Don’t Publishers Need to Be Where the Customers Are?

Leave it to BoSacks to cut down to the heart of any issue in publishing. This time, he looks at the current ebb and flow of magazine media and asks publishers point-blank … shouldn’t they be where their audiences are?

His email (always full of good info; if you aren’t a subscriber, sign up here) this week takes us through a valuable exercise “of what we know, what we don’t know and throw a few possibilities in for good measure,” he writes.

Among what we know is that 40% of magazines that publish at least four times a year have seen their audiences decline this year, according to stats from the Alliance for Audited Media.

“This sounds pretty bad,” he writes, “but what about the 60% that didn’t show audience declines. Magazine readership has always had an ebb and a flow. Whole sectors rise and fall over time, which is historic in the publishing industry and not an aberration. I am not saying that these aren’t hard times; they are. But as old as the saying goes, ‘that which does not kill us makes us stronger.’”

He cites some rather impressive success stories this year, including:

  • Afar Magazine, which raised YOY audience across platforms by 130.2%;
  • Backpacker, up 47.8%; and
  • The Atlantic, up 34.9%.

“Total audience on all platforms across the magazine brands was up 5.9% year-over-year,” BoSacks notes.

The pandemic put publishers into high gear to evolve their business models. It’s not necessarily that COVID-19 created opportunities that never would have existed. Rather, BoSacks believes it’s served to accelerate change that maybe we would have seen in four or five years. 

All the elements were already there — changing customers’ habits, online buying, a shift to a subscriber mentality, the rise in membership models, a new way to leverage newsstands. The challenges were the lighter fluid under the simmering heat publishers were facing. 

“The pandemic led many people to avoid stores and shop from the safety of their homes,” he continues. “The upheaval in the retail industry will continue to shape the role of publishers next year as content and commerce become even more seamless. The pandemic is hastening the shift toward a ‘storeless’ economy as retailers go out of business or close down unprofitable stores…”

Was 2020 rough on the publishing industry? No doubt. Was it fatal? By no means. Publishers learned in real-time how important it is to be where their customers are, with trusted and relevant content. If the pandemic helped us all learn that lesson faster than we might have, let’s take that as the silver lining to a rather gray year.