The recent string of foldings in the niche music magazine arena (Harp, No Depression, Mass Appeal et al) begs the question: How much space exists in the marketplace for these titles? The answer, as it is in any magazine category, is not clear cut and needs to be examined on a case-by-case basis.
Niche titles that have passionate and loyal readerships can absolutely thrive if they are able to leverage their strengths (i.e. targeted, influential readers, specific editorial focus) to build multiplatform, integrated deals with brands, where print advertising is merely the point of entry, even an afterthought in some cases. If publishers continue to strictly chase ad pages, it would seem logical in todayâ€™s environment that they would face a certain death. They also must exploit the freedom and flexibility they possess as independent publishers to aggressively innovate and create a broader brand experience, thus providing a more dimensional opportunity for the advertiser and surrounding experience for the consumers they speak to.
For what itâ€™s worth, mainstream music titles are in no way immune to these changes, only they would, in theory at least, seem to have deeper pockets in order to last a bit longer in the face of a rough economy and downturn in print spending. However, if they continue follow the traditional belief that a magazine is built by increasing circulation (and thus rate bases) they will find themselves in a very similar situation.
In order to survive, niche magazines, just like the bigger publishing companies, must build a multi-dimensional brand in order to create new revenue streams. A conscious decision was made when the Fader launched in 1998 to let the magazine grow organically while winning a loyal readership by covering artists based on the merit of their music and not how many records (thus newsstand copies) they would sell. This ultimately enabled us to build a credible and trusted brand that now lives in many different spaces such as print, online, events, podcasts, television, film and more to come.
What ever happened to the idea that a good captain always goes down with his ship? Or in this case, his magazine? The doom and gloom surrounding the magazine/print business is scaring very talented publishing professionals away from the industry altogether. They are, in droves, flocking to anything that has the word â€śdigitalâ€ť attached to itâ€”itâ€™s truly starting to feel like 1999â€™s dot-com migration, at least some level, all over again.
What about standing and fighting? I wonder if that thought has occurred at all, or if these individuals have become so disenchanted with the print business that they have just thrown up their hands.
Iâ€™ve personally had many conversations with other publishers about this subject and there is a very clear line of distinction between those who grew up in the traditional world of publishing who have not been able to embrace change, innovate or see their brands as more than a circulation driven ad-page model, and those who actually see this supposed â€śdark periodâ€ť as pure opportunity for experimentation, building beyond ad pages and circulation and concentrating on all of the exciting opportunities and platforms for magazine brands in areas outside of the busted newsstand sales, subscriptions and ad page business models.
In my 11 years of publishing, I find this to be the most exciting, vibrant and interesting time Iâ€™ve experienced and looking at this time period as an incredible breeding ground for experimentation and innovation. I only see good things ahead for magazines and, more importantly, publishing companies that are willing to face the fact that this ainâ€™t your motherâ€™s or fatherâ€™s publishing industry. So either get on board, or walk that plank!
Recently, I had the task of finding a new top editor for The Fader magazine and Web site. Being a very targeted and specific editorial property, it is never an easy job to find an editor that meets all of our so-called "requirements," which are many and include (but are not limited to) writing/editing skills, vast knowledge and experience covering underground and emerging music of all genres, ability to work in a collaborative editorial environment and a multi-dimensional background not strictly limited to writing and editing. The last one is somewhat unique in that we want writers and editors here that arenâ€™t just coming from a traditional/pure journalism standpoint (our new editor was not only a writer for the Washington Post, but lead singer of an influential indie rock band).Of course they need to know how to write/edit first and foremost, but having diversity is a key way for the tone of our title to differentiate itself from the "other" music magazines and Web sites. That all being said, after interviewing a host of great candidates, one thing truly stood out through the process and actually reminded us what we are all about and what many other magazines should give heavier consideration to in their editorial hiring process is PASSION for the particular subject matter and magazine. There were many qualified people, but the ones that stood out were the ones who loved The Fader, and the feeling that they were not just looking at this opportunity as another resume building block, but a sincere desire to be a part of something they love. Itâ€™s been my experience that these individuals are also much more loyal, take on a feeling of ownership and dedicate themselves on a deeper level.
Recently, I had to hire a position I've never hired beforeâ€”project managerâ€”someone with skills to do just about anything. This includes anything from clearing music, to sourcing raincoats in Africa, from finding underground rock venues in Baltimore to overseeing and managing the creation of a custom micro-site.
The print industry has been turned on its head and, as most of us know, publishers/magazines now have to deliver way more than the good old-fashioned ad page schedule and accompanying cookie-cutter value-added programâ€”that just won't cut it any longer.
Over the past few years the entire game has changed and the only way to survive is to adapt or be another FOLIO: headline about another folded magazine. It's a change that I find incredible and has opened up an infinite channel of opportunity to actually work with brand partners to create exciting new content, new formats of distribution, and more ways of touching our readers/their consumer.
I have a feeling that traditional magazine infrastructures and mastheads will continue their metamorphosis to mirror these changes.