily on government postal services, and there are never-ending battles between magazine publishers and postal services about how large the postal subsidy should be. Magazines make passionate arguments about literacy and an informed public; post offices demonstrate how much money they lose providing this heavily-subsidized distribution service.
An October, 2007 article in Folio, Postal Reform: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, will bring you up-to-date on the latest news in the struggle between periodical publishers and the USPS, and a February update called USPS Announces 2.7 Percent Rate Hike for Magazines brings the news update into 2008.
Few trade organizations (and not only those serving the publishing business) can be counted on as reliable sources of statistics regarding their own industries. They serve to protect, mostly reinforcing a positive viewpoint for their members and business partners. The statistics they release rarely paint a gloomy picture. If a short-term trend appears ominous, other statistics are found that point to a brighter future. The outlook almost always appears positive.
So there are two opposing perspectives that can easily be formed about association data: it is skewed and of dubious value, or, it is accurate and the naysayers are wrong.
As an analyst I take a middle ground: there is significant value in association data; even greater value when it can be corroborated against third-party sources.
The magazine industry is extremely well-organized in its data collection and presentation. While it does release the occasional gloomy report, its data presentation tends to paint a positive outlook for the magazine industry.
I’m not a naysayer of the present or future value of magazines. I read many of them with great pleasure, and hope to continue to do so for a long time to come. But my task here is to look closely at all of the published data, and let the conclusions fall where they may.
Data collection for the U.S. magazine industry is derived from four related sources: the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) and its affiliates: the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB), the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) and the Independent Magazine Group (MPA-IMAG). The Canadian industry is covered also by Magazines Canada.
There are also two trade magazines heavily (or exclusively) focused on magazines: Folio Magazine and Ad Age. Canada, in turn, is covered by Masthead and Marketing Magazine (although it does go beyond magazines to be targeted as “Canada’s national weekly publication dedicated to the businesses of marketing, advertising and media”) (also, as of the date of this writing, Masthead is about to cease publication, but there are numerous rumors that the Canadian publishing community may come to its rescue.) Like all trade magazines, their independence from the industries they cover is also subject to debate.
There’s an interesting counterpoint to the industry data, which is the U.S. Census Bureau data for NAICS 511120 Periodical Publishers. Unfortunately while the 51120 category covers a host of different types of periodical publishers, they all fall under this classification number. Only a closer look at the number of establishments reveals that there is indeed a separate category for periodical publishers, 51112. However the U.S. Census data records only 7,298 periodical publishers in the overall category “All Establishments.”
This is supplemented by “516110 Internet Publishing and Broadcasting.” This covers all periodicals focused “exclusively on the Internet,” and, more broadly, “Internet publishing & broadcasting,” but includes a mere 2,057 establishments in the 2002 data.
As the government data is clearly understated, the industry-generated data becomes more fascinating by comparison.
How Many Magazines?
The American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME), quoting the National Directory of Magazines, 2007; published by Oxbridge Communications (available for $1,695) holds that there were 22,106 magazine titles published in the U.S. in 2006, down from 31,570 in 1999. (See the Gallery of Dead Magazines.)
The ASME focuses on “consumer magazines and business publications.
This same organization, elsewhere on its site, very clearly illustrates the problem that bedevils all publishing analysts: Claims about the number of titles published, in every publishing category, vary so widely that the statistics are somewhere close to useless. ASME looks at five different listings of the number of magazines published and finds not only a 90% disparity between the highest and lowest, but also that the highest number claimed is roughly 10% lower than what the association itself claims elsewhere on its own site (as noted above).
As the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) points out “There are several sources that provide the number of magazines available in the U.S., some more comprehensive than others. The following chart cites five of these sources: the National Directory of Magazines, Standard Rate and Data Service, Audit Bureau of Circulations, BPA Worldwide, and the Publishers Information Bureau.” The data below is unusually frank for a national organization that represents roughly “240 domestic publishing companies with approximately 1,400 titles.”
The same association quotes from the National Directory of Magazines, 2007, published by Oxbridge Communications, which lists 22,106 titles available in 2006.
Historically, Oxbridge’s National Directory of Magazines reported 21,344 titles published in 1989, reaching a peak of 31,570 titles by 1999, before beginning the decline to today’s figure of 22,106 (a 30% drop), or to 19,419 (an 8% increase!) based on the chart above.
Q: Why do magazines have all those little cards that fall on the floor when you open them?
A: The publishers of magazines have no concern for the reading public. They want you to think you can get magazines only by subscription or at newsstands. This is simply not true. Those cards are magazine babies, or seeds. Plant them, nurture them, and in six weeks’ time you’ll have a ripe TV Guide or Reader’s Digest. In two months’ time you’ll have Time or Newsweek. After six months you’ll have a mature Playboy, Esquire, or Vanity Fair. You must water them carefully, however, or you could end up with a small-town newspaper or one of those real estate guides from the Laundromat…
- From Ask Dr. Science: He Knows More Than You Do!
Unlike most other forms of publishing (including music and film), advertising-supported periodicals are not always thrilled when unit sales expand. The reason is simple: revenue for the actual sale of the product is covered primarily by ad revenue, and magazines can reach a point where even moderately improved ad revenue can’t cover the cost of increased money-losing circulation. Newsstand circulation is hugely unprofitable (because of distribution costs and the large return rates), and serve mainly to bolster new subscriptions. A vicious circle!
Only in the periodical industry would you find a trade magazine headlining an article “Circ[ulation] Levels Remain Precariously High in Second Half 2006.” I can’t imagine Publisher’s Weekly running an article titled “Book Sales Remain Precariously High in Second Half 2006!”
The article is very revealing of some of the underlying realities of circulation-to-advertising economics. “Several decades ago, advertising and circulation contributed equally (50/50) to a publishing company’s profit. Today the profit contribution ratio at most publishing companies is tipped heavily in favor of advertising…” The article then delves deeply into some of the finer points of how circulation figures are audited and reported. Let’s just say that you can’t believe everything you read, neither in circulation figures, nor in advertising revenue.
Time magazine has recently made a conscious decision to drop circulation levels to improve profitability.
Staying with industry-reported figures, according to the “The Magazine Handbook,” publishing by the Magazine Publishers of America, magazine circulation is doing just fine, albeit not much increased from late 1990s levels. Newsstand sales have decreased, but this has been offset by subscription sales.
Some of the most recent data suggests a fairly modest decline in magazine circulation, while certain key titles (Reader’s Digest, Time, and a few others) have been hard hit. An excellent article examining the intricacies of recent circulation changes was published in Circulation Management magazine in November, 2007.
Small and Literary Magazines/Journals
The category of Literary Magazines is defined by Wikipedia with its usual adequate if awkward styling: “A literary magazine is a periodical devoted to literature in a broad sense. Literary magazines usually publish short stories, poetry and essays along with literary criticism, book reviews, biographical profiles of authors, interviews and letters. Literary magazines are often called literary journals, or little magazines, which is not meant as a pejorative but instead as a contrast with larger commercially oriented magazines.”
The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) offers a more eloquent explanation, stating that it “serves one of the most active segments of American arts and culture: the independent publishers of exceptional fiction, poetry and prose. Literary magazines and presses accomplish the backstage work of American literature: discovering new writers; supporting mid-career writers; publishing the creative voices of communities underrepresented in the mainstream commercial culture…”
The CLMP makes the not surprising statement that “the number of literary magazines is a difficult one to pin down. A literary magazine may be a very ephemeral thing, publishing only once or twice, printing a handful of copies, and fading away before coming to the notice of any of the organizations, indexes, or directories that try to keep up with this world.
“The best we can do is approximate: there are approximately 600 active literary magazines in the United States. Active is defined as publishing at least once a year, for more than one year. There are perhaps another 400 to 700 magazines that publish irregularly and/or in miniscule quantities. These numbers do not include the many high school and undergraduate journals of writing, nor the burgeoning field of on-line magazines.”
Over in Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin, Madison features “the Little Magazines Collection with runs of more than 7,000 experimental English-language literary magazines (ca. 1900-the present),” including “a fairly constant average of 1,200 titles currently received,” albeit not just from U.S. publishers.
In Canada the quarterly journal Canadian Literature offers a Canadian Literary Magazines/Journals List with 58 listings.
Clearly these publications fall outside of many of the same economics and market forces of commercial and trade publications. Whether this means they have a brighter future as a result doesn’t appear to me to be a logical corollary.
There is another angle on circulation data, and it’s provided by Ulrich’s. By this company’s description, “Ulrich’s is the authoritative source of bibliographic and publisher information on more than 300,00 periodicals of all types – academic and scholarly journals, Open Access publications, peer-reviewed titles, popular magazines, newspapers, newsletters and more from around the world. It covers all subjects, and includes publications that are published regularly or irregularly and that are circulated free of charge or by paid subscription.” The Web site is now more comprehensive than the print edition.
Bowker is one of Ulrich’s sales agents. Bowker points out that “the 45th Edition of Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory (includes) more than 14,600 new serials as well as 5,270 titles which have ceased publication.”
The University of Texas Libraries informs that “in the 36th edition of Ulrich’s Directory of Periodicals, 9,586 titles had ceased or suspended.” That represents some 5% of the “regularly and irregularly issued serials” classified by Ulrich’s. Can we state that periodical publishing is in a constant state of churn?
Magazines in Canada
The magazine industry in Canada continues to grow at a healthy clip, having reached 1,282 titles by 2008, 41% more titles than in 1999. (I’ve not found comparable U.S. growth data…I’ve got an inquiry into Mr. Magazine.)
Source: Magazines Canada
The number are very impressive restated on a per-capita basis:
Advertising in Canadian magazines is also substantially stronger than in the U.S., based on latest industry Magazines Canada figures.
The Economics of Magazine Publishing
Here’s a clear and concise explanation of the economics of magazine publishing, written in April, 1988 by John Klingel and published in Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management, perhaps dated, but still relevant:
“The marginal profit on advertising is very high, whereas the marginal profit from the publishing product is extremely low. For every additional dollar of advertising, there are relatively low direct or incremental costs. Ad commissions might be 15 percent, and there are additional printing and postage costs, and perhaps some editorial costs if a constant ad:edit ratio is being maintained. But, in general, the incremental costs of advertising are extremely low. If ad costs average 20 percent of revenue for a publication, the mark-up could be described as 500 percent.
“Contrast that mark-up to subscription sales where a $12 subscription might carry printing, postage and fulfillment costs of $8. Here we have a 50 percent mark-up – and for many publications, that’s a lot. I’m familiar with publications that charge $12 and have service costs of $18, and a publication that charges $27 and costs $23 to fulfill.”
The State of the News Media 2004 (http://www.stateofthenewsmedia.org/narrative_magazines_economics.asp?cat=4&media=7) provides a plethora of additional statistics, more, I think, than in the 2007 version of the same Web publication.
I’m still trying to find a chart that illustrates clearly where all of these numbers fall. When I find it, I’ll add it to the site.
In the meantime, here’s a headline from a recent press release from the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB):
A quote from the text of this release:
“New York, NY (April 10, 2007)-Total magazine rate-card-reported advertising revenue for the first quarter of 2007 increased 6.9% compared to the same three-month period last year, closing at $5,273,215,997, according to Publishers Information Bureau (PIB). Ad pages totaled 52,154.49, up 1% from January through March, 2006.
“Total PIB revenue for the month of March 2007 increased 8.8% compared to last year, closing at $2,282,204,898. Ad pages totaled 22,388.48, up 2% from March 2006.”
So I guess everything’s OK?
What are we to make of this twaddle?
My interpretation is that the figures are extremely selective, representing members of the Publishers Information Bureau, but in no way representing the reality of magazine publishing as a whole. There are two ways to “prove” that magazines are doing just fine. One is to very carefully leave out those who are not. The other is for the survivors to up their ad rates, so that even if circulation is down, high-fashion companies and watchmakers will continue to pay grossly inflated rates for ad pages, in despair of other sources to waste their ad dollars.
Please look at these numbers, representing three magazines about as mainstream as it gets:
A very telling chart appears on the stateofthenewsmedia.org (although examining only the top three U.S. news magazines):
Both editorial and ad pages are plummeting; ad pages at a higher rate than editorial pages.
And we are to believe that all is well is magazine-land?
Magazines and the Internet
It’s an open question whether or not magazines or newspapers have suffered more in their attempts to find a home on the Internet. Both had access to one of the simplest forms of Web publishing around: just toss what’s on the printed page onto the screen, with or without graphics. Some newspapers and magazines have sought to augment articles when published on the Web, with interactive features and links to more in-depth information. (The Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) keeps track of many of these initiatives.)
But many of the efforts have been half-hearted. The most-common publishing method used by magazines for their websites still involves taking a shovel and loading the words onto one or more pages. Rather than trying to increase the value of their editorial content, most of their effort is directed towards trying to get more advertising crammed onto the same pages no matter how offensive it is in terms of appearance and its ability to interrupt the reader in his or her task of simply trying to read the article in front of them.
Some magazines are still coy about their Internet presence. Harper’s Magazine for years steadfastly refused to offer anything more than its famous Harper’s Index on the Internet (this has changed substantially in recent months). The New Yorker, on the other hand, after several years as a wallflower at the Web publishing party, now offers about a third of its new content each week on the Web. The choice of what gets offered continues to mystify the layman. I find that some weeks the only article that would move me to purchase the publication is available for free on the Web while other weeks it seems like every article but the interesting one(s) can be found on the Website. To its credit, The New Yorker makes a consistent effort to allow open access to their extremely well researched and well-written articles concerning current US politics, as well as a great many archival articles and reviews.
New Digital Formats for Magazines
The trek from print to electronic publication of magazines has been slow and awkward. For many years we were offered html versions of magazines, but often with severe limitations:
1. The html version missed some or all of the graphics of the print version.
2. The posting of the html version was often delayed, particularly by smaller publications (mainly because of a shortage of manpower and suitable technology).
3. Many publications were reluctant to offer current issues to non-subscribers.
Stage two in the progress to the electronic publication of print magazines (and to some extent crossing over with stage one) was to offer for download PDF versions of the actual files that were sent to the printer. This had some success, but in many cases publishers were concerned because it lacked any form of rights management, and in many cases proved difficult to build an additional revenue stream around the offering.
Starting about the year 2000 we saw the emergence of dedicated digital magazine formats. I don’t know exactly who got there first. But a March, 2001 article from paidContent.org (no longer available online) written by Tom Watson and Jason Chervokas was titled “Waiting for the Printless Magazine? Don’t Hold Your Breath.” It reflected a lot of my thinking at the time, akin to my views of eBooks: what exactly was the benefit to be derived by offering a new electronic format for magazines when current technology was doing the job just fine?
By September 2003, Digital Magazine News was launched online, and while sponsored by a single vendor, Qmags, has been a significant trade information source since. (It ceased publication in early 2007, but has resumed as of the September/October 2008 issue.) This current issue features a “First Look at PennWell’s 2008 Digital Survey: What’s Changed Since 2004?” It is based on a survey held for the past four years of the readers of PennWell‘s publications “who opt to receive our (45) B-to-B publications in digital magazine format.” The answer to “what’s changed since 2004″ is not much, with the exception found in the last chart:
Print takes quite a hit!
John Weir, principal of WeirMedia, a U.K.-based Web consultancy, offers a blog called “Digital Magazines: Everything you need to know about the next revolution in publishing. Digital magazines, emagazines and more.”
In May of 2008 The Gilbane Group made available for download a multi-client study called “Digital Magazine and Newspaper Editions: Growth, Trends, and Best Practices,” co-written by noted Gilbane analysts (and colleagues of mine) Steve Paxhia and Bill Rosenblatt. The well-researched data and numerous case studies make it plain that this is not some flash-in-the-pan phenomena, but a fast-growing aspect of both B-B and B-C magazine publishing today. Highly recommended reading, and at 135 pages, impossible to summarize here.
I now was convinced that my early call was wrong. I had the (slight chilly) comfort of the awareness that one learns so much more from being wrong than from being right!
The Leading Vendors of Digital Magazines
I cannot find a source for market share among the now over a dozen different vendors of digital magazines conversion and publications services, but two stand out from the crowd.
Texterity, a company with a long history in digital publishing, now focuses primarily on publishing magazines for the Web. I’ve been in correspondence with Texterity on behalf of a client and was offered the following description of its services:
Texterity’s Published Web Format (PWF) transforms the printed page into a vivid replica that retains crispness even at maximum zoom. Unlike other solutions, Texterity editions can be quickly searched, saved, or shared using a standard web browser (no plug-ins, software, or downloads required). Enhanced with multimedia, advertiser links, circulation tools, and social media connections, this highly integrated experience serves publishers and readers alike.
Publishers benefit from lower production costs, broader reach, new revenue streams, and eco-friendly alternatives. Readers enjoy instant access, portability, and personal empowerment.
Aside from its core technology, Texterity distinguishes itself corporately:
- Thought leadership and aggregate knowledge
Texterity offers a smart mix of technological expertise, publishing insight, and business acumen. With a track record of firsts – from its proprietary PWF solution to its mobile application for the iPhone and iPod touch – Texterity combines intelligence and flexibility with know-how and vision. Texterity is an active industry participant, often called upon to help educate and facilitate.
- Quality product that generates results
Fast, crisp production coupled with integrated circulation and advertising programs provide a top tier experience. Texterity’s white-label approach preserves brand integrity so publishers can build name recognition, loyalty, business and/or membership through their digital edition. Readers report an exceptionally high level of satisfaction with digital editions from Texterity.
- Partnering through consultation, execution, and support
Rather than sell an isolated service, Texterity provides a comprehensive program that addresses publisher needs from start to finish, while offering customization upon request. Texterity provides technical support, best practices training, report analysis, distribution assistance, and proven promotional strategies.
Services and innovations include:
- Subscriber management via e-mail and customer website authentication
- Real-time tracking and ABC/BPA audit-compliant reporting
- Indexed content visible to search engines including Google
- Electronic blow-ins that can’t be blocked
- “Look Inside the Magazine” for easy, controlled sampling
- “Instant First Issue Delivery” for improved customer service
- Lead Management System to distill prospects from whitepaper readers
- Digital media kits to support ad sales
- Power browsing and free digital companions for subscribers on www.coverleaf.com
- Annual digital reader survey in collaboration with BPA Worldwide
- Free digital demo with consultation
- Mobile access via iPhone or iPod touch
Founded in March, 2000, Zinio claimed last year to be “the recognized leader in digital publishing and marketing services. Why? Because we understand publishing, we know how to create new market and revenue opportunities for publishers and we give consumers more choice, convenience and accessibility than anyone else.
“Only Zinio offers publishers:
“A world without borders – The Zinio Global Network is the first global distribution network for magazines. For the first time, publishers can effectively market their titles across borders digitally and consumers can browse and purchase titles from around the world in one place, in the language and currency they prefer.
“Retail Expertise – Our online magazine newsstands are managed and merchandised to maximize subscriber conversion. We also generate targeted email to nearly one million people every month to strategically cross-sell our roster of titles.
“A complete suite of turnkey products and services – from customer acquisition, retention and cross-sell direct marketing programs to seamless production services, a robust e-commerce engine and extensive digital delivery, circulation and fulfillment services.
“Zinio by the numbers:
- 1,700+ magazine titles from 350 publishers
- 160+ textbook titles
- 40 million+ digital deliveries
- 5 million visits per quarter to our retail sites
- 3 million subscribers in most of the world’s countries
- Database of one million magazine buyers available for cross marketing
- Zinio sells 81% of the top 200 consumer magazines (print and digital) in the US”
An update currently on its website states: “Zinio currently sells more than 500,000 digital products and delivers over 20 million issues annually for its growing base of 3.5 million readers speaking different languages on behalf of hundreds of major publishers from around the world.”
Zinio commissioned a report from the Harrison group published last March which claims that (among a great many other things):
“Almost one-half (47 percent) of the respondents did not have print subscriptions of the magazine titles they purchased. Top factors influencing their purchasing digital instead of print mirror many of the key challenges facing the print magazine industry today, some of which include:
1. Instant access to content
2. The ability to save and easily reference past issues
3. Opportunity to read anytime/anywhere
4. Environmental awareness and proactive action”
Why Are Digital Magazine Formats Thriving?
In part keeping with Zinio’s study claims above, what has struck me as the overriding reason to subscribe to a digital magazine is timeliness. The challenge is not so pronounced in North America, but if you subscribe to an important journal and reside overseas, it can be important to your career to find the contents of the latest issue immediately online rather than waiting for the long trek of postal third-class (or whatever they are called today) publications to reach you home in Europe or Asia. “The ability to save and easily reference past issues” is generally available to most, if not all subscribers. “Environmental awareness,” is plainly rising on the worry radar of many readers. But timeliness: there’s no substitute.
From the publisher’s perspective there’s an undeniable advantage: ads appear with great fidelity as they would in the print edition, and the official circulation counters have now agreed to include these digital editions in circulation totals.
And so the format gains great currency, with the most recent surprise announcement being that The New Yorker is now featuring this subscription option.
If nothing else, the print ads are preserved.
Summary of the Future of Magazines
I stated at the beginning of this article that “while not as challenged as newspapers, consumer magazines in North America are clearly on the Internet hit list. For most periodicals, the long-term prognosis looks grim.”
As with all matters pertaining to the future of publishing, a grim prognosis can only be viewed through today’s lens. This article makes clear that the financial numbers are short of disastrous (and much influenced by the overall economic downturn) and also that magazines are constantly bestirring themselves to seek innovative solutions to their current dilemma.
It is not my plan to be reading magazines exclusively in digital formats in the years ahead. Nor is it my plan to invest in their operations during the same period.
1. Some of the broadest sources of general information on the magazine industry’s current state of affairs are:
- Magazine Publishers of America, now called The Association of Magazine Media: “Established in 1919, MPA represents 175 domestic magazine media companies with more than 900 titles, approximately 30 international companies and more than 100 associate members.”
- Magazines Canada: “Magazines Canada is Canada’s leading professional magazine industry association, representing over 300 of the country’s consumer titles.”
- The Professional Publishers Association, UK: The PPA “represents more than 200 companies, covering everything from consumer magazine publishers to business-to-business data and information providers and smaller independents.”
- The Audit Bureau of Circulations cover the U.S. and Canada. The ABC “is a forum of the world’s leading magazine and newspaper publishers, advertisers and advertising agencies. The organization provides credible, verified information essential to the media buying and selling process. ABC maintains the world’s foremost electronic database of audited-circulation information and an array of verified readership, subscriber demographics and online activity data. There are also similar bureaus in most larger countries.”
2. Magazine Blogs
There are a slew of magazine blogs that provide a ton of insight and data on the industry on a very timely basis. Here are a few:
(i) Industry veteran Bob Sacks, aka BoSacks, has a fine website and offers there a free subscription to his thrice a day newsletter which captures key articles on the magazine industry from diverse sources.
(iii) I WANT MEDIA is a Website focusing on diversified media news and resources. It provides quick access to media news and industry data, updated throughout the day. It also offers a comprehensive listing of media websites.
(iv) The best Canadian magazine blog I know of is called “Canadian Magazines,” offering “News, views and reviews of the Canadian magazine industry.” It’s thorough and insightful, whether you’re interested in just the Canadian market or have international concerns.
There are numerous others which you’ll find linked to at the sites above.
3. TheStateOfTheNewsMedia.org offers a broad change of informational charts surrounding the state of magazine publishing, with links to the base data.
A press release dated July 11, 2011 from PIB features this headline.
The Publishers Information Bureau (PIB), founded in 1947, is, by its own claim, “the premier source of consumer magazine advertising spending and related data… PIB is a membership organization, administered by Magazine Publishers of America, consisting of approximately 250 different magazine titles and newspaper-distributed magazines.” (The Magazine Publishers of America Web site claims “240 domestic publishing companies with approximately 1,400 titles.”)
Now, if there are 20,000 or more magazines in North America, is it “scientific” to rely on an agency representing 250 of them, even if these are most of the largest consumer magazines in North America? I feel naturally skeptical, but I’m not certain of the answer.
This industry is, in my mind, now infamous for telling us what it wants us to know, not what we actually want to know. It’s not the only industry following such opaque practices. But I sometimes I feel like I’m on the Titanic and the captain is saying: “Don’t worry: this ship is unsinkable.”
Anyway, here on the Titanic, the word from is was that things are looking better. Beyond the headline above, the press release informs that “During the second quarter of 2011, magazine PIB revenue… generat9ed) a +2.4% increase against the same period last year….This marks the fifth consecutive quarter that magazines have posted increases in both PIB ad revenues and pages, beginning with the second quarter of 2010.”
At the same time that revenue increase was generated through price increases, as second quarter total paid pages gained just +0.3%.
5. Selling Subscriptions: “For Youths, a Grim Tour on Magazine Crews”
As I note above, quoting Folio magazine, “The marginal profit on advertising is very high, whereas the marginal profit from the publishing product is extremely low.”
Over the years this has led to some very aggressive tactics from companies associated with magazine publishers to help sell subscriptions.
Publishers Clearing House was the most infamous of these companies, with its multi-million-copy mailings promising huge sweepstakes winnings to those who took out magazine subscriptions (by implication; of course one was entered in the draw regardless!). The company managed to fall into disrepute (I do not recall the exact causes, nor care to research them), and while they once were the major (or one of the major) sources of new subscribers many for consumer magazines, they no longer are. New organizations are filling the gap, as this article brutally illustrates. The lead:
“Two days after graduating from high school last June, Jonathan Pope left his home in Miamisburg, Ohio, to join a traveling magazine sales crew, thinking he would get to “talk to people, party at night and see the country.
“Over the next six months, he and about 20 other crew members crossed 10 states, peddling subscriptions door to door, 10 to 14 hours a day, six days a week. Sleeping three to a room in cheap motels, lowest seller on the floor, they survived some days on less than $10 in food money while their earnings were kept ‘on the books’ for later payment.”
6. The Transformation of IDG
Colin Crawford was on “IDG’s Management Team as VP Business Development with a focus on new business initiatives, especially in the online space taking on the newly created position of SVP Online, IDG Communications in late 2005.”
In this blog he explains why IDG, founded by the near-legendary Pat McGovern, long an enormously successfully and much-admired print magazine publisher, has changed to a company that now defines itself “as a web centric information company complemented by expos, events and print publications.”
As he explains: “In the US, our online revenue now accounts for over 35% of our total US publishing revenues. Next year, for many brands online revenues will be greater than print revenues, if fact they already are at some of our key brands and by 2009 — approximately 50% of IDG’s US revenues will come from online.”