Angst or Anticipation … What’s Your Publishing World View?

The general consensus in the magazine publishing business is that there is no general consensus.

Boom or bust? Thrive or dive? In the magazine business today, it all depends on how you view things. And the variety of opinions is vast. That’s the conclusion from Jessica Patterson reporting in FIPP on a recent panel discussion in Toronto.

“The conversation,” Patterson writes, “… centered around the challenges facing magazines, namely, silos and diversity, the transition of economic models, the business reality, advertising, and the appeal of print.

“In his opening remarks, [moderator Laas Turnball of Zoomer Media] noted that it was hard to monetise digital because so many advertising dollars went to Facebook and Google, who, in turn, were ‘gobbling’ up others’ content.”

True enough. Other concerns varied from worries about the disruption of traditional journalism to more concerns about falling print advertising. Some are apparently still looking to digital advertising to solve their problems, like Steve Maich of Rogers Media:

“The changes we’ve gone through in the past year, pulling back from print, focusing more of our energy and resources on digital because we know we can grow revenues there… and that’s very much the focus,” Maich said.

While Rogers Media is discontinuing the print versions of four key titles and moving them online, other publishers are seeing that approach as wrong-headed. Patterson writes that panelist John R. MacArthur asserts in no uncertain terms that print is far from dead.

“I want to dispute the premise that there is still gold in them there digital hills,” the Harper’s magazine president and publisher said. “If we just figure out how to monetise it, or how to manipulate the digits… I just don’t buy it. Print is very much alive, he suggested.

“There are hundreds of millions, even billions, of people who like reading on paper,” MacArthur continued.  Another panelist notes that, while digital content readership is high, making money off it is still tough sledding.

“Eighty to 90 per cent of people read content online,” said  Jonathan Kay, editor-in-chief of The Walrus, said. “It’s true we have trouble monetising it, there’s no question,”  Kay continued, pointing out that the print edition of his title has “a certain authority, a brand standard that reaches to the website as well.”

In Canada, as in the United States, publishers are trying to figure out how to evolve. Many, we feel, are chasing a future that doesn’t exist, while others realize that this truly is the golden age for print magazines.