It was quite a year to be in publishing. Or as D. Eadward Tree writes in Publishing Executive, “What a crazy, up-and-down year this has been in publishing!”
The always interesting (and often prescient) Tree points out three pairs of phrases that encapsulate significant trends in magazine publishing this year – while clearly pointing out what a mixed bag 2018 has been.
1&2. They Love Us / They Don’t Love Us Anymore
The love is coming from the billionaire set, as we continue to see Bezos-style investments in major print media, as Tree notes.
“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),” Tree explains.
At the same time, some of the industry’s key vendors – notably paper mills and the USPS – seemed to turn a deaf ear to the needs of publishers: USPS with ongoing rate hikes that hurt publishers; and the paper industry by converting so much of their production to other products, creating a dearth of paper for magazine printing.
3&4. Print’s Up / Print’s Down
For some mass market titles, ad revenue continues to be a problem.
“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,” Tree writes, also noting Calvin Klein’s move away from print ads.
Then there were the newsstand troubles: “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.,” Tree continues.
Yet Meredith reports 30% growth of their MNI Targeted Media inserts and cover wraps, and regional magazines are doing fine – especially luxury regionals, which are continue to feel the love. “And there’s no shortage of magazine launches from scrappy niche publishers,” Tree notes.
5&6. Shrinking Giants / a Growing Third
“The duopoly that was sucking up virtually all of the growth in digital advertising no longer seems so invincible,” Tree writes. “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.”
Indeed, this year we saw Meredith and other publishers challenging the duopoly and pivoting to paid content as they again view themselves as valid ad platforms. At the same time, there’s a new behemoth in the ad game.
“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,” he explains.
Up, down, pivot toward, pivot away – at the end of the year it comes down to the relationship between the publisher and its audience. Whether you’re appealing to your ad partners, or directly to your readers, the real secret to ending up on the far side of the profitability gap this year was faithful attention to your audience and what they need.