The View From The Tree: A Tale of Two Bit.lys
Are these the best of times or the worst of times to be in the magazine business? It depends upon whom you ask. And it depends upon what exactly you mean by "the magazine business."
Consider two recent and at first glance diametrically opposed statements about the business from insiders:
From UK blogger "Private Fraser" (http://bit.ly/11gpZXS): "Compare today's circulation of nearly any magazine with 2008 and see how far they have fallen; compare the balance sheets of nearly any publishing company over the same period and scratch your head at what has happened to those profits; and particularly compare the number of people who are employed in our business and wonder whether there will be anyone left in five years' time."
And from Mary Berner, head of the Association of Magazine Media, a.k.a. the MPA (http://bit.ly/10daQRG): "There has never been a better time to be in the business of Magazine Branded Media. Sure, it is a time of transition, but if you ignore the pundits and the potshots and focus on the very real strengths of the industry, then you'll be able to see why this is true."
So Who's Right?
As a fellow cynic, my heart is with Private Fraser. Plus, as a "production and distribution guy," I've seen more than my share of talented colleagues who've been downsized out of the industry, declining newsstand draws and sales, and political shenanigans that hamstring our industry's major distribution channel, the U.S. Postal Service.
Still, things don't look as bad as they did a few years ago. The downsizing seems to have slowed, and some publishers are even adding employees. Sure, some titles are shrinking or closing down, but that happens in all markets. The demise of Newsweek gets the press coverage and lamentations about the death of weekly news magazines. No one mentions that Bloomberg BusinessWeek is thriving after a near-death experience and that The Economist is still methodically churning out money.