There is a recent article titled Print vs. Digital: Another Emotional Win for Paper, that came across my info-radar today. Articles like these are always popping up. They are interesting to me, because science must do what science does, question everything. As a geek-at-heart, I am all for the pursuit of knowledge. I sometimes think that all good production people are geeks, but that is a story for another day.
There are several things that must be pointed out in this article. The headline is click bait appealing to paper lovers and trying to confirm what they think they already know. However, the data here is not as overwhelming for the paper lovers as the headline suggests. The biggest issue is the supposed edge in the emotional response to paper as opposed to digital. To me that is much more generational than a universal law of astro-advertising.
The main thing to remember here is that in a very meaningful way none of this digital-does-this-and-paper-does-that-science will matter as we proceed further. Why, you wisely ask? Because, we aren't ever going to go back to being a major paper transmitting society. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
These are indeed turbulent times for a transforming industry, and forward thinking leadership is critical for the industry to help us adjust to these changing times. Newsstand sales and subscription sales in general continue to diminish. Are there standouts bucking the overall industry trend? Yes, most assuredly. But overall, the trends are down for the industry. Clearly we need to develop and broadcast a strategy that plays to our strengths and comes to grips with our weaknesses. Being in continual denial of our current position in the media wars just won't work.
For the record I am not a pessimist for the magazine media industry, nor a detractor of the print product. What I am is an unashamed realist. Print can accomplish things that digital can't and can provide a sizable ROI while doing so. At the same time it is obvious digital can accomplish feats that print products can only dream of. The downside with digital thus far is its slow growth of monetization for the magazine industry. What we need is the marriage of the two disciplines combining digital's creativity and its accountability gained from increasingly reliable metadata with the comfort and traditions of print. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
A few months ago I had a conversation with AIM's president and CEO Andrew Clurman. Andy said, "Today's operative words at AIM are diversification and proliferation. We are continually finding seams within the verticals we're in of unfilled audience interests and needs."
BoSacks Speaks Out: My friend Samir Husni has penned a short essay and complaint about "numbers" used in our industry for purposes of industry review and analysis (See below). He bemoans the way some media reporters publish stats on the number of new titles in each quarter, and he wishes that they reached out to him for his extensive collected number of new launches. I suggest that his collection of data is very large, unique and probably the most definitive.
It is true that the numbers we read in the trade press are varied and terribly inconsistent. From my perspective as an industry insider, it has always been fun to see the numbers and the constant surplus of new titles. That being said, I am using Samir's essay to launch my own observations about data in our industry in a week of many numbers which, although interesting to read, are for the most part irrelevant and misleading.
Let's start with the number of new titles in each quarter. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the number of new titles has nothing to do with the vibrancy of our industry. (See chart.)
Skyrocketing number of magazines in red and plummeting total circ in yellow. (Thanks to Dr. Joe Webb for the chart)
In fact, the number of new magazines we make is a red herring to our actual vibrancy. The only stat that matters is how many magazines we sell, and those numbers have been dropping since 2007 to a loss of over 50% in newsstand sales and, depending upon who you talk to, 18% in subs.
As Content & Technology Converge, Publishers Feel the Squeeze
Is there a difference between a content company and a technology company? The answer to that question is becoming increasingly difficult to answer. In the recent past, publishers were by and large content companies. Today, with the blending of multiple content distribution formats, magazine media companies have forged new business alliances and discovered new types of competitors, blurring the lines between magazine companies and technology companies.
David Carey recently noted that, "Hearst is a content company, operating with a platform mentality...functioning as one global entity as far as content sharing." I suggest to you that only a technology company that sells content on such a vast scale can achieve the goal of that kind of global outreach.
Let's put a bunch of companies in the same sentence and see if we can divine the differences: The New York Times, Hearst, Condé Nast, Yahoo, Buzzfeed, Vox, and Upworthy. Can you distinguish the differences between these companies and their missions? If we are all fast becoming technology companies, as it seems we are, perhaps we should consider the differences and significance of online readership and off-line readership. Are we nearing a point when it will all be just readership?
It seems to me that my opinion on the changes to the ASME guidelines will be in the minority. To me it boils down to integrity: you have it or you don't.
As an industry we seem to keep diluting our once unimpeachable integrity, whittling at it here and there, until before we know it, we have none. Native advertising, ads on the cover, editors working hand in hand with advertisers -- where does it end? Oh, I see there actually is no end, just a slow whimpering slide into total duplicity. Yes, you can fool all the readers some of the time and some of the readers all the time, but you absolutely can't fool all the readers all the time.
In the end the ASME rules don't matter and they never did.
Lets face it, we have never been a "pure" industry and we have always pushed the business envelope hard for a few extra bucks. But now we don't wish to even fake it anymore.
What does matter is our self-image. Editors of old would be appalled at what we have become and allow. I hear you -- modern times require modern guidelines. I'm sure that is true. But I tell you this, there continues to be less and less that differentiates the magazine media business from multiple internet scams or from the 16 year old kid doing whatever he pleases to score with the girl next door. It may work for the kid, but not for the industry.
I think the old guidelines of the magazine industry that were in place for decades helped develop the enduring value for our franchises. We are still riding on the coattails of those old values, and the public still believes in us and our integrity based on what we did in the past. It will take time, but not as much time as took to develop that trust, for it to evaporate. Is it worth it to destroy a legacy for just a few shekels? I guess so.