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Magazines rebound, print not going away

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After all the sturm und drang about the “print is dead” predictions of 2008-2010, we learn now that “magazines made from paper-and-ink are sticking around.”

I was sent this link to Crain’s New York Business by someone who has an interest in print magazines sticking around, Wine Enthusiast’s publisher, Adam Strum.

Turns out, more print magazines are being launched this year than last, and fewer are going out of business. In fact, in a way, the health of print magazines parallels that of the housing market. Foreclosures are down in much of the country, as the market bounces back to pre-Recession levels.

When I began blogging, in the Spring of 2008, predictions of The Death of Print were widespread. And certainly, these prognosticators of gloom found plenty of evidence to support their claim. Newspapers were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. There were rumors the New York Times would close, the San Francisco Chronicle would go out of business, the Boston Globe was doomed.

Magazines experienced the same rebound effect. Between January, 2008–just as the Recession was taking hold, although most Americans weren’t yet aware of it–and January, 2009, when it hit with a vengeance, ad pages in U.S. magazines plunged 28%.

While it’s true that advertising has yet to reach its pre-Recession levels, media outlets report that total U.S. ad spending in magazines increased anywhere from 2.1%-2.6% in the first quarter of 2012, hinting at a steady albeit slow recovery.

I said in 2008 and 2009 that it was the Recession that was hurting magazines, not some inherent historical switch away from print. I’ll say it again today. If there’d been no Recession, print magazines would have done just fine. But there was a Recession. Advertising (which accounts for the vast majority of a magazine’s revenues) fell off the cliff, and so the magazines struggled. Certain people, mainly bloggers, saw this struggle and confused it for The Death of Print. Problem was, it just wasn’t so.

Now we see that magazines–the better ones, anyway–are springing back. That doesn’t mean, and I’m not saying, that print will survive the next ten years. There are a lot of problems with using paper to publish magazines, not the least of which is (from the publisher’s point of view) the costs of paper and shipping. It may well be that U.S. magazines someday will migrate away from paper to some sort of tablet or other device we can’t even imagine.

Savvy publishers already are anticipating that day and are planning accordingly. But whenever it happens, it’s still far enough away that we can predict with some confidence that print magazines that are successful today will remain successful into the 2020s, as long as they stay smart and current. “We’re going to have print until people work out the monetization of digital,” said an analyst quoted in the Crain’s article. Well, we’re no closer to the monetization of digital than we were in 2012, and in some ways we’re even further away. I don’t see that logjam breaking anytime soon, and the longer it takes, the longer print will stick around.

  1. I’m out of the whole digital reading thing, so pardon my ignorance. yet I’m surprised there’s no kindle-esque version of wine magazines, including WE. why is that? could there be some concern that the digi version might be more popular than print? really, what’s taking so long?

    i know being an old(er) dinosaur I like the feel of paper in my hands, so if I even subscribed to any wine publication (I just cancelled WS, and wasn’t that a relief – looking forward to more local, feeling-of-place publication, Oregon Wine Press) it would be the paper version. Yet weird, that there’s no digi WE version for, seems like once the layout (all done digitally) is in place, a pdf is a snap, and it’s done. upload. online. presto. choice of print or digi. ka-ching.

  2. Dear Stephanie, Wine Enthusiast is available online in its entirety, through an amazing website, zinio.com. Check it out.

  3. doug wilder says:

    Stephanie,

    As someone who fled blogging to start an online publication (with no advertising), one of the first things I did was research platforms for publishing virtually, including a tablet version. I found a product from issuu.com (a monthly subscription itself) that converts PDF to a ‘side by side, page-turning’ format allowing my subscribers to emulate a magazine format on a desktop screen. By selecting the annual rate, it upgrades to beta, allowing viewing on iPad. Additionally, requests for paper versions led me to Hewlett Packard’s Magcloud service that provides on-demand hard copy publishing, again from PDF, on very high quality 80# glossy stock for as few as one copy. For right now, these services work great yet I am always looking to improve the delivery of content. I am currently exploring larger format sizes :)

  4. Print magazines will continue to shrink. The electronic form is improving tremendously. Even see this article from a year ago:

    http://mashable.com/2011/03/15/online-versus-newspaper-news/

    That doesn’t mean the companies that have audiences in print are going away…they just need to adapt. I believe even as widespread as online viewing is its still barely scrat Jong it’s potential. The next generation, comparable in size to Baby Boomer generation, prefers this form of consumption and as that Macro-economic force gets older the shift away from print will continue.

    It never “goes away”. There are still Mainframes and desktop computers. The application for the medium will just shrink in popularity and become a tiny revenue stream over time. (And by time I mean 20 year horizon)

  5. Roger King says:

    I learned may years ago, when E-everything was just emerging, that ink on paper will never go away. It is simply fundamental to communication and been with us for way to many centuries.

  6. John Roberts says:

    Stephanie: I subscribe to a digital subscription of WE, through the Zinio app on my iPad. I wouldn’t choose digital over traditional, but this was a gift and given the choice, chose WE over alternative magazines. The layout is beautiful and you can zoom in on images and text with clarity and high-definition. Still, I prefer the magazine in my hands. I’d bet that I’ve read more old WS issues in the bathroom in the past 6 months, than I have read WE anywhere else on my iPad. That is by virtue of the format.

    I fully agree, Steve. Reports of the demise of print media were, like so many things in the digital age, hastily made and ill reasoned. As long as we have the writing of authors like you, there will be both formats!

  7. Viva Mutineer!

  8. Kind of an aside, but I saw a very entertaining story recently on Brian Williams’ newish late night news mag show about how the tremendous demand for the book “Fifty Shades of Grey” helped put a once-shuttered paper company in rural Maine back into business. I don’t think we’re done with paper yet.

  9. Print will never go away. But it’s definitely going through (and has been going through for quite sometime) a very rough patch. Personally I think this is a good thing. It helps publishers look for new and exciting ways to attract loyal readers –quite frankly in my opinion readers have been taken advantage of for too long especially in the newspaper industry.

    I love getting magazines in my mailbox. I love the feel, the photos, the stories…. but even more, they are valuable to me (including of course my copies of Wine Enthusiast:)

    And as digital becomes the mass cultural norm, you’ll start seeing more and more people (highbrow types especially) seeking out niche print products. Books will be high culture; the internet… so passe. We’ll see, right.

  10. thanks, everyone, for helping an old dino out.

    steve – i thought it seemed odd that there would not be any digi WE. i missed the grey print | digital buttons at far left due to all the flashing imagery going on the site.

    doug – thanks for sharing your successes and tips. i’ve used magcloud – great tool. is it a wine zine you publish?

    john – tmi RE bathroom reading…kidding…sort of. interesting to hear your thoughts on print v- digi.

    back to steve, RE john’s comment: your ideas and writings might foster its own rag, with you as editor? something new, fresh, regional. perhaps?

  11. I subscribe to mags & newspapers for my family. I love it when 13 yr old asks for another year of Popular Science and SI. The 20s gang want Wine Enthusiast, Relix, runner and health (whatever), The Economist, The Week, and, especially, to be surprised.
    They all have kindles and smartphones.
    As a practical matter, print survives greasy fries, pizza, tacos and beer foam better than a screen.

  12. Kathy, you got that right! I love magazines and I predict they’ll stay around in paper as well as mobile devices.

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