Monday, January 07, 2008

For Magazines, New Year of Challenges

For magazines, New Year of Challenges
Media Life Talks To Marty Walker noted magazine industry expert
By Diego Vasquez
End-of-year numbers from the Publishers Information Bureau have yet to be released, but barring a surprise bounce-back in ad pages, 2007 will end the year flat or slightly down compared with 2006, which wasn't exactly a boom year. Combine that with the large number of high-profile magazine closures and rather small number of new magazine launches, and 2007 was not a good year for the industry. The question is whether 2008 will show improvement. Many media people expect more magazine closures as the web drains off advertisers and readers. Unlike TV, newspapers and radio, magazines won't see much of the record political spending expected this year, and continued softness in the economy will hurt a number of categories. Because of that, expect to see magazines exploring other ways to make money and optimize circulation. Marty Walker, president of Walker Communications and noted magazine industry expert, talks to Media Life about the coming year. This is the first in a series of week-long 2008 previews with experts in different fields of media.

Would you characterize 2007 as a good year for magazines? Why?
No, I wouldn't characterize it as a good year. I mean, it wasn't a disaster year. Ad pages stayed around, and so did revenue, at basically flat. And there's nothing really to indicate that 2008 will be appreciably better. Magazines tend not to get a big hit from the elections, that's more regional and in newspapers.
Magazines will also suffer from a lack of real estate adverting.

What was the biggest story in magazines in 2007?
The folding of House & Garden, the folding of Teen People, the folding of Elle Girl, all magazines with what appeared to be substantial circulation.

There was also the limited number of new launches, both as a sign of the economy and the competition from the internet.

Building on that, which magazine closures echoed the loudest in 2007?
I would say House & Garden. It was the most established title to close.

Are there any categories where you see a shakeout occurring this year?

This year I can't think of one particular category.
I think we had the shakeout last year in the teen market, and that was definitely the internet, with the kids going to the social networking sites.
But the biggest challenge in the publishing industry is going to be five or 10 years down the road when the present generation of magazine readers are gone and the new generation [emerges] that grew up on the internet.

How are you going to transition them to becoming magazine readers and subscribers? That will be the biggest challenge.

What is the single most important thing for media buyers and planners to know about magazines in 2008?

Well, it's the age-old story. Buyers and planners are young people in the early parts of their careers, and they're trained to look at the numbers.

But if they're going to get their clients to stand out from the pack of their competitors, they have to start learning to look at the magazines themselves and understand the differences.

For example, Time and Newsweek have similar numbers, but they're very different magazines. They need to go beyond the numbers and know a little more about each title.

They also need to stop complaining about public-place distribution and verified distribution and understand that if they're going to demand issue-based guarantees on circulation, ultimately they're going to have to pay for the circulation that's actually delivered.

What are three trends to watch for in 2008 in magazines?

Well, the biggest trend you'll probably see is magazines trying to be more consultative sellers, and sellers that package integrated programs that go beyond just print. That will involve print, web, events and rather than just selling advertising. Smart publishers will move toward selling marketing solutions.

No. 2, publishers will be working desperately to find ways to increase web traffic and monetize their web efforts. And also, they'll experiment with different kinds of content on the web and ways of delivering their content on the web.

The third one has to do with circulation. They'll continue testing new ways of circulating magazines and testing the viability of non-paid versus paid and what have you.

What will be the single biggest change facing the industry over the next few years?
I think we'll see the demise of news- and data-based type magazines, perhaps more so in the B-to-B field than the consumer field, because the web very much is a better source of that kind of information.

There'll be an exponential growth of special interest consumer magazines, where people want to read longer articles and stuff about their passions and interests.

With news and data, it doesn't take a lot of money to generate. But when you get into serious content, then it requires more of an investment, and that's where magazines can maintain their strength.

The most recent Publishers Information Bureau numbers, for third quarter, have magazine ad pages down 1.1 percent year to date. What has been the biggest cause of this dip?

The internet and the economy.

The internet is certainly impacting on print advertising, and publishers are finding it harder and harder to sell copies on the newsstand. All of that is impacting on the rate base and the amount of advertising publishers are getting.

What categories do you see doing the best this year?

Usually, when the economy is bad or weak, the cocooning or home type magazines tend to do well. People hunker down and stay home, cut down on conspicuous consumption.

But the magazines that seem to be doing well are the ones that deal with conspicuous consumption. I think the travel magazine will suffer to some extent because of the declining value of the dollar internationally, in particular in Europe.

Do you anticipate more launches than average or fewer in 2008? Why?
Well, when you talk about launches you have to talk about it in two ways. You really have to think about what will be the important launches, and I think there will be fewer of them.
Entrepreneurs that are looking for money to launch magazines will probably have trouble, considering the economy and the volatility of the industry right now.

Diego Vasquez is a staff writer for Media Life.