The Magazine as Metaphor

Posted: January 8, 2009 in Business, Marketing
Tags: , , ,

Some people look out across the magazine landscape and only see doom and gloom.

They point to the recent demise of popular titles (i.e., Radar, Jane, Premiere, PC Magazine, CosmoGirl, ElleAccessories, CottageLiving and 02138 are all going dark or moving to online only versions) and the rise of the internet.

They look at a 39% decline in news magazines (from 75 to 46) over the past 5 years and a 32% decline in management magazines (from 127 to 86) during the same period.

They look at the shrinking girth of some publications that used to measure half an inch and now can slip under a door. They see shrinking ad revenues and impending bankruptcy — advertising pages were down 17% this December compared to last December, according to this article in the NY Times.

Others look at this same bleak landscape and see reasons for hope. In 2008 these brave souls launched 335 new magazine titles.

What did they see that the others missed? Perhaps it was… opportunity.

According to a survey by MediaFinder.com reported in Marketing Charts, the top three growth categories were Health (31 new titles), Regional (24 new titles) and Food (17 new titles).

The top three categories each reflect increasing trends:

  • the wave of baby boomers growing older and more concerned about their health;
  • the democratization of gourmet food and the rising popularity of cooking as a spectator and participatory sport (one of the new titles was Food Network Magazine);
  • the confluence of growing local advertising spending and the increasing interest in local and regional content and activities as seen in shorter travel, staycations, urban rejuvenation, small town resurgence and other localization trends.

In fact, when it comes to regional publications, according to The National Directory of Magazines, there are 1,126 regional publications, more than any other category. (Medicine, a close second, has 1,119).

I think these magazines have an opportunity to succeed:  if they capitalize on trends, if they stay lean and nimble, and if they build business models that are more appropriate for today’s media and ad spending realities. These magazines can avoid the creeping death that is slowly killing their older, more established, and larger (or even bloated) competition.

I keep thinking about JetBlue. At a time when older, larger, well-established airlines were being crushed under the weight of their outdated business models, JetBlue saw an opportunity, threw away the old play book, and succeeded while others limped along towards oblivion.

This is about more than just magazines. It’s about succeeding in perilous times when others fail.

Is it vision? Is it drive? Is it force of personality? Is it desperation blended with desire?

Can someone please explain to me why some companies give up,  fold up their tents and consign themselves to the dung heap of history while others forge ahead and make history?

Comments
  1. James says:

    How come the Govt. didn’t bale out Radar, Jane, Premiere, PC Magazine, CosmoGirl, ElleAccessories, CottageLiving and 02138 or any of the others that dropped?
    For the same reason the Stagecoach didn’t get any Govt assistance, something better came along… 🙂 adapt to the market or die.

    Sorry for sounding so snarky, it’s just that I feel that those who were fiscally responsible (i.e. me) will still pay the price for those who were not.

    Sincerely,
    A capitalist at heart.

    • jlsimons says:

      James, I don’t think you’re being snarky… and as a free market capitalist, I’ve been appalled at what the government has been doing with our money. No help for citizens who need it because the government failed in their oversight and regulation capacity, but plenty of money for government cronies who created the problems in the first place. I do think the people getting in line for government money is starting to get silly. Last night CNN had a piece on the porn industry asking for bailout money, not because they need it but because everyone else seems to be getting it! Thanks for the comment.

  2. Otto Vondrak says:

    Interesting comment about the stagecoach, James. You’re right, no one bailed out the stagecoach companies… some failed and went out of business, others adapted to changing times and continued to succeed in related businesses. The oldest continually operated transportation company in America is the Delaware & Hudson Railroad, which started out life as the Delaware & Hudson Canal, chartered in 1823. In the 1870s, they realized railroads were the better way to move coal from the mountains to tidewater and by the 1890s, they had abandoned their canals entirely. They still operate today as a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Railway.

    As far as magazines go, you have to adapt to the audience and market, or die. Metropolis Magazine focuses on how society reacts to and engages with architecture and design. Their editorial focus has shifted over the last ten years to focus on “green” issues and their advertisers have since caught up. Metropolis remains relevant, wheras the similar Arts & Architecture magazine folded more than 40 years ago (not counting the short-lived 1980s rebirth). Both had similar missions, but one failed to address their target audience.

    On of my train hobby magazines has been publishing for 75 years. They publish several monthly railroad titles, special interest books, and more. They also produce special issues that they hype to their readers through references in their mags and on their interactive web site. Their web site features content-rich media, subscriber-only, discussion forums, PDF articles and how-to movies you can download for a small fee, and more. The internet experience enhances the magazine experience, and acts as an incentive to subscribe. Their sales are growing while their competitors are waving the white flag.

    Innovate or die.

    -otto-

  3. jlsimons says:

    Great comment, Otto. Thanks. Business sticks its head in the sand at its own peril. (Unless it’s an oil exploration company, I guess!)

  4. […] The Magazine as Metaphor « Can someone please explain…?They point to the recent demise of popular titles (i.e., Radar, Jane, Premiere, PC Magazine, CosmoGirl, ElleAccessories, CottageLiving and 02138 are all going dark or moving to online only versions) and the rise of the internet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed. « Snowmobile storage […]

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