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2008: The Year in Magazines (and Media)

A look back, month by grueling month.



Dylan Stableford By Dylan Stableford
12/22/2008

In November, after yet another week that featured a smattering of layoffs, cutbacks and magazine closings, the New York Observer ran a piece entitled “Another Bullsh*t Week in Suck Industry.” It was that kind of year.

It seemed that no matter what magazine publishers did to try and innovate (Esquire’s e-ink cover, Source Media’s dramatic structural shift), there was always some more bad news (recession, economy, Wall Street collapse, cough, cough) around the corner. At times, the bad only seemed to get worse.

Nonetheless, it’s always good to reflect back—however painful—on the year that was. So here they are, the highlights and lowlights of 2008, month by grueling month:

JANUARY-MARCH
APRIL-JUNE
JULY-SEPTEMBER

OCTOBER

To commemorate its 75th anniversary, the October issue of Esquire features a flexible electronic "paper" cover that scrolls the words “The 21st Century Begins Now” across it. The stunt provokes both wonder and criticism, and inspires the hacker community, which takes to YouTube to manipulate the e-ink. Says editor David Granger: "This is the most important issue of my 11 years at Esquire.”

After settling a lawsuit with dozens of publishers, Mygazines folds.

Life, the iconic magazine which last appeared in 2007 as a thin newspaper insert, is relaunched by Time Inc. and Getty Images as a photography Web site targeted at consumers.

TV Guide owner Macrovision agrees to sell the print edition of TV Guide to an investment firm. According to SEC filings, the price is $1, less than half the cost of a single copy of the magazine.

Hearst announces it will close CosmoGirl! as the number of magazines aimed at teen girls dwindles.

Rolling Stone reduces to a more “rack-friendly” size.

Time Inc. announces dramatic restructuring that is said to include as many as 600 layoffs. Says CEO Ann Moore: “It was beginning to look like 1931.”

Radar—the “pop, politics, scandal, style” mashup that failed twice since its launch in 2003—folds for a third time. Its Web site is sold to American Media Inc. The magazine’s Halloween party goes ahead as planned, but now with an “R.I.P.” theme.

William F. Reilly, a well-regarded executive whose career spanned more than 30 years in special interest and b-to-b magazine publishing, dies at 70 after a year-long battle with cancer.

Reed Elsevier says it will “significantly” increase the loan package for whoever decides to buy RBI.

Manhattan Media decides to fold 02138 instead.

NOVEMBER

Barack Obama is elected as the 44th President of the United States. Consumers snap up newspapers and magazines commemorating the historic election.

Condé Nast folds Men’s Vogue and scales back Portfolio, part of an overall plan to reduce, as layoffs continue to mount across the industry.

Reports now say U.S. News will go monthly.

Reed Elsevier now says the sale of RBI is “uncertain.”

Reader’s Digest Association enters into a broad agreement with Dr. Rick Warren—pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and the author of the best-selling "Purpose Driven Life"—to produce what it calls “an inspirational multimedia platform” that includes a magazine and a “Facebook for Christians.”

Publishers take a hard look at their portfolios—particularly spin-offs of flagship brands—in the face of an economic crisis. SI Latina and O at Home fold; Outside’s Go is scaled back significantly.

At American Business Media’s Top Management meeting in Chicago, Apprise Media CEO Charlie McCurdy says of the conference’s survey, “A Roadmap for Profitable Growth,” “This survey is kind of like an interior decorator coming to decorate those houses—its great advice, but we have some big fires to put out.”

DECEMBER

National Geographic shutters the print edition of its Green Guide.

At an event in New York, Cathie Black says of the magazine industry’s malaise: "It's tough. It's terrible. I think we've all stopped lying to each other.”

Facing mounting postage and fulfillment costs, Newsweek considers dropping as many as 1,000,000 copies from its guaranteed circulation. This news, of course, is followed by more layoffs.

RBI is finally taken off the block. Says one M&A observer: “Some smaller deals with strategic buyers that don’t require financing will still get done, but for the most part the deal market is dead.”

Dylan Stableford By Dylan Stableford
12/22/2008




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