Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Magazine Death Pool

Business Week's media critic, Jon Fine, wrote about MagazineDeathPool.com, a blog that seeks to predict which magazines will fail and when. The blogger, apparently a magazine publishing insider, does a good job of explaining what turns out to be an epidemic of closings of major magazines. The latest victim: Business 2.0, which it first predicted in Feb. 2006: www.magazinedeathpool.com/magazine_death_pool/business/index.html.

It's not surprising that the Internet is putting pressure on print magazines. (I've already discussed that in earlier posts.) Apparently Time Inc. feels the smart business decision is to close a well-received magazine like Business 2.0, despite a strong circulation. MagazineDeathPool notes that Business 2.0 is "the forgotten business magazine of the Time Inc. empire" which also publishes Fortune, Fortune Small Business (FSB) and Money, and that is "in the same category as another barely-breathing dot-com relic, Fast Company."

What's surprising, though, is this: Time Inc. feels that they can't sell the advertising to support Business 2.0. Remember: circulation for most general magazines is only one sign of a magazine's health -- but it is not the most important. Advertising underwrites subscription fees for most magazines; publishers often reduce subscription fees to boost circulation and in turn to raise fess they can charge advertisers.

Having a strong circulation, which an involved readership, is not enough reason to keep a magazine around.

There's an increase in magazine's death rate because -- and this isn't getting a lot of coverage yet -- advertising is going through a slump. In the tech press, some ad reps blame industry consolidation: too many mergers reduce the number of companies that need to advertise.

From a PR perspective, this is bad news because:
1. Fewer magazines means fewer opportunities for coverage.
2. Fifty percent of any issue of a healthy magazine is advertising copy. Any cut in ad pages = cut in editorial copy -- again reduced opportunities for coverage.
3. Fewer opportunities leads to increased competition for remaining editorial.

Of course, this is not the first wave of magazine closings -- there were a lot following the dot-com crash, and in the early 1990s and in 1987, too. While PR will survive as it embraces new channels (and re-evaluates its priorities of traditional print to online), the challenge for the magazine industry is more significant. To capture readership, particularly those younger than Baby Boomers, magazines will need to find new ways of being relevant...and that may mean moving to a completely non-paper basis.

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