Whither mags?

Magazines won’t die. But I wonder how many new ones will be born. House & Garden is folding. Business 2.0 is dead. Ditto Jane, Cargo, ElleGirl, Teen People — all relatively recent launches. A launch can easily cost $40 million before break-even. Entertainment WEekly, my baby, went through $200 million before turning profitable (that wasn’t my fault!). It’s a $300-million-plus-a-year franchise now. But you can bet that it wouldn’t be launched today. Nor should it. EW should and would be a web network instead if I had my way.

So the question is: Who will have the balls to start a new magazine today?

Oh, once you already have one, if it’s profitable and if you’re smart, it can still prosper, especially if it learns how to gather and serve its community online. So I don’t think those magazines will die. But starting a new one? That’s just too high risk.

In London, I’m seeing freesheets turn into magazines. There’s a free men’s magazine and a free sport magazine. They also bring challenges: mainly distribution and, I’ll bet, ad rates associated with something given away. But they don’t have the incredible costs of subscriber acquisition; they don’t hang on their churn and renewal numbers; they aren’t building big brands. They’re just slick and free.