Friday, October 31, 2008

Magazines need to play to their strengths and nurture their audiences

While I take some of the responsibility for liberally spreading gloom with my posts and links about closures, cutbacks and depressing data in the magazine industry, it is doing no one any favours by glossing over such bad news. However it might be worth taking a pause and looking at the fundamentals that give magazines an edge when it comes to coping with the bad news and competing in a bloody and uncertain marketplace.

One is the relationship with readers, whence comes 30, 40 or even 50% of revenue. There is very little evidence, anywhere, that readers are abandoning magazines. It is not whistling past the graveyard to say that readers who, two months ago, loved your magazine and looked forward to it are unlikely to have fallen out of love because of the financial meltdown. Nor is it likely that their first, or even tenth, economy will be to instantly cancel their subscription. They have much bigger worries and, in many ways, the steady constancy of a regular magazine sub is something they can count on in an uncertain world. Long-term, yes, people may find themselves economizing, but not right now and not on magazine subs. At least not if you continue to deliver delight and good value.

Paradoxically we have so long underpriced magazines that they cost so little in sub or single copy in the scheme of things that they are, if not beneath notice, then at least a low priority for economy. If readers were paying the full freight, they might have greater pause, but they aren't.

The much-discussed migration of advertising to the web has been hyped beyond reason. Yes, ad sales are dropping, but it is not because advertisers are transferring the dollars to websites, but because they are cutting back spending across the board. If misery loves company, we've got lots of it, in other media of all types.

Because we don't hear the moans from the corporate suites of new media doesn't mean that they aren't sharing the pain with the rest of us. Pause for a moment and consider what stories you have read about profitable web publishing. Not many examples. The very strong likelihood is that, in the recession, a lot of these Potemkin villages -- built on hype and hope, but without solid subscriber bases -- will be casualties. I'm not suggesting that we should indulge in schadenfreude. But we should understand and nurture the strength of magazines.

Publications that maintain their quality will still be there when the economy rights itself and advertisers once again acknowledge that our business is delivering the attention of readers in an editorial environment they trust.

We should also remember that a lot of magazines are small, and nimble. While we hear the laments from the big battalions and see the layoffs, it should be remembered that many of Canada's best magazines are used to working on a shoestring and relying largely on voluntarism and goodwill. That will continue and there is hardly any audience more loyal than the audience of small magazines. Sure, we need to continue to innovate in all sorts of ways, but if you have energy to spend, spend it on holding and nurturing your existing audiences.

Magazines have good stories to tell and should continue to tell them between episodes of battening down hatches. We know from experience that we can't sit still, we have to continue to develop new readers and new ways of reaching them. But our longstanding ways of reaching them won't disappear overnight, or at all.

The one thing publishers and editors and circulators can't do is to give this up as a lost cause, because there is little evidence that it is. While confusion and uncertainty is understandable, it will pass; what we can't give way to is despair. Chins up, magaziners.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has a good take on content repackaging.

1:02 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Happy Halloween!

2:59 pm  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home