Is it Time to Give Up on Magazines?

In most cases, no. It is definitely not time to give up on magazines.

That’s really the long and the short of it, but I’ll give you my reasons as well:

  1. Niche and trade magazines are the highest ROI marketing medium.
  2. Readership of many trade magazines is up, despite consumer subscriptions being down.
  3. Print media is at the point where exciting changes are taking place and creating innovative solutions.
  4. Competing associations are dropping their publications, which means that the last one left will be the leader.

Niche and trade magazines are the highest ROI marketing medium

Most of my advertisers are incredibly surprised when I mention this to them, but let’s think about it: When there are fewer advertisers in a given medium, share of view increases and competition decreases. Twenty years ago, the only places to advertise were in printed publications, radio and TV. In the trade world, TV and often radio were never contenders for ad dollars. Mass market makes no sense if you’re looking to target a specific niche of professional.

Once digital ads came along, trade advertisers saw a new way to target these professionals and started to pull out of magazines.

A magazine that used to have 10 advertisers for any given service now only has one or two. As a publisher or as an association, you see the decrease in sales and begin to panic. Those few advertisers who continue to advertise with the publication should be elated.

Their competition handed them exclusivity on a silver platter when they wanted to compete with everyone else.

We see a decrease in ad dollars, but these advertisers are seeing an increase in the effectiveness of those advertisements. One would think that logically, this means you should be able to have fewer, more expensive and more impressive ads in a publication.

We’ve had great success in asking for larger media buys like cover spreads, gate folds and other large ads. And while there are definitely fewer advertisers than there were 10 years ago, we also have a lot fewer quarter-page and business card-sized ads, along with double the full-page ads. It’s actually not very often that we sell something less than a full page these days and I think this is the reason why.

Readership of many trade magazines is up, despite consumer subscriptions being down.

This is a fairly self-explanatory point and I won’t go too much into detail on it. The bottom line is that print media has become a luxury experience that your members enjoy at their own pace. I’m 22 and I can say with certainty that others in my age group still enjoy reading physical books and magazines.

The reason consumer magazines are down right now is that media consumption habits change from generation to generation.

If you’ve ever tried to get your grandma to use a smartphone, then you’ve experienced this firsthand. It’s not so much that she doesn’t want to understand how the phone works and how to gather information using it, it’s that she really doesn’t want to use it. She’s more than content to watch the news rather than check in on her local Facebook page.

Many millennials are the polar opposite. I know many 30-year-olds who can’t stand listening to radio, watching TV or buying a physical book. They use Kindles and source information using their computers and cellphones.

Neither is wrong; they’re just different. These changes in media consumption habits are why marketing agencies created generations in the first place.

Generation Z (those born after 1995) has even more interesting media consumption habits. They tend to enjoy the physical experience of printed products and are less likely to own 5,000 e-books. TV isn’t as interesting to them and radio is completely non-existent now that services like Spotify and YouTube are commonplace.

Of course, I’m touching on consumer behavior right now, but if you look at trade media it’s not as high contrast. At the end of the day, if your members have a problem that needs to be fixed immediately, they’ll ask Google for an answer. If they want to put their feet up and learn about an interesting topic relevant to their job, then they’ll take half an hour and read your magazine if the cover line is interesting enough.

Print media is at the point where exciting changes are taking place and creating innovative solutions

This is one of my favorite points and it ties closely into the first point I made. Advertisers and publishers need to get creative with how they produce media or risk being left behind. If we look forward over the next 100 years, it’s likely that technological advancements are going to drastically change how printed media is consumed.

I’d imagine that things like flexible screens will make magazines an interactive experience but at the same time cheap enough that they can be disposed of. If battery life continues at the pace it has been, then these publications will likely last for several years before their batteries die.

The innovations that take place today will greatly influence how media is consumed over the next several decades. To be a media producer in this environment is very exciting. This also allows you to offer these innovations to your advertisers and create products that have never previously been conceived.

Competing associations are dropping their publications, which means that the last one left will be the leader

Every association has competitors and usually only one or two are considered to be the definitive voices for their industries. If you drop your publication or listen to your media partner when they try and justify their lack of sales ability, you’ll become secondary to whomever still has a publication in the market.

It doesn’t matter if you’re dropping a secondary publication like a directory or your flagship magazine. This isn’t the time to be bearish on your advertising expectations. Downturn in industries isn’t even a good excuse for dropping a publication. Some of the largest companies in the world today rose to new heights during the ‘08 recession and your publication is no exception to that.

If you have a media partner who is bearish on sales, or who anticipates that they’ll have to drop printed products in order to go digital only, start consulting with other publishers.

A publisher’s job is to create an amazing and beautiful publication while hitting sales targets, not to make excuses as to why they didn’t hit those targets.