Can Print Publishers Learn Something From Pornography?

So I was checking out the skin mags at the newsstand the other day. Hey, it’s part of my job! And I didn’t actually open any of them—honest! But I did notice something interesting.

As we all know, the good ol’-fashioned porn trade has fallen on hard times, what with all the competition from a little thing called the Internet. Here in Philadelphia, the last of the city’s XXX theaters closed late last year. Long considered a sore spot along a major downtown thoroughfare, the theater is slated to be replaced by—of all things—condos and cafes. Just another stake in the heart to those pining for that “Taxi Driver”-“French Connection” early-’70s vibe.

Things are no better for “gentleman’s” magazine publishers like Playboy Enterprises, Inc., Larry Flynt Publications and FriendFinder Networks (publisher of Penthouse). Surprisingly, on the day I scoped it out, Hustler was not even on the magazine rack, which was mostly made up of titles I’d never heard of like Cheri, Club and High Society. Two Playboy special editions were advertised as final issues. A lower rack with the familiar black privacy bar only held a couple of porno mags; it was mostly filled with the likes of Details, GQ and Men’s Journal.

All the sex magazines were wrapped in plastic and most were advertising DVDs inside. It seems these magazines won’t sell without video—perhaps the only way to compete with multimedia websites. There may be a few reasons for this. DVDs provide permanence beyond what is out there on the Web. With increasing monitoring of online activity, it’s a way to avoid leaving digital footprints. As for the value proposition, these magazines claim their ride-alongs carry a value up to $70, which may or may not be true but surely sounds good to consumers looking for the best deal.

Though it seems like a throwback to the ’90s, other magazine publishers might consider reintroducing CDs and DVDs occasionally—especially in the enthusiast space, highly pictorial magazines like National Geographic (which of course has robust video production capabilities) and special collector’s editions. One of the arguments for print is that it is a non-ephemeral object and keepsake. We all know how much people love video. If we’re going to play around with e-ink, augmented reality and digital watermarks in order to spice up print editions, maybe the occasional inclusion of hard-copy multimedia still makes sense.

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  • michael

    Jim you’re close…but not hitting the mark fully.

    Publishers have to create something that is addictive as porn within the pages of their magazine…there are lots of ways to do this…but most small publishers can’t afford to throw in a DVD – their advertisers might be willing to pay for it, but then that hits the ad budget…

    I’ve been accused of publishing "skate porn" for years.
    It’s title I wear proudly
    michael brooke
    concrete wave magazine

  • publishingnerd

    The UK does a lot of supplements; it’s been very successful there for years.

  • Dan Eldridge

    Jim, publishingnerd pointed out the first thing that came to my mind after reading this: The fantastic supplements and "extras" you find with magazines and newspapers in the UK. I don’t actually know much about why that particular business model has been so successful and long-lived — or rather, why it’s been so successful in the UK but hasn’t been aped here in the U.S.

    Incredibly (to me, anyway), a lot of UK magazine publishers will polybag their magazines and include a free paperback book, which just seems wild to me. I seem to remember also seeing polybagged magazines with things like T-shirts and tote bags in them. I’ve seen Sunday editions of daily newspapers in the UK polybagged with free paperbacks. Anyway ideas as to why this sort of thing was never really tried here?

  • Jay

    One of the main drawcards of a number of photography magazines we buy is their inclusion of CD tutorials about Photoshop, understanding your DSLR, taking better portraits, landscapes, macros, architectural and trick shots. I’m sure we’d think twice before buying some of these mags without the CD ‘freebies as they’re not exactly cheap purchases.