Five warning signs for magazine publishers

Yesterday two more established print titles closed; Dennis’  Maxim is now online-only (see Brand Republic)and the ex-journalist’s bible UK Press Gazette has closed completely, as its publisher can’t find a way to make money on the web (see Paid content).  Meanwhile newspapers over in the US are closing and one blogger is mapping their decline. This sort of news no doubt puts a shiver down the spine of many traditional publishers.  Here I list five warning signs that your publication could be on the danger list, and suggest what you could do now to avert disaster.

1. Content available elsewhere

If your main content category is available for free, eg news on the BBC or google, then you aren’t going to be able to charge for content. This is the dilemma for all newspapers.  The FT is the exception, as its business analysis is hard to find elsewhere for no money.  The lesson is to shift your content creation to unique categories – product tests and reviews, opinion and analysis – and focus on niche audiences.  If you have a print archive, and it is still of value today, digitise it, as this is unique content you own.  See my earlier blog on digital archiving for more tips.

2. Dependence on advertising

Not only is advertising revenue at risk from the recession, and print is being cannibalised by online, I fear that the very basis of broadcast style advertising is undergoing structural change.  Many former advertisers are realising they can communicate directly with their customers online, and the need for traditional display ads is less pressing.  Print publishers need to quickly develop subscription models, both on and offline, and work out how to deliver content that consumers will pay for.  See my earlier post on content ideas.

3. Audience under 25

If your core audience are younger, they have grown up with the internet, and find print slow and hard to search.  Teenage girls mags collapsed a couple of years back, now the tide has reached as far as Maxim.  If your magazine targets under 25s, get planning for a web migration today, and think about how you can reposition some brands to an older audience to buy you more time.

4. Behind the game online

Press Gazette has paid the price for not having a clear online strategy; last month Arena closed when with more foresight it could have survived as online-only.  Conversely, Parkers launched its site in 2000, and now could easily close the print edition and not miss it.  Beware of the tempting thought that in the recession you don’t have the spare cash to establish your website – it may well be your lifeboat.  But watch out for the classic magazine website pitfalls spelt out in my previous post.

5. Weak market position

The structural change in the media market is exposing the weaker players.  Following the launch of Shortlist, Maxim became a minor brand in a tough men’s market, and sales quickly spiralled.  If your print brand is a number 3 or 4 in the market, you need to quickly reposition and find a more defensible niche.  Read my ideas on creating complementary print and web propositions.

I don’t believe I have all the answers, but I strongly advise magazine publishers to take this threat seriously.  I welcome any comments and suggestions.

If you are a magazine publisher and would like to discuss the risk to your business and a plan to mitigate, then do please contact us for an initial discussion.  Find out more about how we develop practical digital media and marketing strategies at  Carolyn Morgan.