Jammed Printers, First-Party Data Hiccups & More Publishing Predictions for 2020
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that 2020 will see more magazine closures and more experiments with reader paywalls. Here are eight, or maybe nine, not quite so obvious publishing predictions that will help you prepare for the year ahead:
A glut of magazine-quality paper has recently pushed prices down a bit, so shortages may seem a long way off.
The problem is that, anticipating continuing declines in demand, mills are planning to convert several machines to make other types of products. That’s likely to cause abrupt decreases and disruptions in supply.
We won’t see the kind of severe, across-the-board shortages of 2018 that had publishers scrambling to get whatever paper they could. But there may come a time this year when you can’t get exactly what you want when you want it.
Sometime(s) this year, you will read about a hot trend or a cool thing another publisher is doing and immediately want to jump on the bandwagon.
When that happens, remember this prediction: There will continue to be almost no correlation between the amount of hype a publisher generates and the amount of profit it earns. Serving your readers, not following the herd, will still be the key to publishing success.
You’re Doing It All Wrong
Also this year, some pundit or consultant will make a statement about what publishers should be doing that runs completely counter to your organization’s strategy. Relax, it’s probably the same guy (It’s always guys, right?) who breathlessly predicted that blockchain would revolutionize publishing during 2019.
Meredith has hit on a brilliant way to save a magazine that’s weighted down by unprofitable subscriptions:
- Kill it, switching the subscriptions to other titles.
- Bring it back as a “zombie” – with occasional glossy, high-priced bookazines but no defined frequency or subscriptions.
- If the special issues do well, start offering subscriptions at a much higher price than in the past.
In the past two months, Meredith has announced that it’s bringing Coastal Living and Cooking Light back from the undead. The publisher also cut the frequency of Rachael Ray Every Day and turned it into a premium quarterly with the new name Rachael Ray In Season. This is a manifestation of a broader trend that will continue sweeping through the consumer magazine industry this year in both the print and digital realms – a shift from ad revenue to readers as the primary source of revenue.
For magazines, the trend means higher subscription and newsstand prices, smaller subscription lists, reduced frequency, and higher page counts. And maybe more zombies coming back to life.
A Bumpy Path
Everyone seems to have gotten the memo about first-party data being the path to future publishing success. But hardly anyone seems to be clear on exactly what kind of data to collect and how to turn it into profitable products.
It’s an audience-development issue, a tech issue, a data issue, and a sales issue. Publishers have a history of struggling with complex projects that cross so many silos and disciplines.
Expect a lot more learning and coordinating than monetizing on the first-party data front this year.
A year ago, many publishers feared the disruptions that would result from the planned merger of the two biggest magazine printers. We got plenty of disruption, but not in the way we expected.
Rather than waiting for the LSC Communications-Quad deal to go through, many magazines switched their printing to the few other printers that could handle large-circulation publications.
After being stuck in a pre-merger holding pattern for nearly a year, heavily indebted LSC was left in a weakened state when the deal fell apart in July. Its stock price has recently been hovering around 20 cents a share, barely 2% of what it was worth early last year. And the company recently announced plans to close three magazine and catalog printing plants.
So getting a good deal on printing this year may be challenging for publishers that face a choice of Quad, a shaky LSC, or smaller printers that have little available capacity.
Return to Sender
There will be warnings, proposals, and counterproposals about the dire financial state of the U.S. magazine industry’s largest vendor – the U.S. Postal Service. But nothing will actually happen, except that your publication’s postal rates will rise about 2% a year from now.
Any attempts at major change will be tied up on Capitol Hill or in the courts.
Nothing but the Truth
This impeachment/election year, people are likely to hear more lies and half-truths, read about more climate-related disasters, and see more promotional messages masquerading as “content” than ever. That will create opportunities for trustworthy publishers that provide reliable information not tainted by political agendas or commercial considerations.
Related story: Zombies, Mutants & Resurrection: Magazine Publishing in 2019