Credit Where Credit’s Due: The Weirdness around Magazine Industry Innovation

Earlier this month, Linda Thomas Brooks of the Association of Magazine Media (MPA) made a compelling argument against the “mean girls” mentality around print magazines as an industry. She explained that she usually ignores all the “print is dead” chatter – but lately felt compelled to speak out about “blatantly one-sided thinking.”

Her LinkedIn post garnered a lot of attention in the industry, and Folio: thought it worth following up on Thomas Brooks’ assertion that all the negative talk “is not only unwarranted, it could lead to a series of unintended consequences.”

In their usual straightforward style, Folio: dove right into it, and shared their interview with the MPA head in a post by Caysey Welton. Thomas Brooks bristles at the fact that market-driven innovations are applauded in most industries – but that there exists a double standard in print.

“When you hear something like, ‘Facebook is doing all these different things now, they’re getting all these views from all these channels, aren’t they great?’ And then maybe talk about Taste of Home or Better Homes & Gardens and they say, well their print dollars are down.

“But when it comes to innovation at these same brands, we hear things like, ‘Oh, well they’re just trying to do different things because print is down.’ Well, yeah, exactly. So why is it not a positive for magazine brands when they innovate, but it’s a positive for everyone else? There’s a weird mentality around that that I just haven’t been able to figure out.”

Rather than spend their energy trying to grasp this dichotomy, the MPA is fighting misconceptions with facts – verifiable 3rd-party industry data on audience growth that shows how magazines are driving both brand engagement and building trust. 

“One of the other big issues, one of the things I think about every day, is how we continue to support credible journalism,” she told Folio:. “I think the media ecosystem has gotten to be a very strange place. Both marketers and consumers are really concerned with what voices they can trust, and where is it worth spending money. The good news about our brands is that they’re a shortcut to quality. People know what they stand for, they know what goes into the catchphrase that we use all the time that ‘professionally researched and written, editor-produced, curated set of content,’ and that is becoming increasingly important.”

“I think some of the most thoughtful pieces about not just the news, but what the news means, have come from magazines,” she continues. “Time magazine has done unbelievable stuff. Recently the New Yorker, New York mag, The Atlantic, just to stick with news and current events, they’ve not only been breaking news, they’ve dedicated enormous time and resources to long-term reporting to make sure that they’re getting those stories right. That’s an area where magazines have really had an advantage, and I think at the end of the year when people look back at where the best information came from, our magazine brands are going to be way up at the top of that list.”

Consumer research supports her assertions; while digital consumption grows, print magazine media is rated time and again as the most trusted source.

Has the magazine industry changed? Without a doubt, and if publishers are looking to print for ad revenues from 10 years ago, they’ll likely be disappointed. 

“Ad spending has changed so significantly and there are so many new channels and a lot of big advertisers are not spending what they used to in total, so ‘makeup’ is a sort of funny term,” she notes in response to Folio:’s question about “making up” lost print ad revenue.

“Everybody has a diverse portfolio where their brands live, and that includes mobile, social, digital, video, events, etc., so revenue is coming in from all of those places,” she continues. “So I think it’s in that whole array— that obviously varies by magazine brand—but the brands are trying to figure out which triggers to pull. They’re all testing and learning and some things they’re doing aren’t gonna work out as well as others. But I still don’t think they get enough credit for all of the innovation.”

Point taken: The magazine media brands that are embracing innovation while remaining true to their core audience are finding new ways to improve profitability.