The silver lining in the bad news about magazine publishing


“Magazines, all kinds of them, don’t work very well in the marketplace anymore.” This startling statement was made earlier this month by David Carr in his Media Equation column in The New York Times. Reflecting the generally negative atmosphere surrounding any discussion of the future of magazines, he went on to say that “like newspapers, magazines have been in a steady slide, but now like newspapers, they seem to have reached the edge of the cliff.” As evidence he pointed to a recent Audit Bureau of Circulations report stating that newsstand circulation in the first half of the year was down almost 10 percent. Advertising is also down 8.8 percent year to date over “the same miserable period a year ago,” according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

Magazine publishing in the United Kingdom has also suffered a series of setbacks, according to Mike King of Companiesandmarkets.com. Moreover, he states that the UK magazine publishing market has been forecast to continue to decline over the next five years. However, he is a little more optimistic than some market observers, predicting an eventual recovery, or at least stabilization, as the UK economy recovers.

In South Africa, some observers are even more optimistic about the future of magazine publishing–with one caveat. “There is a definite downward trend within the magazine publishing industry, both in terms of readership numbers and ad revenue, locally and internationally,” says Tanja Carruthers, editor at Fitness magazine and publisher at Maverick Publishing Corporation. “However, certain niche titles seem to be the exception as consumers become more discretionary with their tighter expendable income.” Her magazine is a case in point. South Africa’s only dedicated female health and fitness magazine has posted its fifth consecutive year of circulation growth.

Carruthers says that instead of consuming more general information, people now prefer to consume content on a specific subject through their preferred media platform. This phenomenon has been evident for decades, appearing as long ago as 1971 with the demise of Look magazine and the introduction of a plethora of new specialized magazines. However, Carruthers predicts this trend of “narrow-casting” to  increase and eventually overtake the older more-general once-venerable publications, which like dinosaurs, will eventually drift into obscurity.

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