If anyone needs more proof of the declining value of high quality editorial, this could be it.

CSO Magazine, winner of the most recent Grand Neal award for editorial quality, is in trouble. Now, I know nothing about this directly, but I have this old fashioned habit I can’t get rid of. I count ad pages. And from my hand counts, advertisers could care less about editorial quality.

You may remember the story of IDG’s CMO Magazine. Lots of fanfare, seemingly invincible target along with the side benefit of having the advertiser base as part of the readership. And it immediately sashayed its way into multiple Neal Award nominations in 2006. Only problem was, IDG had already shuttered it, due to lack of interest by advertisers. (ABM scrambled and at least did not let them win any awards.)

The April issue of CSO was down to 5 paid ad pages (6, if you count association pages or trade shows—I don’t) and the total folio was a slender 40 pages. There were 10 ad pages in March, coinciding with a major industry show issue, but only 6 pages the month before. December’s total was 15.3. October 2007—with a redesign—totaled 14.3. In healthier times, October 2006, they sold 29.5 pages.

So what’s happening? Could be that that the sales team has conceded the fight for print and is selling online products harder? I have no doubt that CSO has a robust online business. It may even keep the magazine alive for a while. But what of editorial quality? Do advertisers care anymore?

UPDATE: Just got a call from Bob Bragdon, publisher of CSO, and he assures me the franchise is doing very well (with the robust online activity I had guessed at) and that the print product is indeed profitable. That’s good. I too want to see good print titles survive. I’ll write about this later but an implied point is that we as an industry have got to figure out how to sell print’s unique benefits so that a great editorial product like CSO is rewarded. That’s the challenge.