While every year this century has seen the slow demise of print magazines and newspapers, I think that things are starting to accelerate, and 2012 has certainly been a notable year in this respect. I’m not talking about magazines stopping publication completely (many of us will miss The Word), but those magazines which have thrown in the towel on their print editions, while still seeing a future for an online version. In the B2B world this has included such big names as The Engineer, and in the wider world Newsweek (and even, it was mischievously rumoured last week, The Guardian). It’s not good news for readers: the paper version is preferable not only because it’s what we’ve grown up with, but because it’s nicer to hold and look at, easier to scan and (when presented properly) shows images off to much greater effect. The change is simply market forces in action. We might prefer print editions, but we’re not prepared to pay for them in terms of the cover price, the wait or the amount of advertising required to make them even remotely affordable.
I love proper magazines, and would go back to editing one tomorrow if I thought there was a future in it. I still subscribe to several. These are a mixture of titles where the content isn’t available online (e.g Private Eye) or where I genuinely want to support the continued existence of the magazine in a small way (e.g When Saturday Comes). In the trade sector, the publishers don’t have these sorts of straws to clutch at. Few trade magazines have ever bothered to build a rapport with their readership, or even develop a personality, so few are mourned when they quietly cease publication. Apart from a handful which still genuinely try to research news about their industry which might not see the light of day otherwise, most trade magazines just run a succession of “news” items from manufacturers and trade organisations which were published on the originators’ websites weeks before. Almost none can command a cover price for that, and rely on a dwindling band of advertisers. Some of these companies just want to support the titles’ existence. Others have calculated that the advertising investment remains a profitable one, and I’m pleased for them and the title if that’s so. However, I suspect that too many of the advertisers are still there because spending their “advertising budget” is a chore, and giving the money to the ever-willing magazine sales reps who’ve been around for years is the easiest way to get the job done with as little fuss as possible. That’s sad, and as a generation of marketing managers retires, cannot possibly last.
I can think of many ways in which printed magazines can be improved, but I don’t know how to save them.