Moody’s Report As Seen By Darwin

[responsive]futuremag[/responsive]Ad revenues are down, digital subscriptions are leveling out and the magazine industry looks pretty bleak, according to credit ratings service Moody’s. But what are we really seeing?

“Our outlook for the US Newspapers and Magazines sector is negative,” the report concludes, quoted by D. B. Hebbard in Talking New Media. “This outlook reflects our expectations for the fundamental business conditions in the industry per the next 12 to 18 months.”

Yep, that sounds fairly dismal. Yet Bo Sacks points out one important flaw in their analysis that may make a huge difference to publishers.

“The report is constructed by Wall Street analysts and is therefore biased to reflect stock market projections and concerns only,” Bo Sacks writes on his blog. “There are by some accounts, over 7,000 print titles in the newsstand, and I doubt that more than 250 are connected to companies that are listed in the stock market.”

Hebbard too points out a significant variable in the Moody equation.

“Moody’s also predicts that the ‘recent wave of publishing spin-offs and divestitures’ will continue and lead to more consolidation,” Hebbard notes, continuing parenthetically, “(Here I disagree with Moody’s as there are few big publishers today looking to acquire properties, this is leading to private equity firms stepping in.)”

So while the numbers are not great news, they don’t apply to the entire field and there are many bright spots that are doing well, including the regional and niche categories. Big mass market titles that Wall Street monitors are losing ground, while luxury publishing is attracting the high end publishers that love print.

“Many print niche products will continue to thrive, though conversely non-niche titles will continue to whither,” Bo Sacks predicts.  “In the print world there is little or no room, or time left for mediocre products. Darwin’s ‘natural selection’ of publishers is now taking place.

“If print is to survive, it will be with fewer, better and more expensive products. Add to Darwin’s law, Bo’s law of print survival – that only those with unique remarkability need apply,” Bo Sacks continues.

We agreed with Bo Sacks in that this time can be viewed as calamity or opportunity.

“The problem for traditional publishers is that the future is happening faster than we can imagine or prepare for. This is terrifying for some and wonderfully amazing and lucrative to others,” Bo Sacks notes. “At the end of the day the most important thing to remember is that your future business should replace your current business before someone else replaces it for you.”

Nimble, responsive publishers that pay attention to what their readers want are going to come out ahead of the big behemoths that have trouble changing direction even by a few degrees. It’s time to play.