The Facts Behind the Magazine Circulation Figures
Before I respond to Samir Husni's blog posting, I feel I have to preface this extremely serious, on-going discussion and reiterate for the record my consistent position on magazines.
I believe that print will survive and be very profitable for many publishers for several generations. I believe that there will literally be billions of dollars of print advertising revenue for the print industry going out as far as 2020. In fact, I'll give you an exact anticipated figure. I suggest there will be in the range of 10 to 12 billion dollars of print revenue still remaining for the periodical business seven years from now.
According to Samir's dialog , I should be jumping for joy, based on the numbers released, but actually I am not. Our industries revenue number has literally plunged since 2007 when advertising print revenue was $47 Billion. Yes, we are alive, but greatly diminished. Is there another interpretation that I am missing? The joy as I see it, if there is any with statistics like those that continue to be released, is the fact that in the same time period that publishers' print revenue has decreased, their digital revenue has increased. The digital revenue increases are not at all the same pace as the print declines yet, but they are at least headed consistently north.
In yesterday's report, newsstand sales of consumer magazines in the US fell 10% in the first half of the year from a year earlier, while paid subscriptions eased their losses (we suck less, is the term I have heard) and digital editions continued to grow, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Total circulation, which includes paid subscriptions, free copies and newsstand sales, was down 1%.
This report parallels my 2007 prognostication for 2020. By 2020 digital revenue will be over 60% of the revenue pie putting the industry in the range of 32 to 35 billion total dollars. Let me put that into some perspective. Search-advertising giant Google is forecast to report nearly $78 billion this year, mostly from digital ads. So one new company today makes more than double what our entire industry might make in 2020. And, yes, many of those dollars were once our dollars. Regardless, our business will survive and be profitable - very profitable for many - but never, ever like it was.
In response to Samir's discussion of the numbers, I say this. Amputation wouldn't be anyone's first choice, but sometimes it is necessary to remove a faulty limb, kidney, or other usually happy body part in order to keep the rest of the body alive. If these losses happen over an extended period of time, some pundits will have you rejoice - look at the bright side, you are still living. And yes, under those cases I would agree, life is precious and to continue on the planet with the loss of an arm or foot or a kidney isn't the worst thing that can happen. But if this loss of parts continues, there will be a point where the body can no longer sustain itself and function. That is a sad statement but a true statement.
I bring this uber-sober conversation up in response to my friend Samir Husni's posting about the health of our industry and that some titles are rejoicing by the numbers. Yes, some magazines are doing well, but the form as a whole is declining and loosing vital parts left and right. At what point will the pundits of panacea recognize that a loss of 50% of the body isn't healthy. Oh yes, that's right, it is pointed out below that the 50% loss of the newsstand only represents the newsstand portion of our business and that newsstand is only 10% of the whole industry. So in that theory, loosing 50% of the visible body isn't a problem? If the idea is that we can continue to survive being invisible to public, I disagree completely. (We must fix the newsstand, and some of that can be done. I will address that point in another editorial.)
That leaves us with the subscription part of our physique, the 90%, which has lost 18% overall in the last 5 years. All these trends are on-going. Subscriptions and newsstand are sliding dramatically. These are facts and not things I rejoice in. I am indeed happy for those that survive and thrive, and many will. But whitewashing the truth with a few successful titles that only currently are doing well is not a plan for survival. In fact I'll take that one step further - enthusiasm alone is not a good business model. You actually need consistent revenue growth in both product sales and revenue dollars earned to survive.
So, there you have it, my observation of the facts. I remain optimistic for the future of the print world as detailed above, and I believe many will continue to make billions and many will continue to start new print titles, but publishing won't be as it was or currently is, and the stats, not the opinions, suggest that is the undeniable truth.