Is New York Publishing On the Ropes?

An unexpected debate around Publishing Executive blogger Ron Matejko’s recent post on the possible sale of Time Inc. concerned the location of Matejko’s publishing concern, MVP Media. Some readers felt that, being located in Arizona, Matejko was not qualified to comment on the digital strategy of a New York publisher.

Whatever you think of the merits of this debate, it does point to a very real phenomenon—the cultural divide between New York publishers and their brethren elsewhere in the U.S. In a rapidly changing market that favors agile operators and out-of-the-box thinking, do long-ingrained habits and biases put the likes of Time Inc., Hearst and Conde Nast at a disadvantage?

Some recent developments suggest it might. An article in today’s Wall Street Journal argues Des Moines, Iowa-based Meredith Publishing, reportedly in talks to combine its portfolio with most of Time Inc.’s magazines in a spun-off company, is better positioned to maintain healthy growth in the magazine sector. The culture gap between Meredith and Time Inc. was made apparent two years ago when Jack Griffin, brought over from Meredith to head Time Inc., was fired as CEO after only six months. (The official line was that management styles did not “mesh.”) Meredith, driven by a “no-nonsense,” “team-oriented” culture, has been more proactive than many of its peers in becoming a diversified media company and acquiring brands in its core markets, the Journal reports.

Looking beyond Meredith, it’s worth noting that many feel the future of magazines is in niche markets—traditionally the bailiwick of heartland publishers like F+W Media, Ogden Publications, Inc. and Kalmbach Publishing, all of whom have seen healthy growth in recent years. In 2010, Kalmbach acquired New York-based Discover magazine, and by 2012 had successfully transferred all editorial and design operations from the Big Apple to Waukesha, Wis.

So, is New York publishing on the ropes? As many have pointed out in recent days, Time Inc. still makes an awful lot of money. Hearst has proven many times over that it understands the need to diversity operations, buying ad agencies, investing in digital platforms and acquiring stakes in media start-ups. The problem for consumer magazine publishers has been slowing growth, which displeases investors. Lay-offs and shuttered brands have been much in the news in recent years as the largest companies seek to set a new course, and sometimes it appears that younger, smaller, digital-native or special-interest-focused companies are running rings around the big boys.

Perhaps, as one Matejko reader suggests, large, legacy-print publishing concerns are fated to go the way of Polaroid. If so, I’ll bet many of the media companies that rise from the ashes will still have their feet planted firmly in Manhattan.

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  • BoSacks

    The whole dialog depends on how you define publishing. In the 21st century publishing is no longer what it was, nor is it road-blocked any longer by a city that has most of the advertising agencies. We are a global business now and location is increasingly irrelevant.

    Speaking for myself, I have a global publishing network reaching 16,000 readers every day. I will admit that it started when I was employed by one of the major giants in the Big Apple. But the rest that happened is independent of any geography. And that is the key to any successful publishing house. In an increasingly niche driven editorial world, it doesn’t really matter where you are so long as you maintain addicted readership. Reiman Publications, which was based in Wisconsin, comes to mind. It was reported in 2003 that one out of every eight households in the United States subscribed to a Reiman magazine.

    Meredith is one of the largest and most successful publishers in the country and has been located in Des Moines for a hundred years quite happily.
    All constraints of what publishing was, is being redefined every day. You have just as much of a chance of creating a new reading empire in Arizona as you do in New York City, and with rents the way they are, a case can be made that your chances of success are improved outside of the city

  • 14 the claw

    This may be a little off the point, but I’ve been meaning to say this somewhere for awhile now. I am the publisher of a niche market local magazine (print only except for a pretty active social media presence). We print about 14,000 copies. We are still doing well. One thing that I think is overstated is the death of hard copy publications like ours. I have never gone into a coffee shop or gathering place the day our mag comes out and not found lots of people reading it avidly. Bring a stack of copies into a meeting and everyone dives in. You can challenge the age demographic perhaps, but for awhile longer print still has drawing power. Of course, this is mere anecdote, but I wanted to put it out there.

  • DeadTreeEdition

    Thanks, Jim, for pointing out that only New Yorkers have the sophistication to comment on the strategy of New York publishers. Dead Tree Edition has issued an apology for repeatedly violating this rule: