Monday, June 15, 2009

Stubborn Adherence to Ad Model Is Killing Magazines

In the April 2009, Jason Fell looked at why publishers are ceasing publication of successful magazines. In "Why Are Successful Magazines Folding?" Fell quotes some publishers -- such as my former boss, Hanley Wood's CEO, Frank Anton -- who stubbornly stick to the ad-driven model for magazines. For them, there are too many magazine pages seeking a limited number of ads, so their should be shrinkage in the magazine marketplace.

I was pleased, however, to see U. of Mississippi magazine expert Samir Husni give a deeper perspective: "The publishing model ... served us well since World War II, when we switched from a circulation-driven publishing model to an advertising-driven model." We now have magazines that devalue their content by practically giving away subscriptions, expecting to get a good rate base to charge advertisers. Hanley Wood, of course, publishes a lot of B2B titles, and they largely live in that world of ads-over-paying-circ.

But it's not the only way, and there are many magazines that survive by subscription and/or newsstand revenue. Put out a magazine that people actually want to receive, are willing to pay for, and it's one they're also more likely to stick with during down times because it has value to them. If Husni's correct, then since WWII, we've traded a solid long-term magazine model for one that is less dependable, puts readers and content at the whim of advertisers, and that delivers less value to the reader. Not sure that's progress.

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