Conventional wisdom would tell you that in the magazine space, print is on the wane; advertisers are shifting their budgets to digital media, the newsstand is in the midst of a decade-long decline, and the smart money is in bottom-line diversification.
In many instances, all of that is true. But that’s not the case for regional magazine publishers, for whom print continues to drive growth, and perhaps more importantly, confidence in the medium remains high.
That’s the upshot of a June survey conducted by Folio: and Cummings Printing of executives at city and regional magazines across the country.
Print advertising remains by far the most significant revenue source reported by respondents – followed by paid circulation and, to a lesser extent, events – in line with the 43 percent who report a controlled (as in, not paid) circulation, outnumbering those whose magazines are delivered to either paying subscribers or members of an association.
While almost two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents indicate that they feel vulnerable to declines in print advertising, an overwhelming majority (92 percent) of respondents are confident about the business and anticipate growth over the rest of 2017 and moving into 2018. Obviously, there is some potential here for selection bias — despite the promised anonymity of the survey data — and most (72 percent) expect said growth to come slowly, but the near-unanimity of the optimism is difficult to ignore.
What's more, purveyors of city and regional magazines indicate that they're putting their money where their mouth is. Respondents indicate that they intend to publish, on aggregate, more ancillary print publications — annuals, special issues, or other one-offs — in 2017 than they did in 2016.
It’s no secret that, for the most part, regional publishers have been slower to adapt to digital media than their counterparts in the mass consumer or b2b segments of the magazine space, in part because they haven’t been forced to.
A study commissioned last year by the City and Regional Magazine Association of its 71 member publishers found that 68 percent of readers purchase products they saw advertised in city or regional magazines, and that those ads help influence nearly $177 billion in consumer spending annually across 38 consumer product categories.
“The digital dynasty,” wrote Rhode Island Monthly publisher John Palumbo in a recent column for Folio:, “has yet to become reality in the regional magazine world.”
All that being said, publishers are pursuing alternative distribution channels and revenue sources. Most (82 percent) do publish a digital edition, and another 65 percent produce email newsletters. Half of all respondents have an event business tied to their flagship brand, while far fewer have invested in smartphone apps, video, or podcasts – three seemingly mandatory brand extensions for their counterparts in the mass-consumer magazine world. Asked if they plan to pursue either of the three in the near future, most respondents again said no.
Still, reducing exposure to declines in print advertising and increasing digital advertising remain top priorities, according to the respondents, although both rank behind increasing revenues from print advertising, which 49 percent indicate is their top priority for 2017.
While publishers will surely continue to experiment with alternative revenue sources, what’s clear is that, in the city and regional space, print remains the cornerstone of a strong brand — the hub out from which everything else branches.
“We have conferences for visual marketing and design blogging,” Adam Japko, founder and CEO of Esteem Media (Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles and New England Home, among others) recently told Folio:. “We’ve launched trips. We’re doing a wine and design trip to Italy. I couldn’t do any of those things without the magazines.”
Family-owned and operated since 1914, New Hampshire-based Cummings Printing is a full service publication printer with a reputation for competitive pricing, flexible scheduling and personal service.
Folio: fielded the online survey over two weeks in June, 2017 to a targeted list of executives at city and regional magazine publishers. After completing the survey, respondents were entered into a drawing for a $400 Amazon gift card. The survey generated more than 150 total responses.