Thursday, December 1, 2011

Print Is the New AM Radio

Folio: reports that a regional magazine publisher in North Carolina is starting a new print newspaper. He has spotted the problems that have occurred with the decline (that's a nicer word that collapse) of daily newspapers, and he is concerned that citizens are not getting good information on the workings of their communities and the world. So he is creating a new weekly newspaper that will serve his audiences.

It is counterintuitive only if you aren't paying attention to media and business. Big daily newspapers have basically imploded under the weight of high costs that were no longer supported by massive print classified advertising. Readership has also shrunk, but the newspaper's problems today are primarily advertising revenue-based, not readership based. So daily newspapers have tried to reinvent themselves over and over again, with a lot of wasted money and a lot of amnesia about why people want to read newspapers in the first place (and therefore why advertisers would want to pay to reach those readers in print).

AM radio was once written off as a has-been, overtaken by the superior FM stations. But then talk radio (and particularly the conservative kind) saw an opportunity, and AM radio became hot again.

I see a similar coming opportunity as big publishers lose the ability to publish magazines that drop from something like 900,000 circ to 450,000 or 250,000. Those lower numbers can't support the corporate infrastructure and massive debt loads carried by the big publishers, especially the public ones. But that leaves lots of burgeoning opportunities for smaller publishers (existing and new ones) to step in and successfully publish magazines in many niches at 100,000 to 500,000 circ. I remember pitching a science/science-fiction magazine to a small publisher fifteen years ago when Bob Guccione canceled Omni magazine, which had fallen from more than 1 million circ in the early 1980s to around 600,000 by the mid-1990s. Guccione couldn't make a 600,000-circulation Omni work; many others could have been profitably thrilled with such a number, or even half of it.

That small publisher didn't bite, and I think he lost a good opportunity.

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