I turned 65 last month and, looking back, I find myself among a fading breed of magazine editors who witnessed firsthand the evolution of magazines from hot type and paste-up to pagination and the Internet. That makes me a "legacy" candidate, a word that I find mildly pejorative and patronizing. As an adjective, legacy means "associated with something that is outdated or discontinued."
Nevertheless, as resident legacy contrarian, I find myself on programs that cover topics like user-generated content, advances in video, old and new-media integration, the latest on "placeblogging," podcasting, e-newsletters, et alia. Just last month, I was on the program for American Business Media’s Publishers Summit: "Publishing in the Digital Age: Profiting From Integrated Platforms."
My topic at the Summit was "Print Is Not Dead: Learn New Ways to Revitalize Your Brand." At the risk of sounding like Mark Twain, who read his own obituary in a paper and said that reports of his death were "highly exaggerated," I am here to say that those who speak of developing integrated media had better not abandon print too quickly;or do so at some peril.
Will New Media Wipe Out the Old?
The assumption seems to be that the Internet and magazine Web sites will be the Next Big Thing. Folio: publisher Tony Silber has been reported predicting that printed newsweeklies will not exist in another five years, and possibly all weeklies will disappear as well.
Or will magazines survive and even prosper as we did in earlier eras against the threat of radio and television? Indeed, old media continues to flourish in some categories today. City and regional magazines, for instance, get about 90 percent of their revenues from print. Now that billionaires like Rupert Murdoch and Sam Zell are bidding on papers and even magazine groups, old media is beginning to look like new opportunity.
"Most people look at the dwindling circulation numbers and advertising revenues of newspapers and magazines," observed Thomas Kostigen in a commentary last month on MarketWatch.com. "But rarely are these vehicles looked at for what they truly are: Content providers. And content right now is king." Film companies and book publishers survive on the sales and cash flow from their libraries. "A new media splash is one thing, but recurring cash flow is another."
"Now, I don’t know if Rupert Murdoch will get Dow Jones," said Neil Cavuto on FoxNews.com. "I do know that he ‘gets’ Dow Jones. By that, I mean he gets print: He doesn’t think it’s dead. And some smart people like him don’t think it’s dead either. What amazes me is the people who say that base it on stories they’ve read, you guessed it, in the newspaper. On the content in that newspaper."
The real danger is diminished magazine revenues, which can be the cause of even lower circulation. Remember the dot-com revolution and all of those companies now somewhere in the ozone layer? "One of the problems with the dot-com revolution was that people were investing in all sorts of technology forgetting the one thing that would keep the doors open and the lights on: Customers," adds Kostigen. "Old media has customers. It has brand appeal."
Some suggestions for keeping your print version alive and well, and for developing a win-win strategy for your old versus new media dilemma:
- Maintain a strong print position. Like vinyl, there may be a smaller but more passionate audience for your product than you could imagine.
The easiest way to undervalue and undercut your magazine is to give away the print version on your Web site. Place selective content on the Web site, but for readers to get the whole book they have to receive the hard copy edition, or pay a premium for it on the Web site. Likewise for archive materials.
- Make the print and Web versions of your magazine complementary, not competitive. Web is usually best for "this just in" material, news and shorter items. Print is an effective platform for going long, doing analysis. Web content is timely. Print is timeless.
- Finally, print remains the basis of editorial marketing. It still works best for most readers and advertisers, and keeps the audience in place as we transition to a cross marketing future when magazines will merge content across both platforms. And, in the meantime, what is the most effective way to increase traffic to a magazine Web site? The print version.
John Brady is a partner at Brady & Paul Communications, a publishing consultancy that specializes in redesigns, and conducts workshops for professionals. For information on his consulting services, and his Interviewer’s Handbook: A Guerrilla Guide for Reporters and Writers, his web site is www.johnbrady.info.