Magazine publishing can be a tricky business. The more unusual and international, the harder it can be to find your niche. Deciding how to use online media can easily be the most confusing part. Should you offer some of the print content online? What about a paywall? Should you merely use the internet to showcase the publication, or should you create a whole other aspect of your brand? The full spectrum of choices are represented in the world of independent magazines, from the lone Facebook page, to Monocle's whole online world, complete with radio station and shop.
One of the small indies I carry, Makeshift, has decided to cease the print version of their reportage as of their last issue, 15. The quarterly has been on my shelves since I opened three years ago, when I had issue 7, and I am sorry to see them go. They say they will continue their work online, with reportage and videos, so you can follow them there if you wish.
To read their farewell post, click here.
This got me thinking. Magazines were, not so long ago, predicted to be dying. The general thought was that digital was the future, that tablets and phones were where everyone would read their content, and people wouldn't buy print magazines. Take one look at my shelves, and you will know that certainly didn't happen. However, the big magazine publishers - those who create the likes of Vogue and Esquire - are forever reorganizing, trimming page size, and publishing sales numbers with scary-looking declines. So what is up?
Well, I have a thought on that. I think there are two things going on here. First, people don't read magazines for the same reasons they did even ten years ago. All our news - world, political, celebrity - is consumed online and in 140 character bites (which is another blog post entirely). We reach for print to disconnect from all that and read something with depth. Who is supplying that? The independents, mainly.
The other issue is simple. The big publishers give away all their content for free. Endless websites, Instagrams, tweets and Facebook posts means there is no need fork over the cash for that People in the grocery line, no matter how much they lower the cover price. They made this choice, undoubtedly, with the expectation that over time, online ad revenue - you know, all that stuff your ad-blocker doesn't show you? - would generate more income than the ads in the print publication. Turns out, not so much. Which is where the panic comes from. Online visits are growing (tweet, tweet), print sales are declining (Read free content online? Sure.) But the advertisers still want to be in the print publication, because that is where people are paying attention. So they are in a pickle.
And once you give the store away, you can't take it back. In other words, you have been getting your Vogue or Sports Illustrated content for free online for years, and then one day you show up and you have to pay to see it? That isn't going to please anyone.
But what if you didn't start out free? There are several examples of this in independent magazines, such as n+1 and Jacobin. Or, in what someone recently told me he calls the 'Microsoft Model' - and which you can see succeeding in both the New York Times and the New Yorker - you get them hooked on your content, and then you add the paywall. The trick there, of course, is that the content has to be top quality, or considered essential. Which mainly these days is coming from the independents, with their excellent longform journalism and often culturally edgy content that people actually want to read.
Which brings us back to Makeshift. Some publishers decide to start online, then go to print, and some choose the reverse. Others choose to do one or the other. The variety is broad, and has varying levels of success. But whatever you hear, don't worry about the future of print magazines! There are so many new, high quality indies out there, my shelves overflow. In fact, I have lots of magazines on my shelves that are so new they are still in the single-digit issues. The most recent arrival is Majestic Disorder, issue 7, which arrived last week, along with issue 8 of Hello Mr. I also have Drift, volume 4, which is on the coffee culture of Stockholm, and Womankind #9, Cahallo. And of course, don't forget issue 4 of Pallet, one of my favorites, or Lonely Planet's new US edition, which has their 7th issue out now.
Print is still going strong! I have something good to read for you, whatever you might be interested in. Put down those tweets, you need a nice magazine. Keep reading!