Whether Print Magazines Are Dead Or Alive Depends on Your Business Model
Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "There are no facts, only interpretations." That comes mighty close to our understanding of the magazine industry today, at least when it comes to the various reports we constantly read on the subject. How many headlines have you seen that report that "Print is dead" or "Print is alive" or "Print is vibrant" and back to "Print is obsolete"? These types of headlines appear relentlessly every day. It's enough to make a grown man cry, and indeed some do.
So, what does it mean? Can both concepts, death and vibrancy be correct? The obvious answer is yes. It's all a matter of perspective. Falling back on another famous yet underappreciated quote from the prophet George Carlin, "Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that's twice as big as it needs to be."
And there you have it. The expectations and the glass that hold the print industry need to be adjusted to a smaller container to fit the current conditions we work in. Based on all relevant data that glass needs to be at least half the size it was ten years ago, as we print, mail and engage in half the advertising we once owned and cherished. I offer this perspective because the only way to keep your sanity is to question the things that we have long taken for granted.
Let's keep this conversation focused on perspective. The magazine Monocle is constantly held up as an example of current printing success. For the record Monocle currently has a circulation of 81,504 copies and counts 18,300 subscribers.
That is fine and wonderful if the glass that holds the Monocle expectations is a circulation that is under 100,000. Don't get me wrong, there are thousands of great titles that survive with similar and even much lower circulations. I say "relative" because the major magazines have ten times those numbers.
In England, the top five largest circ magazines are:
The National Trust Magazine - 2,043,876,
Asda Magazine - 1,983,433
Tesco Magazine - 1,935,680
TV Choice - 1,374,813
Morrisons Magazine - 1,333,787.
In the U.S. the Top magazines in regard to circulation are:
AARP The Magazine - 23,144,225
AARP Bulletin - 22,700,94
Costco Connection - 8,740,785
Better Homes and Gardens - 7,645,364
Game Informer - 6,353,075
So, success and relativity are contingent upon the size of the glass. Obviously, Monocle should not be viewed in the same container as Better Homes and Gardens, because the success of one is irrelevant in numbers when compared with the other.
Does anyone dispute that print advertising is in an ongoing, major decline? Does anyone suggest that that American magazine ad revenues did not fall 9% this year to $8.5 billion?
I have made the case before that small publishers and large publishers are not even in the same industry anymore. So, when I read this article from Digiday that proposed that high-end digital publishers discovered a new platform - print - I have to just shake my head in wonder. The numbers that these high-end digital publishers represent are at best insignificant when compared to the industry as a whole.
And yet, print's sustainability will be found in smaller circulation titles that can cross the divide and move from a commodity publication to a must-have, addicting, luxury product. To those petite titles the overall industry declines are meaningless. Those statistics, however accurate and depressing, are also irrelevant to your title. The only meaningful business statistic is your own title's sustainability and on-going profits.
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (Media-Ideas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.