Guest Columnist: It's the Publishing Model—Not Print—That's Dead
In America, we followed a system that depended on circulation revenues until World War II. After we won that war, we gained a sense of entitlement. We became the world’s leaders, and our industries exploded and were looking for outlets to promote their products. A new publishing model was created. Advertisers picked up the bill for the magazine, and readers-turned-into-numbers paid very little for the content (not even the price of its printing). Things were great until TV came along and stole some of those ad revenues. And then the economic meltdown of September 2008 arrived. It caught everyone by surprise and put the final nail in the coffin of the publishing model as we knew it. It is over. Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to restart your engines. Did I say restart? Well, I meant that you must rebuild--- your engines first before you can restart them.
Print is not dead—its publishing model is. Success is not measured by ad pages anymore, nor by counting customers and delivering them on a silver platter to the advertiser. Success needs to be measured by finding customers who count and charging them for the content of the publication. You may say, “But there is so much free content on the Web, so why would people pay for our content?” Try telling that to the folks at Consumer Reports, Highlights for Children, Cook’s Illustrated (all with circulations of more than 1 million, some much more). They do not accept any advertising, and they charge premium prices for their content. In fact, a man by the name of Roy Reiman established his whole empire of Reiman Publications (now owned by Reader’s Digest) without selling a single ad. His empire was built on customers who count (paying readers) rather than counting customers (although he was able to do that, too, to the tune of 5 million customers for a single magazine: A Taste of Home).
Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D. is the founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media. He is also Professor and Hederman Lecturer at the School of Journalism. As Mr. Magazine™ he engages in media consulting and research for the magazine media and publishing industry.