Media Schizophrenia in the Time of Great Realignment
The publishing business is now in the greatest period of media transformation and transcendence in the history of communication. We have reached a point where media companies have the ability to deliver to customers exactly what they want, when they want it, anywhere on the planet. The old, static, traditional media methods of communication and distribution are being shoved aside by dynamic interchanges. The former systems of analog delivery of information, news, music, movies, reading, or even interpersonal communication, are now bordering on the archaic.
Although it can be broken into smaller sections, the magazine industry is usually considered to consist of three identifiable groups. The most visible are the large multi-billion dollar publishing houses with multiple titles, all of which have circulations in the millions and revenues in the billions. Then there are the middle magazine publishers, who for the most part are fairly large multi-title publishers of special interest magazines with circulations in the hundreds of thousands and revenues in the millions. Lastly there are the smaller publishers with modest revenues and circulations ranging from 25,000 to 100,000. Here the diversity of subject matter can be astonishing.
None of these companies are cookie cutters, not even the big guys. On close examination they bear very little resemblance to each other. Here magazines like The Watchtower (with a 42 million monthly circulation) and AARP The Magazine (at over 22 million monthly circulation) come to mind. Does anyone think that these titles have a similar business plan or distribution methodology as Condé Nast, Hearst, or Time Inc.? Are we even in the same business? And that is my inquiry for this essay. What is our business and how is it defined? Are we all in the Magazine Media Business?
Until we have a clear definition I am inclined to think we are becoming more a part of the industries we cover and less about being part of a magazine media industry. What we in magazine media have in common is that we are information distributers. Most magazines now have a digital component, and increasingly some publishing houses are distributing their products solely on the web without any physical product at all. Some of that distribution is for profit and some is for promotion of an idea or an ideal. Yet, while the physical products may look much the same, the content is always decidedly unique.