As a reader of magazines, I know I'm bummed by my self-proclaimed "Magazine Death Watch". I still subscribe to my favorites and read almost every issue. My personal favorite is Vanity Fair, which I describe as a People magazine with really long, well-written articles. I also subscribe(d) to Domino, Mary Engelbrecht's Home Companion, Parents, Inc. Magazine, and Threads. I have at times dabbled in Architectural Digest (but it just started making me feel old and poor), Texas Monthly, Forbes, Wired, Fast Company. (I also faithfully read USWeekly [looking at my shoes sheepishly] but I don't pay for it. Somehow that makes me feel superior. USWeekly is People magazine with no text.)
But from the perspective of a small online business and an advertiser in magazines, I'm not surprised by the trouble magazines are having right now. And based on some reader's comments, I thought you might be interested in me expanding on that a bit. If you aren't interested, carry on. We'll meet back here later.
Magazines are, apparently, measured on two things: circulation base (readers) and ad pages (pardon me, Advertising Age, for simplifying it so dramatically). Subscriptions barely cover the cost of anything, but prove to advertisers that people will pay for that magazine and want every issue. Rack sales prove that they can get people to regularly buy their magazine, though they have not guaranteed to buy every issue. Magazines then include some b.s. about how many times the magazine gets passed around. (Good luck proving that.) So magazines are paid for by advertisers and the number of people reading is used as the incentive to get the advertisers there. So if advertisers aren't interested, I don't care how much the readers love the mag, it will not sustain itself. (Unless they figure out how to go to a business model that doesn't rely on advertisers.)
1. Magazine advertising is expensive. Even if you can negotiate a deal on the space, you have to come up with creative and that isn't cheap. Unless you are a good graphic designer, you're going to have to pay for help on this one. Even for small magazines (and small spaces), the space and creative can easily run you $2,000. Larger magazines can easily hit $10,000. I have to sell a heck of a lot of D-Rings to make that one work. (Let me add that I understand why ad space is expensive. Those magazines are expensive to publish, both from creating the features to physically printing on paper to getting it to my house.)
2. It is difficult to move readers from the magazine to the web. My experience has been many magazine readers will never look you up online. (Interestingly, the best magazines I've experienced for moving readers to the web are very young titles: Seventeen and USWeekly. And they often are not buyers, but they will at least go look. And they will always sign up for anything free. Sigh.)
3. Magazine advertising is difficult to quantify. I'm suspicious the Gap has little to no idea how many people buy as a result of their ads. However, the Gap has the benefit of being able to spend on "brand building", which I think is business-speak for "advertising that I don't care or know if it works". I need to know how many people actually buy to justify the cost of advertising. For on-line businesses, it is a little easier, because you are funneling people to one "store", if you will, and you can use coupons and other items to track. (And when I have been able to quantify it, the results lagged dramatically behind the cost.) And I, unfortunately, cannot have a budget item for "brand building". In this economy, I'm wondering how many big players will cut back on that line item as well.
4. Monthly magazines are not timely. We have been fortunate to develop some relationships with magazines or contributors that have occasionally mentioned us and used our products within the content of the magazine. The first time this happened, I was beside myself with excitement. I had visions of infinite sales. Then when the magazine hit the stands six or nine months later, the items they were featuring weren't even available anymore. Those are fun phone calls. "Oh, that fabric that you fell in love with in the current issue? That was discontinued 4 months ago. I'd love to help you find a substitute. Oh, you want that exact fabric? Check Ebay, I guess." Thank goodness the mention only cost me some product and time.
That's my opinion and based on what I'm seeing in the publications world, I must not be the only one. Okay, I'll stop talking about magazines now-- until the next one folds.