Why Smaller Magazine Brands are So Darn Positive These Days

When Linda Thomas Brooks, President and CEO of the Association of Magazine Media (MPA), opened the 2018 IMAG conference earlier this month in Boston, she had one piece of advice for the brands represented there.

“When people accuse you of being ‘legacy Media,’ OWN IT,” Brooks told the audience. The IMAG conference focuses on the state of the industry for smaller magazine brands, and attendees noted an undeniably positive mood at this year’s event.

“Anybody who’s been following this business for more than a couple years can tell you that 2016 and 2017 were not necessarily good years,” writes Casey Welton in FOLIO:. “To be fair, the woes go back further than that. However, print closures, massive layoffs, major consolidations and countless failed attempts to pivot to video cast an especially dark shadow over this industry recently. But last week at IMAG, you wouldn’t have known any of that to be true.”

Welton attended both conferences, and had this to say about the IMAG event: “… the most substantial differences I noticed between the two conferences wasn’t really the attendee list, or the sponsors, or the speaker roster; it was the mood and the topics of discussion.”

“I had countless conversations with publishers and vendors about how they feel reinvigorated this year and see real potential for growth in the months and years ahead,” Welton continues.

Why the optimism? For the smaller magazine market, it all boils down to the power of brands. For magazine publishers, playing off that trusted magazine name is what ultimately underpins their success.

“It’s what allows This Old House to reach audiences on several different platforms, or Afar to launch a travel business that takes its readers on adventures from within its magazine or Yankee magazine to launch a nationally syndicated television show,” Welton notes.

Another familiar face at the conference was Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, who took note of many of the lessons learned from the conference. He quotes Eric Thorkilsen of This Old House as saying, “We are not in the media business, we are in the audience business.”

This commitment to an audience-first mantra has worked especially well for strong, smaller magazine brands as the larger mass market has struggled more to incorporate digital into their revenue stream. That’s not to say that smaller magazines don’t take digital into account. On the contrary, Welton notes, saying “there were plenty of conversations about digital, and even more on data, which was easily the second most popular word at the conference. But many of these publishers still see print as the foundation of their business models, and digital along with data serving as important buttresses to support those models.”

That’s the key difference I see between a “magazine brand” and the “magazine media brands” we’ve become familiar with. Rather than trying to be all things on all channels, legacy magazine brands recognize the true value of their existence in print – and while they may certainly explore new channels, their continued success lies in being true to what they are.

“Instead, the key is staying true to who you are while exploring new opportunities that will service your constituents and stakeholders, and also increase revenue,” Welton explains. “This could mean small incremental changes, or completely rethinking everything you do. Ultimately, those decisions will be up to you. But while you are considering them never lose sight of the notion that there’s still hope.”

At Freeport Press, we are thrilled to see this kind of optimism from our client base, and we are happy to be the print sponsors of the 2018/2019 Magazine Media Factbook. The Factbook is packed with research, stats and facts to help magazine brands articulate what makes magazines so special.

As trust and quality become increasingly important, legacy magazine brands are in a perfect position to provide the kind of platform that truly engages. As Brooks says, rather than trying to be all things to all people, legacy media has a wonderful opportunity to OWN IT.