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.

  • Interesting that the newspapers people say they enjoy reading are ones which are most like magazines (ie the sundays).
    For news, there are way better channels. So yes, magazines have a future (in entertainment) news is digital.

  • Scotsman

    Tyler Brule launched Monocle- £5 ($10) monthly. Not exactly mass-market, I know.

  • The free pubs you mention don’t have to be “big brands” to succeed. They can happily prosper as vital nodes in a brand network. Much easier for them to scale out than to scale up.

  • The Web is making life very difficult for both magazines and newspapers. I agree with you 100% about the need for a printed publication to “gather and serve its community online”.

    The biggest problem that I see for anyone who is trying to start a new magazine, apart from the cost, as getting attention space from an already overloaded human brain. I’m guessing that a well written and attractive “niche” magazine could work if it was focused, relevant, and could bring content to the reader that they wouldn’t find somewhere else. Distribution would also be a major factor that adds to the cost.

    But your question was: “who will have the balls to start a new magazine today”? The only answer that I can come up with is: a person with a healthy ego, unmatched determination, and star power. And deep, deep pockets.

    Great blog, Jeff.

  • I used to believe that I wanted a fully functional and operational day to day magazine company and decided against it when I saw that my online writing was MUCH MORE cost effective, less time consuming and more profitable. Now I spend more in my budget having my articles translated so that I can reach a wider audience. ONLINE is the best way to start if you are going to publish!

  • The market in the US is fairly unique, in that it’s a vast geographical area with quite low population density compared to Europe. That means that, in order to launch a magazine in the US, you need to spend many, many millions of dollars. Even with on-demand regional printing, it a lot of money.

    In countries with greater population densities like the UK, it’s much easier to start a magazine – and new magazines are born (and fold) all the time here. Magazines remain very powerful attention-grabbers compared to online, and can be serious money makers where the geographical conditions are right.

    One area to watch for, too, is contract publishing – effectively, magazines sponsored by single companies. Contract publishing is growing hugely in the UK and the quality of titles is getting very high. Many are even sold – and in the case of titles from the likes of Sainsburys, Waitrose, and Marks and Spencer, sell a lot of copies.

    (Disclosure – I work for Redwood, which is one of the UK’s biggest contract publishers).

  • Celebrity gossip seems like one area where magazine purchases haven’t dropped off among friends of mine. They’re perfect impulse buys for road trips. However, that probably isn’t a big enough market to run a magazine on.

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  • When are going to see a blog-written magazine? Think, the best editorial from across the blogosphere, reformatted as a weekly. This is something I would subscribe to, something I would pay for, something I would get behind as an advertiser.

  • There’s been an explosion in Pittsburgh the last several years of local lifestyle magazines. (I write for a couple of them.) Is this trend being seen elsewhere?

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  • So do you predict an eventual, gradual deadening of the medium where the old slowly die off without any new?

  • Great to read your comments about magazines. We launched one magazine last year (JPG Magazine), and we’re in the process of launching our second (Everywhere) – hopefully we’re not too crazy. I tend to think of the challenge to magazines in a couple ways. First, you need to make a magazine that is better in print than it is online. That is very difficult for magazines like Business 2.0, and many others, because the web does news and data so well. Magazines, on the other hand, are much better at the visual stuff along with inspiration and serendipitous discovery. Good magazines make that their strength.

    Second, magazines need to be more efficient and use the web for what it is good for. As you suggested, there is a really good opportunity for magazines to gather and serve their community online. Both of our titles start online, with the community submitting and voting on everything that get published. Not only does this make it a lot easier to produce a magazine, but having hundreds of thousands of contributors produces a better magazine.

  • Maldoror

    I find all magazines more interesting when they are still trees.

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