Ten “Hope-to-be-Helpful” Magazine Statements for 2010 and beyond…January 1, 2010
My friend Bruce Brandfon, Vice President and Publisher of Scientific American magazine, referred to the 00 decade as “the lost decade.” He told me that the 21st Century starts on January 1, 2010. So in honor of the beginning of the New Decade (and in Bruce’s words, the new century) here are my ten hopeful statements for 2010 and beyond:
1. Publishing is Believing: A friend of mine from The Netherlands used to remind me every time he saw me, that publishing is believing. Now, more than ever, we need to believe in our publishing business. If we do not believe in what we are doing and if we do not believe that what we are doing have any value, than our business is dead. Publishing is indeed believing and after 2009 we need more believers in the publishing business than we need doubting Thomases. Thank you each and every new magazine launched in 2009 for putting your money where your mouth is.
2. Circulation must make money and not cost money: It is insane when a magazine like Interview costs $9.00 per issue on the newsstands, but sells an entire year (12 issues) for $8.00. There is something wrong with that picture. Publishers must take to heart the advice of one of their own John McCarthy, Senior Vice President, Customer Marketing at Rodale. He told Publishing Executive magazine that “when the brand is hot and the edit is strong” you can command premium prices. So, before selling me that one year subscription for $5 check your brand and your edit and see if your content can and should command a premium price.
3. Virtual is not the same as physical: With the mad dash to every thing digital, we need to stop and take a deeper look into all things physical. E readers and E tablets are similar to the Playstation and Wii electronic games. However, if you’ve spend your holidays shopping for toys for your grandson like I did, you would have noticed that the shelves are still filled with board games, balls (baseball, tennis, football, etc.), trucks, dolls, and many other “so called” traditional toys. Kids, being human, like to play with physical objects in addition to virtual. Playing tennis on Wii is not the same as playing tennis at the tennis court.
4. Celebrate rather than mourn: This should come as no surprise to anyone who follows our industry. These have been the worst of times in the history of the American magazine publishing industry. However, rather than succumbing to what some may think is a dead-end future, industry leaders including the Magazine Publishers of America and The American Society of Magazine Editors should start celebrating the birth of new magazines and should start hosting events to help educate and innovate the business of publishing magazines. I am not asking the MPA or ASME to act like ostriches and bury their heads in the sand, but rather celebrate all the new magazine launches year after year by creating, like the rest of the world, an award for the best magazine launch. Promoting the death of magazines should be left to the prophets of doom and gloom and neither websites should be used as a vehicle to do so. Magazines have a life cycle, like everything else. Even back in 1741 (I doubt that the internet was there yet) the first two American magazines last six and three issues respectively. No one predicted the death of magazines back then.
5. Magazines are not Music: Yes, the word magazine is music to my ears, but every time I hear or read about this magazine company or that publishing entity aiming to be the next iTunes for magazines, I laugh. The only similarity between magazines and music is that they both start with an m. The majority of people do not consume magazines and magazine articles the same way they consume music. Yes, you may not be interested in the entire music album, so you only buy one song, but that one song you listen to over and over, time after time. Buying a single magazine article is more like doing research rather than reading a magazine. Unlike music, magazines are disposable items. You buy them, enjoy the experience and start another one with the next issue. It is not work. It is fun. Buying an article at a time is research. Research is work. It is no longer fun. Let us keep the fun in our magazines and magazine publishing model.
6. Create a Necessary, Sufficient and Relevant magazine: Do not kill the messenger if the message stinks. This has been my mantra last year and will continue to be in 2010 and beyond. A wholesaler friend of mine in Lebanon told me that one of the major problems he sees in today’s magazines in that country is the lack of good content. He said twenty years ago you used to pick up a magazine and really find engaging material in it that will keep you busy for a long time. Now, he says, there is no such content in the majority of magazines. You can easily take the word Lebanon and put your own country and the same is true. Enduring content that is worth the price is what we need and must create in 2010, regardless of the medium. It is the “Must Have” magazines that will survive the future not the “Nice to Have.”
7. Beware of Newspapers becoming Daily Magazines: As newspapers continue to face bigger competition from the internet and television, the smart and futuristic ones are going to become more like daily magazines. I have seen on my overseas trips newspapers that are now published in a standard Time magazine size on a daily basis that read, felt and looked like a weekly magazine. If my future newspaper becomes Time, Business Week, Sports Illustrated and People combined on a daily basis, where will that leave the weeklies? Now is a good time to innovate. Keep in mind the three Es of journalism: Educate, Entertain and Inform. ( I know, the last one starts with an I…but remember the three Rs of education: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, only one starts with R).
8. We are not in the content business: Do not fool yourself into believing that we are just content providers. Magazines are more than content: they are experiences. We are in the experience business that is based on the content of the magazine, the design of the magazine, the feel of the magazine, etc. etc. etc. The experience should be the bull’s eye of our target and not the content. The day we start playing games with what is and what is not a magazine, is the day when we start losing aim of our target and thus losing business. A magazine is more than a storehouse of information. It is the entire “shopping” experience in that “storehouse.”
9. Build new ships, not just lifeboats: One of the major problems in our magazine business is that we’ve spend the last decade building lifeboats and losing focus from our main ship. As some have said, we have used dollars to chase pennies as in the case of the move from print to online. I have no problems with building lifeboats. They are needed. But, I have a problem with doing just that. We need to continue to take care of our main ship and rather than spending most of our time building lifeboats, we need to start building new ships. It is not going to be an either or business anymore. We have to be in it ALL.
10. Before charging online, charge in print: For those magazine companies that print is still their main bread and butter, this should the mantra for the new year. Rather than wasting your time trying to find ways to charge for your content on line, how about finding ways to start charging for your “true and tested” content in print. The return on our investments must start from our products themselves. Just visit any of the countries overseas, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Finland, you name it and see how people are still charging for printed content, building digital presence and making money at the same time. Stop dreaming that the advertising supported model that once ruled in the United States is going to come back the same way it used to be prior to 2008. Those days are long gone. We must value our magazine experience, and the only way I know how to do that is by charging for it. That is the only way we can ensure having customers who count rather than just counting customers.
Well, here you have my ten “hope-to-be-helpful” magazine statements for the new year. Happy 2010 and beyond.