It certainly wasn’t the best year for the magazine industry, with ad budgets dropping and logistical nightmares around every corner. Even so, 60 new print titles debuted in 2020. While that’s down from the year before, Q3 and Q4 numbers speak to the industry’s innovation and resilience.
“The number of new print magazines launched in the US dropped by more than half in 2020 to 60, compared to 139 a year earlier,” writes Keith J. Kelly in the NY Post. “But in a surprise move,” Kelly continues, “the pace of new launches accelerated in the second half of the year with food, home and fitness titles proving the most popular.”
Kelly is referring to data provided by Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, who has been tracking new US title launches since 1978.
“Considering all the problems with the pandemic I think it shows there was still a lot of interest and vitality in magazines,” Husni said. “It’s almost a miracle that there were 60 new launches.”
We’ve certainly seen existing titles have some surprising success this year, as subscriptions surged and local newsstands became anchors to their locked-down communities. Hearst Magazine’s President Debi Chirichella recently told Husni “print is an important component of our strategy and our print editions really do remain the flagship of each brand.” Meanwhile, Trusted Media Brands’s Bonnie Kintzer said, “… our business has done really well during the pandemic, which I know is an amazing thing to hear.” Harvard Business Review even proclaimed they were “born for times like these.”
Conde Nast seems to be the outlier among big names launching new print titles, logging only digital launches last year. (As Kelly explains, Husni only counts it as a launch if it makes it into print.)
Overall the new titles are less dependent on advertising revenue, with higher cover prices. (Even Hearst admits their “chicken nugget” math isn’t a long term solution with its rock-bottom subscription pricing.) Editorially, the content runs heavily toward home, food and family, in keeping with what we learned about passion-based content last year.
“There were plenty of independent launches as well,” Kelly continues. “Marvin Jarrett, who earlier in his career was a co-founder of edgy titles Ray Gun and Nylon, remerged with a new music mag simply titled Marvin. The quarterly debuted with Porsche as its sole advertiser and a $30 cover price, making it the most expensive launch of the year. Its oversized 13″ by 19″ format also made it the largest.”
All in all, the year it might have been didn’t materialize for the magazine industry, thanks to publishers who listened to the needs of their audience, and to the readers who remain passionate about the print magazine experience.