6 Phrases that Sum Up 2018 in Publishing
What a crazy, up-and-down year this has been in publishing!
One minute, the president of the United States is calling us the enemy of the people, and then the next minute we learn that a major magazine publisher was paying to prevent embarrassing stories about the President from being published.
Some publishers were so busy pivoting to video, then pivoting to paywalls, then pivoting to some other shiny object that they seemed to be going in circles.
With each odd development during 2018, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. But sometimes, instead of a single shoe, it seemed that the entire contents of Imelda Marcos’s closet were spilling out.
Here are six trends, three pairs of opposites, that sum up publishing in 2018:
They love us. Billionaires, that is.
Forget the yacht and the Lamborghini. These days, the ultimate symbol of joining the ranks of the ultrawealthy is owning a famous publication.
In the past year, Marc and Lynne Benioff got TIME, Charoen Phokkaphan bought Fortune, Laurene Powell Jobs added Sunday Magazine to her collection, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong took over The Los Angeles Times, and we learned that Donald Trump owned the National Enquirer (sort of).
They don’t love us anymore. Our major vendors, that is.
Paper machines that used to serve our industry have been converted to making boxes, labels, pulp for diapers, and other products – so much that there’s been an extreme shortage of magazine-quality paper most of the year.
Postal officials, who a few years ago were calling magazines “the anchor of the mailbox,” are wheedling any way they can to slap us with big rate increases.
And a lot of the printing companies that used to serve magazine publishers either got bought by rivals or are scrambling to remake themselves into not-just-publication printers. But at least the largest magazine printer (Quad/Graphics) is no longer in litigation with the largest magazine publisher (Meredith).
Print’s demise: A 24% drop in ad revenue doomed Glamour, once known as Conde Nast’s cash cow, to bookazine-only territory. Other iconic titles that hit the skids include Redbook, Seventeen, Penthouse, and Interview.
Calvin Klein, once a major magazine advertiser, is going all “Nothing gets between me and my pixels,” shifting its marketing money to digital.
The downward-spiraling newsstand system reached new lows, with the wholesaler representing 70% of sales trying to hit up major publishers for a cash investment and then being sold a few months later -- to the company that owns financially, legally, and ethically challenged American Media, Inc.
Print’s rise: It’s been a tough year of declining traffic for digital-native publishers, especially for those that got burned by the “pivot-to-video” craze. But industry reports indicate that visitors to sites associated with “magazine media” are on the rise. Such old-school titles as The New Yorker, TIME, and Elle (with its personalized Kim Kardashian messages) showed how printed covers can be leveraged for online buzz and engagement.
The entry into the U.S. of the Adwanted automated marketplace for offline ads, in conjunction with a major trade association, BPA, holds out hope that we’ll finally modernize the byzantine systems for buying print ads.
Meredith is touting 30% growth at MNI Targeted Media, which sells geo- and demo-targeted inserts and cover wraps for major consumer magazines – titles that for the most part are probably facing declining demand for traditional national ads. Regional magazines report that they’re doing just fine, apparently benefiting from the shrinking footprint of local newspapers. And there’s no shortage of magazine launches from scrappy niche publishers.
Shrinking giants: The duopoly that was sucking up virtually all of the growth in digital advertising no longer seems so invincible. Facebook’s numerous scandals and policy changes have scared off advertisers concerned about brand safety and made it less of a force in driving readers to publishers’ web sites.
Advertising commentator Bob Hoffman, AKA The Ad Contrarian, summed up the social giant’s reputation troubles: “If you assume that every time [Mark] Zuckerberg opens his mouth a lie is born, you won't be far from reality."
Google also showed its vulnerability, finally admitting that Google+ was an unfixable failure.
Publishers are getting better at doing what the duopoly doesn’t, such as selling programmatic-direct campaigns and building out their native-advertising offerings. And the duopoly also doesn’t seem so big now that there’s a . . .
Third giant: Can you say “triopoly”?
Amazon is a late entry to the network-advertising business, but it seems to be gaining share rapidly. Its ability to target ads based on what people buy, rather than what people search for, as Google does, makes it a major threat to the duopoly.
The jury is still out on whether Amazon will end up being a friend or foe, or both, to publishers.