When Saturday Evening Post changed the direction of their editorial mission in the late ‘50s, the results were fast and profound.
“A change in editorial mission can kill even the most successful titles, as pointed out in The Curtis Caper by Joseph Goulden,” writes John Morthanos in Publishing Executive.
“In this book, Goulden explores the decision of the Curtis Publishing Company to change The Saturday Evening Post’s editorial direction and format from family-friendly to political in the late 1950s,” he continues. “In 1964, the company recorded a loss for the first time in over 70 years. By 1969, The Saturday Evening Post, the last of the Curtis Publishing properties, closed its doors.
Morthanos points out the critical error the publisher made: they veered away from the mission that brought the title initial success. That mission was reflected in all aspects of the magazine, from cover art to titles to editorial content.
They aren’t alone; he cites other examples both past and recent that made changes editorial changes that weren’t in keeping with their mission, with unhappy results.
Yes, times change, and publishers need to be aware of those changes to stay relevant. But in the process, they need to address the changes in their current audience in such a way that the original mission remains intact. To do otherwise risks alienating the very readers who made you a success in the first place.
“Logically the answer is, if your editorial mission is to deliver a message that brings together those that love and want to learn more about a hobby, a sport, or a lifestyle, deliver that message,” writes John Morthanos.
It’s especially important to be able to convey your mission front and center for newsstand sales, Morthanos explains. “It’s easier to sell the editorial mission to potential subscribers, whether it’s on a bind-in card, a website, or via a subscription agent,” he explains.
“The average shopper in Barnes & Noble or Wal-Mart or Kroger’s is not a Ph.D. If they want to buy a craft magazine — let’s say knitting — they are buying the magazine for creative ideas and designs they can duplicate. They are not buying the knitting magazine to learn how wool is made, the DNA differences of sheep, and 101 uses of lanolin. I can assure you that a knitting magazine offering 101 new patterns and a guide to making beautiful baby gifts will sell better on the typical newsstand than a more technical cover,” he continues.
It’s a good warning for all publishers, to not only know your mission but be able to quickly, succinctly and consistently convey it on the cover. Then, you’ve got to have the editorial chops to back it up, issue after issue.