Understanding the Magazine Industry’s Darkest Hour
On Rex, the recession and the future role of print.
on a blog post I wrote yesterday got me thinking about how people all over the
industry are struggling to understand the unprecedented environment of today,
which combines the fast-changing media structure combined with a remarkably difficult
revenue while trying to re-invent a business model is a difficult thing to do,
it’s like changing the tires on a moving truck.
through the economic downturns of early 1990s and 2000s, and right now, this
one seems much worse.
Adding to the
challenge is the fact that we’re in an economy-wide crisis of confidence, where
no one wants to spend money. Consumers who cancel frivolities like Netflix and
gym memberships hold off on new cars and worry about putting kids through
college. Businesses that scale back investment and hiring. Local governments
that reduce their police overtime budgets and schools that make kids pay to participate in
sports and other activities. And most relevant to us, advertisers who used to
buy magazine ads Web banners, show sponsorships and newsletter insertions.
ones still advertise, they still go big, but this year, right now, even a lot
of these marketers are lying low.
All of this
leaves a lot of us scrambling. Under pressure, we tend to fall into three
general groups based on behavior patterns. There are those who panic, who cut the
vitality out of their brands through layoffs and physical downgrades. (This
group also includes those who sell their souls for a dollar, like those
magazines that suddenly do happy features about their advertisers. You don’t
have to look far to find that in this space.)
more admirable group—there are those that try to understand where these sweeping
changes are taking us. One of the best at this is Rex Hammock, whose blog is a
source of nearly daily Socratic dialogue. Thursday, for example, he talked about the power of print media,
and how he and Samir "Mr. Magazine" Husni are convinced that magazines will
continue to play an important role in people’s lives well into the future:
"business model" is not necessarily selling ads or subscriptions (but can be—and Mr. Magazine loves studying how magazine companies do so). The business
model is driven by whatever the greater organization’s goals are. But to reach
those goals, the institution must master any media important to its audience:
magazines, books, events, licensing, TV programming, social (and personal and
conversational) media and networking, eBooks, online community. The tools we
have to work with today make this one of the most exciting times ever known. Yet
we look around and see fear and defensiveness.
to that is this: The vast majority of companies in this business are built from
the ground up on selling ads or subscriptions or both. That’s what they do, and
they often can’t see beyond the basic economics of magazine publishing: "I
either make enough money selling ads and subscriptions to pay for the cost of
producing an ink-on-paper magazine and accompanying Web site, or I don’t. And
if I don’t, then I’m going out of business."
there are those who take Rex Hammock’s concept and execute on it. It seems to
me that Hearst Magazines is one. In a speech last week at the Primex conference,
Hearst EVP and general manager John Loughlin made a compelling
presentation for how to model out your goals, establish strategies to
achieve those goals and develop tactics to achieve those strategies.
working through the minutia. As Loughlin said: "Hope is not a strategy."