A few years ago I started making predictions about the upcoming year. Admittedly, they haven’t exactly been bold, but have really been more of a heads up on what trends to look out for and what sort of coverage you can expect from us as a reader.
Last December, I followed up on my predictions in from January 2018. In hindsight, the column felt more like a self-congratulatory “I told you so” than a reflection on the year. So rather than revisit my predictions again this year, I want to talk about 2019 through my lens.
I will continue to make predications, and you can look for them next month. It’s not only fun to take a stab at what the future might look like, but my hope is the column makes our readers think about the industry and their own business and where they will be heading over the next several months.
If you haven’t had the chance to read my 2019 forecast, or want to look back to see how I did, I encourage you to check it out. (After you read this, of course.) But as mentioned, this year’s retrospective is going to be a bit different.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. 2019 delivered some really tough blows to the magazine industry. We saw icons like Family Circle, ESPN The Magazine and MAD shutter, companies like TEN eliminate more than a dozen-and-a-half titles, F+W collapse after bankruptcy, and several other unfortunate instances that were difficult to swallow.
But here’s the thing: No matter how much bad news came across our desk this year, a lot more good news was shared with us here at Folio:. From hiring surges at companies like TIME magazine and Atlantic Media, to counterintuitive success on the newsstand at Bauer Media Group, to the rebirth of a legacy brand like Rolling Stone, to new magazine launches like Meredith’s partnership with Jonathan and Drew Scott (I sort of predicted that!) and, of course, lots and lots of acquisitions.
This was a significant year for M&A activity, and regardless of your feelings about consolidation, the reality is that, from a financial standpoint, it’s the future of our industry’s sustainability. And it unequivocally proves there is still value in our products, even if it means we need to rethink the business models.
When I scroll through our news feed from this year, I cannot believe the number of acquisitions we covered. I haven’t quantified how this year stacks up versus other years, and I admit there were no marquee deals like that of the Meredith and Time Inc. merger of a couple years ago. Still, there was a hotbed of activity this year. It also spanned every sector of publishing. Mass consumer, niche/enthusiast, B2B and city and regional publications were all bought and sold.
But beyond the news, and the trend reporting we did, I want to talk about something more intangible regarding this year.
One of the great parts of my job is that I get to spend a lot of time immersed in our community. Not only do we host a handful of events for you throughout the year, but I am lucky enough to get invited to several industry gatherings from around our community. I traveled a lot this year to various conferences, met folks for lunches and coffee and had long phone conversations about the successes of their businesses. It was an absolute pleasure.
Not only did I get to meet and connect with terrific people, but I got to hear how and what they were doing. Most of the dozens and dozens of people I spoke with shared a true sense of optimism and enthusiasm. None of them told me what was wrong with their businesses, instead they told me what was right, and what made them hopeful about the future.
It’s very easy to get hung up on the bad news. Let’s face it, there’s no shortage of it in the magazine industry. That’s business. It’s cyclical and there will always be ups and downs. Some cynicism is certainly warranted, but I hope you believe me when I say there’s reason to be hopeful. I don’t base this on data or trends. I realize that is taboo now in our data-informed world. I base this theory on one qualitative data point: people.
Publishing is jam-packed with some of the most innovative, smart, tenacious and resilient people I have ever met. And had I not spent so much time in the community this year, I may have a different point of view. But now it seems pretty clear to me that you’re all going to be the reason our businesses push forward.
I get it, the industry probably won’t ever return to its glory days… or maybe more accurate, its gilded age. But that doesn’t mean it’s withering away into obscurity either.
Companies are still profitable, new products are continuing to launch, audience engagement continues to grow and, most importantly, we’re still here.