Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Art of the Licensed Movie Magazine (as told by David McDonnell)

Editor David McDonnell's blog over at has an interesting story about the company's involvement (and mostly non-involvement) with publishing a licensed magazine for the Indiana Jones films and TV series. It's a tale of something that didn't come to be, but for people interested in the publishing business -- as I am -- or just movie-lovers who are interested in knowing how their favorite merchandise comes to appear in the store for them to purchase, it's a great article.

It also reminds me of my one and only visit to the Starlog offices, back in 1999. I was getting a tour of the offices from one of the mag's founders, and we got an earful from top editors and publishers about the politics of publishing a licensed magazine for one of the biggest blockbusters of that year. (I'll leave out that film company's name to avoid stepping on any toes; besides, that was a year of many blockbusters, so good luck guessing.) Starlog Group had tried to get rights to a licensed magazine for the film, but the price was so steep that it'd be nearly impossible to recoup the cost, much less make a profit. Another publisher did snap up the rights, but it paid so much that Starlog Group was slapping its forehead in dismay (if a company had a slappable forehead -- but you know what I mean) over what the other publisher would have to do to make it work.

Licensed magazines can be a money machine, if they're well-chosen. I also suspect they're a little bit like broadcasting the Olympics is for network TV. The winning network usually pays a ton for the rights and, or so I read once, doesn't recoup enough of its investment in advertising; instead, it gets a long-term payback by being able to promote its own shows throughout the two-week run of Olympics coverage, and that provides a boost to ratings (and thus broad-based advertising revenue) in future weeks and months. Similarly, movie magazines allow the publisher to devote a page or two to advertising its other titles and products. Take away the licensing biz from a publisher, and you take away more than one benefit it was receiving.

McDonnell explains how Starlog Group President/Publisher Norman Jacobs structured his licensing deals (again, a nice tidbit for magazine geeks like me to know; probably overkill for you). At one time (I believe in the 1980s), Starlog Group was the number-one publisher of licensed magazines. Over the years, the company did everything from Star Trek (TNG, DS9, Voyager) to Baywatch to Terminator 2 to The Untouchables and on and on and on, until that business dried up for them a decade or so ago. I would have loved to see what they could have and would have done with a magazine on the new Battlestar Galactica, but now I'm just compounding geekness upon geekness.

These days, the licensed movie magazine section of your local friendly Borders has been totally colonized by Britain's Titan Magazines, which did in fact publish a Galactica magazine, and still produces them for CSI: Miami, Torchwood, Star Wars, and others. I wonder what their licensing deal is like.

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