Late on Thursday evening, the most famous pop star in the world died. I wouldn’t have liked to have been working on a daily newspaper that night (talk about “clear the front page!” chaos) but the timing was extraordinarily fortuitous for the UK papers: a massive story which broke after most people had gone to bed, but just in time for it to be splashed on their front pages. There’s about a one-hour slot each day when that can happen. But it doesn’t happen often enough, which is one reason why newspapers are closing all over the world.
Will the trends in the newspaper industry be reflected in the printed media we use in industry – the “trade mags” and other journals? I believe they face two insurmountable problems. The first is the “I’ve read about it already” problem which the newspapers are failing to cope with. Despite having had years to plan for a changing market, most trade mags are still publishing as much “product news” as they did ten or twenty years ago, desite the fact that nowadays, a far higher proportion of their readers will already have read the news in more frequent online newsletters – or, increasingly, directly from you. The only way for these titles to remain relevant is for them to concentrate on analysis. Unfortunately, that’s much more expensive than reprinting press releases, which brings us onto the second of their problems.
Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer recently made the prediction that advertising in traditional media will never come out of this recession. He said that it has been “permanently reset” and that as the economy recovers, the gains will largely go to more flexible media. This could be a financial disaster for a lot of print media owners. Many trade mags are now running at a serious loss, and are banking on a pickup sooner rather than later to bail them out. It may never come. Is it true in your sector? Here’s a quick exercise for you. Find the latest issue of a trade mag you read. You know the real cost of a page advert, so you can work out in 2 minutes how much revenue that issue has made. Now look at the list of staff. One of the three trade mags I have on my desk has about 20 pages of advertising at – what – £1000 per page? It apparently operates on an efficient-looking staff of about 6 people. Would £20,000 even pay their salaries? And we haven’t even got on to the more substantial costs of printing and posting 15,000 magazines yet.
This does not look good to me. Very few people will benefit if the traditional trade magazine dies. I have a few ideas how to save it, and I know some people working hard in that sector who have some too. I just hope their publishers and advertisers listen to them.