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Would You Launch a Print Magazine Today? Why?

Is a magazine really the basis of a media business? Five executives weigh in.



By Tony Silber
10/01/2008

Let’s face it.

• Distribution costs are sky-high and rising.
• Printing and paper costs are sky-high and rising.
• Marketers want to move their money online.
• Launching an online media business is less expensive.
• Launching a media business without print does not diminish the prospects of success.
• Online media has more tools and more connectibility, and thus is more useful.
• Online media is easily measurable. Print is not.

For these reasons and more, people in this business are thinking and rethinking about print as they contemplate buying or launching media and magazine businesses.

Why would you launch a magazine in 2008-2009? FOLIO: asked several executives for their take.

Jon Miller | President | MillerWalk Publications
If you’re interested in publishing a smaller-circulation, special-interest publication, print is the way to go. Unlike bigger consumer titles, serious special interest and professional publications often rely on circulation, not just ad sales, for their profitability. That means readers have to be willing to pay a relatively high price for truly high-value content, and I have seen precious few sites that readers are willing to pay for.

One of the reasons high-value magazines are highly valued is because of the in-depth articles they offer, and I know few people, of any generation, who routinely like to read long-form journalism online. (This, too, may change as technology improves.)

David Carey | Group president | Conde Nast
One of my favorite anecdotes is the old saw that in 1899 the head of the U.S. Patent Office suggested they close down the operation, as they felt that anything that could possibly be invented already had.

There’s no question that magazine development today faces challenges—some familiar ones that have been around forever, and others that are brand new. And contrary to what you might think, the digital world in which we live does offer both benefits and opportunities for the right kind of print launch. That’s certainly been true for Conde Nast’s Portfolio rollout.

There is one thing I’m willing to bet on: When the industry trades make up their Magazine Hot Lists for the year 2018, some of the titles that make the list are publications that don’t even exist today. They’ll be launched in the next few years by someone—a big company, an entrepreneur, a visionary—who comes up with the next winning editorial formula. In print.

John Battelle | Founder and chairman | Federated Media
Magazines are still a great way to declare community and build a bond between audience, author, and advertiser. But given the reality of the economics, only certain kinds of magazines make sense anymore. High end, high production value, HHI? Yes. The reverse? Yes. In the middle? No so much.

Don Pazour | CEO | Access Intelligence
I would not consider launching a magazine in 2008-2009. On the other hand, I would support single-themed print extensions of our e-businesses and events. There is something enduring and attractive about print that cannot be matched with events or online businesses, but I believe it will and must take on a different role than periodical publications.

David Nussbaum | CEO | F+W Media
In the hierarchy of launches and acquisitions, I’d say that the magazine business would likely be lower on the priority list than digital products, events and books. While I think a print magazine is a nice component of a multi-media strategy and can be used very effectively as a branding/information tool, the fact that paper and postage continue to rise; ad rates are under pressure; and marketers have looked broader for spending, makes the financial model more difficult.

By Tony Silber
10/01/2008







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