Once again the American publishing model proves to be DEAD… A new center for innovation to be born soon

February 25, 2009

What is wrong with this picture? Earlier this month I received the following press release from the folks at Hallmark magazine:

Hallmark Magazine’s February/March ’09 issue, on newsstands beginning today, is up 53% in paging and 37% in revenue when compared with the same 2008 issue. Those numbers are not typos. In this economy, when many publishers are managing layoffs, cutbacks and advertising discounts, Hallmark Magazine’s Carol Campbell Boggs continues to leverage the power of the Hallmark halo to tremendous effect.

hallmark-magazineNew advertisers in the February/March issue include: Pfizer, Sony, Novartis and PBS with new business from P&G, GSK and Hormel. The issue also represents the first with the rate base increase to 800,000 — a 100% increase since the magazine’s fall 2006 launch. This sustained growth is certainly cause for celebration within Hallmark; it’s also a marked success in the publishing industry during a time of major transition.

And, as indicated in the 2008 year-end PIB report, Hallmark Magazine is one of the few to finish the year ahead – and one of only a handful of magazines enjoying double-digit growth!

Today I received the news that Hallmark magazine is no longer going to be published. Folio magazine quoted Hallmark president and CEO Donald J. Hall Jr., saying that

“the decision to stop publishing the magazine was reached after a “comprehensive analysis” of the overall magazine industry.

“Despite favorable consumer acceptance of the publication, we cannot justify continued investment in the magazine at a time when we must focus our efforts and resources only on those projects that will lead to long-term profitable revenue growth for the company,” he said.

The magazine’s 28 employees have been laid off, the company said. In addition, 10 Kansas City, Missouri-based positions in the company’s creative division will be eliminated.

How on earth can you justify a magazine that is growing both in advertising and circulation is being shuttered? Very simple, it means that the magazine was not making any money from circulation and at the same time it brings to question the revenues coming from advertising. Is it heavy discounts or give-a-ways? Who knows? One thing I know for sure is that the American publishing model is DEAD. It is time to reinvent the publishing model. It is time to charge the readers the price of the magazines. It is time for innovation in print and in the American publishing model. Stop giving away your pages and your content on a silver platter with no real price. Now is the time for change. A change that will not take us from print to the web, but rather a change that will create a new publishing model incorporating both print and the web. A model that uses content and the concept of selling content as its basic corner stone. We MUST stopping giving our content and our pages for free or close to free. It is a shame (I can’t think of any other word) when a successful (or so we were told a few weeks ago) magazine like Hallmark is forced to shut down. We need to search for a cure for the ills of our industry. Every venue is sick. An over the counter medicine is not going to be enough. Our illnesses are grave, but they are not terminal if we innovate. We have to invent new medicines to cure the ills of our industry, all venues of our industry. The publishing model, the distribution model, the pricing model and the staffing model. We have to innovate and to create new ways of doing publishing. If we claim to be creative people (journalists, marketers, analysts, designers) now is the time to put our money where our mouth is.

In the next few days, I will be taking the first humble step toward the formation of a new center dealing with magazine and print innovation. The center will be called Magazine Innovation Center (MIC) and will focus on amplifying the future of print. I will need all the help that I can get from all the folks in our industry, here and abroad. We need to innovate. We need to create and be creative. Stay tuned for more details later.


  1. MIC sounds interesting. Do please keep me in the loop about that.

    • Will do and I hope you will be willing to be on the board… best of luck at Colophon 09.

  2. interesting. i’d love to hear more details when you’re ready.

  3. If there was no “long-term profitable revenue growth” seen for the magazine, and apparently a “costly distraction”, how is it not a failure? This is doublespeak at its finest!

    Looking forward to the MIC idea.

  4. When I was editing a special interest publication for Hachette, we had food sponsors. That is, we were told in advance what kind of food features we would need to run–and what products we would have to feature in the photo shoots–and then I would assign bona fide editorial around those guidelines. The food sponsor foot the bill for the whole thing.

    In the end the reader still got valuable information about what to cook for dinner and beautiful photographs to go along with the editorial. But more importantly those editorial pages brought in revenue, which helped the magazine’s bottom line. With TV shows (think “30 Rock”) already working in product placements into their story lines, I don’t know why magazines don’t jump on the bandwagon, too.

    As a reader I would not be offended at all. By the way, I recently blogged about the state of magazines here: http://suddenlyfrugal.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/bummed-about-magazine-slump/


  5. I wasn’t impressed with the magazine and not surprised it has folded. There are better magazines out there with similar content. I received a trial version and continued to receive it for … about two years. Not a good sign.

  6. I share your conviction that it’s time readers started paying for magazines that matter to them. Yet as an increasingly disenchanted magazine consumer (and former editor-in-chief of Canada’s leading women’s title, Chatelaine), I know readers will ask for more than ever before parting with their increasingly limited spare cash. Like me, they’re going to want ideas, information and experiences not available anywhere else, in print or online. Many women’s magazines will be vulnerable for two reasons: the sameness that pervades the category (how many recipes does any reader need?) and women’s well known reluctance to spend money on themselves. To be blunt, women are cheap.

    I remember watching the launch of Hallmark with keen interest, sensing a different kind of reader experience, more grounded in emotion than in pure information (at the time I’d been working on a similar magazine idea, never launched). You opened Hallmark and entered a world. It wasn’t my world, but I’m not at all surprised that so many women felt like moving in. Would they pay more for the privilege? I have my doubts.

    I suspect we’ll see a reshuffling of traditional magazine categories and the emergence of new ones based on communities of interest that are willing to pay for the rewards of membership. Please add me to your contact list for MIC.

    • Thanks Rona and will add you to the MIC list for sure. All the best

  7. I would also be interested in learning what you find through the MIC. Thanks for your work.

  8. “February/March ’09 issue is up 53% in paging and 37% in revenue when compared with the same 2008 issue.”

    No fault of yours or any other commentator in seeing this as a success!

    When all is said and done, only one thing matters: profit.


  9. We at Magazine Circus think you are right on the money. Like Bernie Madoff, the magazine industry has used too many parlor tricks with advertisers and often ourselves. Eventually someone has to pay for the bills.
    Good luck with the MIC and let us know if there is anything we can do to support you on this.
    Ringmaster – http://www.MagazineCircus.com

    • Thanks Ringmaster… will keep you posted and will call on you for help with MIC… all the best

  10. Amen. Indeed, we must charge a fair price for our content. But does it really require 38 full-time employees to put out one magazine?

  11. Thank you Samir! When you only have one revenue stream, you’re going to run into trouble. And for too many years magazine publishers have been relying on ad revenue only. Now the chickens have come home to roost – bawk bawk!

    Sign me up for MIC – I’ve been wanting to get our industry healthy.

  12. I agree – sign me up for MIC!

  13. I’m interested in hearing more about MIC. I’m working on a different kind of distro model, and any discussion on the subject I find very interesting. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  14. […] Here is a recap of a recent post on his blog. For the entire unedited article Click Here. […]

  15. Yep, printed magazines are dead. Let’s move on, PLEASE!
    1. It is far easier to build a new digital model if we accept that print is obsolete, and start over from the premise that we must build a new media model. If we don’t let go of the printed magazine that we all grew up with, we will NEVER find the new model.
    2. The new model will come from understanding that we have to get much closer to our consumers and understand much more intimately and deeply how we can serve them, regardless of the print or digital delivery medium.
    3. We need to spend 90% of our time on building the new model – less effort than this will never produce it.

    It is hard to let go, but we must or there will be no future in this business.

  16. Although I believe some major changes are needed in the print world I certainly do not believe that print magazines are dead, so much so that I just launched a new magazine last week. The magazine I have been publishing for 15 years has a 93% retention rate and continues to grow. It is time for publishers to start thinking out of the box. We ended up with so many of the same looking lifestyle magazines because it was easier to “borrow” a concept and tweak it a little then to be creative and produce something unique. I am very interested in MIC and if you need a view from a smaller publisher I would be happy to contribute.

  17. Please keep me posted about the MIC. Thanks.

  18. Print is not dead – it’s just not for everybody. Some titles would benefit from dropping print and going purely digital, some would benefit from dropping digital and staying purely print, and most will benefit from a sensible hybrid approach. What all these scenarios have in common is that innovation is an absolute must in any situation. The rapid pace of change – technological, cultural, social, economic – demands that ALL industries and ALL operations adapt to meet those changes – doing otherwise is insane.

    That’s why I am all for the MIC concept and will do anything and everything I can to help it become an actuality. Sign me up Samir!

    • Thanks Michael… I will count on your help. More details about MIC next week. All the best, Samir

  19. Spot on, I have followed your work since you first began. The MIC is an idea whoose time has come.I have seen two full price titles that charge fair prices for amazing quality. Make Magazine, the digest magazine from O’Reilly and Rodders Journal a coffee table quality magazine. Both have high cover prices, over $13.00 each and subscription rates that follow suit. As a former niche publisher, with an eye for a new launch I look to these two titles as having a sustainable model

  20. Hi Samir,
    Looking forward to MIC. I’m not an industry professional with decades of experience, just an industry professional with a few years exp., and a constant student of the publishing industry. If you need any help with MIC, please feel free to contact me.

  21. You’re right, the world of communications is changing and this industry needs to change with it. Publishers need to redefine themselves as communicators and market specialists.
    Cottage Life Magazine is the heart and soul of our company but to make sure we communicate with all cottagers we have expanded into CL Radio, CL Television, CL Books, CL Consumer Shows, CL Website, CL Merchandise.
    Like other magazines, we too have seen a drop in ad pages but we’ll be just fine because:
    1)32% of our magazines revenue comes from circulation. (It’s very profitable for us)
    2)Magazine ad revenue accounts for only 39% of CL revenues.
    3)Brand extensions account for 40% of total revenues and 69% of profits.
    Please keep me posted about the MIC.

  22. Teaching a course in magazine design and layout to motion graphics majors, I often feel I am teaching a history class. The question “is print dead?” comes up in every term. Sometimes it seems we in the industry are doing all we can to make the prophecies come true, launching ill-conceived concepts only to have them hit the market stillborn, shuttering hopeful concepts while they are still in start up mode, cutting staff and overworking those who remain, topped off by the overwhelming lack of confidence that exists throughout the industry. Is print dead? Despite all the moaning and groaning coming from the publishing world’s offices, I always answer absolutely not… but it is changing. There is no question in my mind that there will always be a place for the printed magazine, but it is definitely going to be different from what it has been for the past three decades that I’ve been involved.

    I look forward to seeing what develops from the MIC. Thanks!

  23. Hi Samir,

    I have always been a huge fan of your website and it was my inspiration to start my own. I launched my magazine a year ago with hopes of having a printed version. I have tailored it back to producing an online magazine and I struggle with how to make money either having people pay for my site or advertising. I would love your advice and I am very intrigued with MIC. If you need an ambitious 27 year old, I am your girl!

    Thanks Samir,


  24. Can you cite an example of an American magazine that has a full subscription rate which covers its costs?

    • Here are a few examples: Highlights, Highlights High Five, Consumer Reports, Cook’s Illustrated, and let us not forget all the magazines Roy Reiman published before they were sold to Reader’s Digest Association. They had 16 million subscribers with their 14 magazines that were published including Country and Taste of Home. Mr. Reiman built an empire based on subscriptions only and no ads. It can be done if we are willing to think outside the box.

  25. The Harvard Business Review?

  26. Cook’s Illustrated?

  27. Wind of changes thats blowing from US is very interesting for us here in Europe, especially here in the small markets as Croatia where I work. Since we are always few years behing (online advertising is still to become big thing) I think this doom of printing is gonna come much sooner.
    Me and my wife work in magazine publishing. I am art director and she is sales director. Droping of sales figures is somewhere around 30% in these first two months, and her prognosis that this year we are gonna have at least 25% drop in ad revenue. Not too mention the mag sales are going down also.
    I really do hope that this crisis is gonna end soon and that we all are gonna find new ways of publishing, new ways to print magazines and entertain our readers…
    And as someone here said “do we need staff of 38″… Well we in croatia have staff of 10, and its the same thing. Problems are the same as in US, success is same as in US, only the numbers are different.
    Bigger audiences, bigger sales umbers, bigger ad prices… So basically we are all in same situation.
    Samir, I support your efforts and If we all can help we would be glad to do so.
    Keep us posted…

    • Thank you Nikola and I will keep you posted. All the best

  28. Samir,
    I agree with your ideas completely and look forward to what might come out of MIC. If I can help in any way just let me know. Children’s magazines, which I am involved with, have historically published in a different model. No advertising, and the subscription price covers our costs. We also work with very lean staffs. Yet somehow the quality and appeal is there. I’m no saying get rid of advertising and staff. But different models do exist and print magazine can benefit by exploring other ideas, especially new ideas. As someone who loves magazines, sign me up for the new ideas.

  29. Here is some additional food for thought–how Ladies Home Journal had its wrist slapped for edit/ads that didn’t seem “separated” enough:


    Really, in this day and age, do readers care about ASME guidelines? And might these kinds of guidelines be upholding journalistic integrity while, at the same time, contributing to the death of print magazines?


  30. What an interesting range of perspectives. I particularly like the example of Cook’s Illustrated, which broke the mold for food magazines by shunning color photos and emphasizing depth of how-to information over number and ease of recipes. This magazine reaches out on every page to the serious food geek as opposed to the harried convenience cook or flash-in-the-pan entertainer. For its community, it’s an essential read–in stark contrast to the slew of magazines that are becoming glorified catalogs, essential to no one. Interestingly, you have to pay to gain access to Cooks Illustrated’s rich trove of online lore. The site is not even free to subscribers (although they get a discount). Wonder how this is working for the magazine.

  31. […] Samir Husni, a journalism prof and head of the j-school at the University of Mississippi, declares America’s magazine publishing model DOA and announces a new center dealing with magazine and print innovation called Magazine Innovation […]

  32. Hi Samir. Very interesting. Can you please keep me in the loop about any developments with the MIC group? I’d welcome any opportunity be a part of that.

  33. Hi Samir, I am very interested in hearing more about MIC. Please keep me in the loop and let me know if there are opportunities to be a part of creating this new center.

  34. I think the comments about the staffing on this magazine, combined with its print run, are at the heart of this magazines problem.

    As Peter said, the fact is only profit matters.

    Print magazines are not dead, and digital magazines are not going to replace them – the future lies in a combination of delivery methods.

    Clever publishers use every media available to them to engage their readers, and leverage money from advertisers, but there is still life for print.

    Digital has a place – but show me one digital magazione that is delivering really significant advertising revenues (advertisers don’t understand it).

    The US magazine model of huge circulations with free content may well be dead – but publishers need to adapt rather than abandon the printed magazine format altogether.

  35. Hi Samir, I think your idea is great and long over do. I think it’s very interesting. Please keep me in the loop about any developments with the MIC group? I’d welcome any opportunity be a part of what you are creating especially as it relate to sports media.


  36. Thank you for creating an opportunity to reshape the future. As a former owner of a mid size wholesale Empire State News and the author of “The Buffalo System, I watch with interest and disgust what has happened to newsstand circulation. My family was in circulation since my grandfather organized newsboys to sell “The New York Times” on the Brooklyn Bridge. The industry reinvented itself after the folding or collapse of The American News Company, Union News, Greater Manhattan News, UNIMAG, ARA, etc. I would welcome the privilege to provide 50 years of newsstand circulation knowledge to MIC.

  37. Samir, I work in B2B publishing on the digital media side, and I agree with you. I posted some ideas on my blog speculating how magazine publishing might look in the digital future:


    I think there can be a future for magazine publishing, but I’m not so sure the economics of print will sustain many current titles. If we take control of our future, which it sounds like what the MIC is trying to do, we might have a chance to preserve a rich and fertile publishing medium.

    In short, I think there could be a way to continue publishing linear magazine-like reading experiences on a new crop of e-readers, separate from magazine Web sites. The two forms of digital media can and should co-exist.

    Please keep me posted and feel free to steal my idea! Any way I can help, let me know.

  38. Dear Dr. Samir,

    What I don’t understand is why don’t someone step-in to continue the publishing of this magazine. What a shame, what a shame… I too do not understand when you have a great magazine like Hallmark with such large numbers you’d – fold it. This reminds me of the magazine, “Budget Living”, which was another success that ended up folding. Good luck with MIC! Long live print!

  39. Hi, Samir,
    I am so pleased someone has the fortitude and foresight to invest time and energy into the sustaining of the print model. When publishers spend more time providing EXCELLENCE of content for their audience, giving their readers substantive articles and food for thought — instead of thinking of “monetizing” every aspect of their businesses — the readers, thus served, will be willing to spend money to support the product. The most recent analog I can think of is how banks, insurance companies and securities firms designed arcane money-making vehicles to pawn off on the public instead of quality products that would best serve their customers’ needs. I will remain interested in your new venture and wish you well.

    Paul Grieco, American Press

  40. i read the article in folio today about this innovation center. i would very much like to meet with you and find out more detailed plans of what you would like to do.

    i live in Tulsa, OK which is about a 7-hour drive from the university of mississippi. i am working as the creative director for performance magazine, and right now living my dream job. …as was mentioned in your comments: print is not dead, it’s just not for everyone. i could not agree more. what we have is more choice between delivery formats.

    anyway, please keep me informed about the MIC, and as i said i would love to take a road trip there to see what it’s all about.

  41. While I can’t provide the $1mil you are looking for, I would love to participate in MIC problem solving sessions.


  42. Hi Samir,

    This is a great discussion and I’m very interested in MIC as well. I’m the founder of MAKE magazine, and we’ve been innovating in developing unique print, online and in-person approaches to our audience. MAKE’s cover price is $14.99 because I felt we had to get our readers to pay more for the content. Innovation is not easy to do but I’d certainly like to spend more time talking to people who are innovating as well rather than those lamenting the loss of some golden age.

    When you innovate, you have successes and failures — we closed CRAFT magazine recently but the online site is doing well and we’re working on growing the audience there. (It is heartbreaking to hear subscribers say how much they love print and how they look forward to the time they spend with the magazine.)

    There are so many things that are broken in the traditional magazine model but there are just as many problems online that have no obvious solution for publishers. I keep thinking that newsstands are such an amazing asset for magazine publishers but we’re bystanders watching that asset lose value. How could technology improve physical newsstand distribution? I’m mostly unimpressed by digital editions of magazines (including mine) as they seem to be islands on the Web without much interactivity other than page flipping. Tools providers such as Adobe have not made it possible yet for creative people to add the kind of value online that they are able to add in print.

    Nonetheless, I believe the Web will look more and more over time like a 24-hour newsstand, alive with distinct brands that organize content and community. No one place will satisfy all our needs; no aggregator can hold everyone’s interest except to serve the most basic needs. All of us will make connections where we feel comfortable, where we get inspiration, and where we meet others who share our interests and aspirations.

  43. Samir, I couldn’t agree more. As the founding president of Hallmark Magazine, I know there’s a formula that could have worked. It’s a shame to see such potential abandoned. The same goes for Organic Style, New England Monthly, Harrowsmith, the original Eating Well and others. I would love to participate with you in MIC.

  44. Thank you for including me in your recent mailing about the MIC. I would love to participate as well.

    Leah Ingram

  45. I am struck by several things.

    1. Digitization is transforming, at last, dozens of product markets and making some obsolete. While I suspect there will be a print world for a long time, it will be increasingly niche. I don’t think any strategies can ultimately save print in any meaningful way, just as there isn’t anything that can save movies on DVD at some point, except as a niche, as soon as big libraries of video are available on-demand. Same with anything else that is being killed by digitization.

    2. That doesn’t mean the basic function is gone. Television killed local vaudeville, as I learned on a very interesting documentary type show not long ago. But vaudeville moved to TV, for awhile at least, until TV programming morphed. Red Skelton went from NYC Vaudeville to TV Vaudeville to TV Variety show host successully over many decades.

    3. Rarely does anyone talk about the punishing postal costs, and printing to an extent. Reducing or even eliminating those could make for a very different economic model. Today, most digital editions are terrible, but will Kindle-like devices eventually emerge, as Hearst is working on, that give a magazine-like experience without the huge expense of printing/mailing/delivery?

    That’s what the industry needs to be working on. And boy you might really be able to integrate “print” and web then.

    Dan Gilmore

  46. In this revolutionary time, I’m pleased to hear about MIC. I would be interested in participating if you are in need of someone with experience as the editor of a city magazine in a diversified publishing company. Please keep me informed.

  47. Dear Samir,
    Absolutely fantastic idea as we can see by the quantity and quality of these comments and commentators. I would be more than honored to be part of MIC and wish to stay informed of ways to contribute. Our experiences with SA Mind, Earth 3.0 and of course Scientific American confirm that content matters enormously, and we must continue to take advantage of every means of connecting with the audiences who are willing to invest their time, and yes even their money, with our brands.

  48. Dear Samir,
    I’ve followed your career and your comments over the years and I’m fascinated by your bold moves and your bold statements. As a 20-year magazine veteran, count me in. At the risk of creating more work for myself, I love magazines and want to be part of the evolution/revolution/paradigm shift. This is the time to throw old business models away. Forget Band-aids. We to rethink the messages, the consumer and the delivery system all at the same time in the same 3-D playing field. I offer this comparison: When page design programs came out, everyone’s nephew was suddenly an art director; when digital cameras came out; everybody’s nephew was suddenly a photographer; when blogs came out, suddenly everybody AND their nephews suddenly became writers. Business learned that design is a profession; business is beginning to learn that good photography requires a professional; I believe business will learn that good, effective communications requires professionals. The professionals will have to learn to use both new and old tools in better ways.

  49. As a Sensory Marketing Consultant to magazines, I am always astounded to see people doing business as usual in unusual times. Magazines don’t take advantage of the simple tools it has at its fingertips to increase sensory consumer engagement. The research is clear on sensory effectiveness for consumers and the costs have come down dramatically. So, why not use the competitive advantage Print has over Digital and make magazines a destimnation for experiential marketing? Please let me know if I can help withthe MIC.

  50. As a 25 year publishing veteran, most recently at FamilyFun magazine as Publisher for the past 11 years (Disney Publishing) I applaud what Samir is doing and would love to get involved with his new project. I am sick and tired of all the “print is dead” baloney. We need to fix the model and stop trying to fit a round hole into a square peg. It is time to reinvent print. I have never heard anyone say they don’t enjoy reading magazines anymore. What we have to look at is how we deliver the content. It has to be fast and accessible. Why does it still take three months lead time to close and print an issue? Can we not look at manufacturing differently? That’s my two cents. Mary Beth Wright

  51. Hola Mr Magazine.
    Soy periodista independiente de Colombia, en el Departamento del Valle del Cauca (Norte del Valle)
    Me gustaría hacer parte de éste proyecto.
    Mil gracias.
    Responder en Español. POR FAVOR.

  52. An excellent idea looks like to me the creaciòn of this center because to the journalists of magazines us ayudarà to fortalecers our capacities.
    Though I want to know if I can be a part(report) of this center.
    Fiorella Sevedón
    Peru – Trujillo

  53. I agree with the above post by Dan Gilmore. A multimedia device smaller than a laptop but larger than a cell phone needs to be more prominent for people that like to read books and magazines. The Kindle is one of the better ones that I have seen but they will continue to improve in the next few years. Multimedia magazines are the future. Imagine having the feel of a magazine in your hands and having the ability to interact with it. I am the publisher of an international magazine and will follow the trends, even if it means abandoning my print version. I have a digital edition as well and I just don’t see a future in flipping pages on a personal computer.

  54. Yes we need a new model. People will pay for print if it is what they need and cannot find anywhere else. When working on Chicago Daily Law Bulletin they paid for the print and recieved the online free.

    When to much of the print is posted online it suppresses renewals and new subs. So we need a new model. Lets get on with it and stop the bleeding.

    I would love to work on your team. I have been in publishing for over 25 years working on publications as diverse as Success Magazine, AutoWeek, Business Insurance, City and Regional titles and a daily newspaper for lawyers.

    Check out my Linked in or http://mediapro.foliomag.com/profile/DiAnneWalsh


  55. […] vividly remember my reaction to Dr. Samir Husni’s announcement that he was forming the Magazine Innovation Center at Ole Miss University. It was the winter of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: