Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Print Magazines Are Dying, But Their Brands Aren't

The fact it has been one year since one of my favorite print pubs, the award-winning CMO Magazine, ceased publishing got me reflecting on the state of print magazines. Printed publications will eventually go the way of printed checks (which are being replaced by check cards, which are in the early stage of being replaced by the human thumb, which will eventually be replaced by Humans 2.0) and CDs (downloads).

What killed CMO? Although Blackfriars blamed a slowdown in marketing spending generally, Joseph Jaffe and Web Ink Now seem closer to the truth: the publication failed to capitalize on its brand franchise. To survive, publishers will have to stop thinking in terms of format (print magazines) and focus instead on providing compelling content that attracts a quality audience, and is delivered in a variety of formats (print, website, blog, podcast, video, and whatever comes next). The printed page won't continue to attract advertisers indefinitely, but delivery of a targeted, high-quality audience -- in whatever format is used -- will. As Paul Conley and Hershel Sarbin put it, magazines "need to reinvent, redefine, and adapt to the demand for multi-platform delivery of content and audience."

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There's no question that print is declining. Overall subscription rates are falling, and subscribers are aging: as Don Dodge points out, the top ten magazines by U.S. circulation are now "AARP Magazine, AARP Bulletin, Readers Digest, TV Guide, Better Homes & Gardens, National Geographic, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Lady's Home Journal, and Woman's Day." Those aren't publications that will lose their readership to the web; they'll lose it to human mortality.

Mark Minosi doesn't feel that we have a suitable replacement yet for printed magazines, but that's a technology issue, not one of content. Again, as Dodge notes, "The blogosphere is doubling every 5 ½ months." For now, the delivery mechanism may be anything from an email on a Blackberry to a website or RSS feed on a big flat panel monitor; it may eventually move to something like electronic paper. In the end, the format doesn't matter -- the business model for delivering compelling content to a high quality audience, and delivering that high quality audience to advertisers, is what will save successful publishing brands.


Terms: print publications dying, print magazines declining, publishing, blogging, Joseph Jaffe, Paul Conley, Don Dodge

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