Magazine Industry Not Dead Yet?


As you may know, every Monday on its back business section page, The New York Times posts its media metrics. There you can find which movie killed at the weekend box office (Avatar, obvs), which pop stars are on heavy download rotation (Ke$ha anyone?) and, during much of 2009, you could also look at this page to find out which magazines' advertising pages were down severely and thus which mags were hemorrhaging the most cash. (This corner of the page we affectionately took to calling Hemophiliac Alley last year.)

Generally we've grown accustomed to looking at the magazine corner through fingers splayed across our faces, horror-film-watching style, as the industry limped along toward ... well, nobody seemed to know what. But a bloody end, for sure. It was all we could do to not scream, "Behind you—watch out!"

So imagine our surprise when we flipped to that section of the paper this morning and took note of the collection of startling stats there: The Economist, one of the few periodicals actually doing not terribly lately, saw a modest 6.2 % bump in ad pages in December of 2009 versus the previous year's stretch of time. And speaking of, Time was up a remarkable 49.9 % in the last week of December, while New York mag leaped 17.1 %. And those gains were nothing compared to Newsweek and Timeout New York, which saw spikes of 64.7 and 66.2 %, respectively. Now of course those numbers must be consumed with a rather large grain of salt—a pebble or more, even—as the winter of 2008 will surely go down as one of the worst moments in the ad market ever. But this being The Upswing and us feeling optimistic in this first week of 2010, we're going to go ahead and say it—those figures sure are nice to see.

Staying with the Times business section for a minute, and in a related piece, David Carr writes hopefully today about Apple's big upcoming announcement slated for the end of this month. Many media watchers believe the large room rented for January 26 in San Francisco by Steve Jobs and the gang, will be the place that Apple launches its iPhone-slash-e-reader-slash-netbook, something Gizmodo believes will be called iSlate. Carr, and others, think this device could be something of a magazine industry panacea, or at least a way to put off the inevitable crumbling of print while competing with other leisure pursuits in the digital age.

If nothing else, Carr writes, Apple's new gadget should help "magazines and newspapers enter a world where they can measure consumer engagement with ads, which is pretty much the only game in town going forward." If that's true, then no amount of print ad pages is going to save magazines. Still, that doesn't dim the shine of today's positive print numbers. And perhaps some yet-to-be-cracked code involving the interplay of print and digital —a mingling of paper's humble adverts with digital's dancing enticements—is yet in the offing. And so just maybe the clanging death knells for the publishing business have rung if not too loudly then at least too soon.

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  • Richard Geller

    I really don't get all the wringing of hands and pulling of hair over the idea of paper magazines and books going away. I love good writing. I appreciate knowledgeable people providing intelligent commentary on what's happening in different areas of this enormously diverse planet. Why should anyone think if it isn't delivered on paper, it's automatically d-o-o-m-e-d? What's going to go away, eventually, is the foolish idea that if we the readers value, say Fast Company, we're automatically entitled to have access to it without some kind of subscription fee. No, it should not be priced as if FC was mailing out paper magazines to us every month; that's just stupid and besides it feels greedy even if it isn't. The "Suits" need to rethink the business model and the value proposition and start building market acceptance for paying for online community participation. Come on, buck up! There must be some way people can get used to the idea of paying for desirable online content.

    Richard Geller