I’m in the process of writing a manifesto called Saving Magazines: An Unconventional Guide to Transforming Dead Business Models. Today, I want to share a short preview. I’m curious if this is something you’re interested in generally, and what in particular is your biggest nagging question. Please let me know in the comments below.
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June was a bad month for the music industry. The first deaths were in trade magazines Radio & Records and Performing Songwriter magazines. Then the 38-year old JazzTimes temporarily suspended publication.
And following the passing of Michael Jackson, VIBE magazine, founded by his mentor Quincy Jones, went under.
According to the blog Magazine Death Pool, other fatalities included Nickelodean Magazine and Children’s Digest. Think of the children.
The magazine industry is in a tough spot. Readership is down due to the encroachment of free online content. Advertising is down due to fragmented attention, not to mention the inability of advertisers to prove the return on investment during a recession.
Being on the ad buying side, it’s been some time since I’ve seen a rate card I didn’t scoff at, particularly given the epidemic of subscription inflation. I still get a copy of every magazine I’ve canceled.
Magazines have a broken business model.
But they’re not broken because of what you think. Magazine people think blogs are killing them, and their only solace is that they’re not the Newspaper industry.
Time for a wake up call: self-publishing and micro-publishing from faux journalists isn’t the problem. The problem is not that your content isn’t worth reading anymore because some non-reporter is saying something smarter than you.
The real problem is that your advertisers are publishing, so they don’t need you anymore.
You aren’t losing the game; you’re playing the wrong sport.
It no longer makes sense for a business to spend money to get attention from a magazine when they can publish to get the attention themselves.
It used to be very expensive to reach an audience, so it made sense that businesses would specialize in attention-gathering, and others could outsource the expensive first point of communication to these professionals.
These days, it’s not as expensive to reach an audience, so advertisers are bringing publishing in house.
This is a shift in their business model, and the reason magazines are slipping rather than imploding is that many businesses are just as intractable in their ways as you are. But this is changing quickly.
It used to be that your advertisers were only in the product business. They sold widgets. Now they’re in the content business, just like you.
You’re competing with your own customers.
Only, they’re able to do it better than you. They have narrow focus and niche audiences, but more importantly, they’re not involving a third party that subverts the trust they win from their readers.
Magazines are in the business of attracting the finite attention of thir readers, then selling that attention — attention supposed to be “spent” on journalistic content — to advertisers. That means magazines have to balance the interests of their readers against those of their advertisers.
So how do magazines fight back?
It doesn’t require enough specialization to publish solely to attract ad revenue anymore. Fragmentation — along with socioeconomic contributors like the end of cheap energy, the continued urbanization of America, and hyper-localization — are leading to the death of the mass medium.
So as advertisers encroach on your territory, encroach right back on theirs.
Popular magazines “in decline” still have millions of subscribers. These subscribers are a willing audience of a specific demographic you’re intimately familiar with.
What if you were starting from scratch? What if your past business magically disappeared, all your overhead was gone, and the thing you had left was a list of several million people fitting a specific demographic, checking their mailbox next month to see what you had sent them?
What would you send them?