Mr. Magazine™ Musings: All Good Print Magazines Go to Digital Heaven… Or Do They?

January 24, 2013

300x250promo When a publication decides its earthly existence as a print life form is no longer a viable option and instead takes on a digital-only presence, is it really a heaven-sent opportunity or is it actually a gentle nudge by the minions of magazine hell to push it into its final resting place? If your print product isn’t connecting with an audience, is it really going to flourish among a billion more nondescript URLs or a million other apps?

Think about it, please. And take a look at a few lost souls while you’re at it.

Flashback 2006

When Teen People closed its print magazine in 2006, it decided to make digital confetti out of the pages and toss the remnants on the print product’s grave in celebration. With a still healthy circulation of 1.5 million in the second half of 2005, Teen People displaced about 50 employees—with the promise of finding them spots within the company—and, according to Ann Moore and John Huey, set about to “invest in the brand through Teenpeople.com, which shows promise and growth.”

Flash Forward 2013

The only presence that remains of Teenpeople.com today is at the home of the magazine’s parents: PeopleMagazine.com. Apparently, when living on its own didn’t quite pan out, mommy and daddy allowed their child to come home.

Too bad some of the other print magazines that went digital-only didn’t have parents quite so affluent.

Going digital-only screams salvation to some print products that are battling low ad pages and declining circulation, but the question remains: If you’re not selling ads in your ink-on-paper magazine, what in the world makes you think you’re going to make gazillions of dollars on the web?

Even with automated ad sales systems, consumer magazine sites aren’t garnering all that much from their digital counterparts.

Flashback 2009

Gourmet in print became another headstone in the “Ink-on-Paper Cemetery,” when Condè Nast killed it in 2009. Just the previous year, Gourmet had had a circulation of around one million, but its ad pages had dropped. And the magazine wasn’t doing as well as its sister magazine, Bon Appétit, which was also owned by Condè Nast. But it would soon be reborn as an app for iPad called Gourmet Live.

Flash Forward 2013

Gourmet Live is officially done, as far as any new content is concerned. According to a spokesperson for Condè Nast, the app itself will remain intact, but it won’t be updated. However, Gourmet.com will continue to be updated as the main platform of the brand.

Where have we heard that before?

Flashback 2011

American Media, Inc. (AMI), a leading publisher of celebrity magazines, announced the launch of Reality Weekly, the first magazine devoted only to Reality TV shows and its new mega-stars. Included in the hype around this blockbuster idea was the companion website for folks who just couldn’t get enough of the inside info that must surely abound on television shows such as these.

The launch was fan-fared with the fact that the magazine would sell at all the mass merchant locations: Wal-Mart, Kroger, Dollar General, Kmart, A&P and Rite-Aid and would be priced a mere $1.79 (“Less Money, More Fun”). Really.

“I’m proud to introduce a magazine that gives readers the news they want about television’s most popular genre. Print remains one of our most effective mediums, which is why Reality Weekly will be a showcase launch of 2012,” said David J. Pecker, AMI’s Chairman, President and CEO, at the time.

Flash Forward 2013

Before 2012 was over, the magazine folded. The website hasn’t been updated since July 2012. However, that same month AMI folded the magazine, it announced that it was naming Joe Bilman as its first chief digital officer and set the lofty goal (at the time Mr. Bilman was hired) of building its digital revenue to $50 million. Accordingly, AMI resolved to try Reality Weekly as a free tablet app that summer.

They followed that with a big splashy ad that screamed at the consumer: “Reality Weekly…We’re Going Digital.”

But where are they now?

The magazines mentioned here are not the only ones. What about Elle Girl, Cosmo Girl? Digital brands such as PC Mag and Sporting News, while still breathing that oh-so thin digital air, are mere shadows of their former print selves.

When you lose contact with the people who matter, your customers, and treat them as numbers instead of members of this community of experiences you have created for them, you’re going to lose them, whether the neighborhood is print or digital.

And what about Newsweek?

As the New York Times put it so eloquently: From the start, it was an unwieldy melding of two newsrooms: a legacy print magazine, Newsweek, combined with an irreverent digital news site, The Daily Beast.

Now the 79-year-old, once highly-respected news magazine must co-exist next to an entity called “The Daily Beast,” its new significant other.

The sacred vow that some publications make with their new life partner, digital, is usually a last-ditch effort to save a customer and product bond that was broken many times earlier. When you have a brand so highly known in print and you suddenly jerk that trusted and cherished product out from under your customers’ feet, why do you bemoan your fate when, one day, you have to take that digital shingle down for good?

Right now, Newsweek is looking for digital heaven, as others are. Let’s just hope the abyss that lies before them doesn’t lead to purgatory instead.

The Moral of the Story?

At the end of the day if we don’t create a community where we make our customers feel like members instead of just numbers after a dollar sign, we won’t have anything to publish in print or digital—no long-lasting relationship, anyway, merely a one-night stand.

The minute you lose your connectivity with your customers (readers, users, viewers, listeners, whatever you call them), you’re in trouble. And if you fail to connect with them time and time again, even going to that digital heaven online can’t save you. Cut your losses, let your magazine die in peace and don’t torture it anymore.

Stop being in the game of numbers and change to a game of members instead.

Author’s Note: This column appeared on the Folio magazine blog on Jan. 22, 2013.


  1. Professor Husni….Once again you hit one out of the Park. The writing is on the Wall (literally & figuratively….& pun intended). Thanks for spelling out the future for those who fail to see the past.

  2. […] This article by Mr. Magazine is a must read. It takes an excellent view on why even some big name brand publications went under. It will inspire you to serve your tribe and not worry so much about the numbers (it’s a quick read). […]

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