Business Marketing

The Magazine as Metaphor

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 At a time when older, larger, well-established airlines were being crushed under the weight of their outdated business models, JetBlue saw an opportunity, threw away the old play book, and succeeded while others limped along towards oblivion.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