Last week, on the same day, two of the smartest people I know in magazine printing emailed me separately with a nearly identical message: That far from the turmoil enveloping many major consumer-magazine companies, and away from the spotlight, small magazines and the brands that surround them are thriving.
“In meeting after meeting with publishers, I see the cognitive dissonance you describe in Half Full Glass,” says Wayne M. Peterson, executive vice president and COO of Lane Press, the South Burlington, Vermont-based short-to-mid-run printer. “It’s visceral.”
And David Pilcher, vice president of sales and marketing for Freeport, Ohio-based Freeport Press, says, “You ask the valid question of how to reconcile two vastly divergent narratives in our industry: The ‘golden age of magazines’ versus a period of consolidation and turbulence in the mass market media.”
For Freeport Press, Pilcher says, it’s the former, at least for trusted, highly focused media brands that have learned critical lessons about the value of paid content and subscriptions, and are unabashed supporters of print advertising and print media in general.
“Publishers are getting savvier about targeting the most specific audience they can find, and publishing accordingly,” Pilcher says. “Magazine media brands are moving past the disruption and toward a renewed focus on print ads, as they use their subscription data to support their value with advertisers.”
Both Lane and Freeport serve a particular section of the market: Shorter-run publications, and in particular those that serve associations, societies, membership organizations, universities, alumni groups, city and regional, and enthusiast communities.
And both companies say they’re growing, even as some of the major printing companies are struggling. Quad Graphics reported a decline in revenue of 5.8 percent in 2016, and LSC (the former R.R. Donnelley) reported a decline of 9.7 percent in its magazine, catalogs, and retail insert printing business.
“The future of magazine publishing doesn’t appear to lay with the 'blue chip' brands, at least not from my vantage point,” Peterson says. “Rather, it appears to lay with the nearly invisible publishers we serve. Print magazines are thriving.”
Peterson says he’s seeing a new focus on brand — starting with the print magazine, but going beyond it, too. “We’re beginning to see publishers understand the value of their brands, and seeing them work intentionally to develop those brands. As little as two years ago, it felt impossible to get publishers to look at their brands, brand voices, and brand development. Now, we’re seeing it in each of our spaces."
“The folk who populate the MPA continue to miss the pattern that we’re seeing,” Peterson says. “I’m grateful that we’re not built to serve publishers at that scale. Because off their radar, a huge number of highly-focused and much smaller publishers are thriving and growing."