Anyone working in or around the magazine industry knows one thing for certain: Everyone’s got an opinion. Prognostications on the print magazine industry range from doom and gloom to nothing but sunshine and moonbeams.
If you’re in the business of print magazines, like we are, you don’t have the luxury of choosing one position or the other. Common business sense requires us to critically examine what’s really going on. Is the print magazine industry in danger of collapse? Let’s take a closer look.
Roy Stevenson is a travel magazine writer and industry coach, so he’s deeply in touch with the realities of his market niche.
“These naysayers will tell anyone within earshot that the Internet has completely overtaken the print industry,” Stevenson writes on his travel writing site PitchTravelWrite. “One prominent travel blogger even predicted that by the year 2020 print magazines would cease to exist! Naturally, as a print media freelance writer I feel more than a little concern when I hear these gloomy predictions,” he continues.
So he took a deeper look at what’s going on in the industry, in his niche and the larger print market in general, to uncover the truth. What he found was, in his words, both enlightening and encouraging.
Let’s break down some of the information he uncovered, and some of our own.
The Enlightening Data about Print Magazines
The first encouraging news Stevenson reports is that new title launches outnumber closures by a wide margin, based on Mediafinder.com stats, a big reversal from the situation in 2009.
While new launch numbers are down, so are folding rates, meaning that the ones that are currently being published are surviving past that critical 3-year mark. (New launches, based on industry averages, have less than a 20% chance of surviving past that point.)
Let’s put this into perspective, looking at launches and closures compared to the overall number of magazines in the U.S. You can see from the data below from Statista, the overall number of magazines is staying fairly steady over the last few years and is significantly higher than it was 10-15 years ago.
The most encouraging news here is survival rates. According to industry analyst Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, “more magazines are remaining in business after ten years of publishing despite all the news of doom and gloom some try to project.”
Interestingly, Stevenson wanted to uncover why magazines close, to understand what really happened to the 1,028 titles that folded since 2008.
“It turns out that most of the shuttered magazines were in fields directly affected by the Great Recession and the associated U.S. Subprime Mortgage Crisis, from 2008-2012 (from AdAge.com),” he explains.
Hard hit niches were in housing, real estate, and closely related genres like lifestyle periodicals, home decorating, etc. “If people aren’t buying houses, they aren’t buying these lifestyle magazines either,” explains. His niche was hit hard too; as people tightened their belts, there was no room for travel, i.e. no need for travel mags.
The second reason for closure was significant right-sizing in the magazine industry – just like all industries through the economic slowdown. “Many of the deceased magazines had sizeable staffs and high operating costs. Their huge and over-optimistic budgets were unsustainable. They couldn’t sell enough advertising and capture enough subscribers. These magazines were already teetering on the brink of failure. Internet competition affected their paid subscriptions and newsstand sales. Advertisers were spending less. The recession pushed them over the edge.”
One final factor –too much competition, from both other print magazines and free digital media. Digital competition was especially harsh on the news industry and the celebrity niche. Stevenson also saw it in the travel industry; with so much free and instant travel content, print travel titles faced massive online competition.
The Encouraging News about Print Magazines
Looking at the reasons for magazine closures, it’s a good news/bad news set-up for publishers. The good news is that since the vast majority of the magazine downturn came about due to the recession, this was a temporary (though clearly important) reversal of fortune. The stable number of print mags in the last several years demonstrates this.
The bad news, if you want to call it that, is that digital is not going away. “The print media road will be rocky. Traditional print publishers will continue to be challenged by the Internet. They’ll need to adapt their business models to survive,” Stevenson explains.
Yet there’s good news in that too. Publishers are evolving in many ways:
- Using digital channels to drive more profitable paywall strategies
- Embracing technology to enhance the print experience and deepen brand engagement
- Developing gorgeous niche titles that appeal to an increasingly self-selecting audience. This is an undeniable direction of the magazine industry, as readers self-select highly relevant publications that speak to their own values and interests.
- A renewed focus on the 18-34 year-old market, as this generation of readers opts to pay for print, even when digital is free.
Part of that adaption is a profound switch in focus for publishers, away from a print-centric approach and toward a consumer-based model.
“The consumer, not the print magazine, now resides at the hub of the business model,” explains Tony Silber in Folio. “It’s not a ‘magazine industry’ anymore, it’s an industry of powerful brands that all have a print-magazine component. The print magazine is no longer the hub of the wheel, but it remains an important point of engagement with audiences and an ad vehicle that produces resilient revenue.”
As with any industry in a time of great change and innovation, this story will continue to be played out. Based on the current evidence, it appears that the print magazine industry is reinventing itself on solid footing.
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