To Be Ad Driven or Circ Driven, That is the Question
By Andy Jackson, Executive Director, March 10 2010
Even before the current recession, we were debating the future of magazines. The relentless march of information technology—and remember, we’re in the information business—was posing big questions for all of print publishing including magazines. And the current economy has thrown into sharper relief an old question for magazine publishers: To what degree should the business model depend on advertising as its chief source of revenue?
Publications that depend heavily on advertising have been more drastically affected by the recent recession than those which were primarily circulation driven. Ads are generally much more volatile, sensitive to the prevailing business climate, than circulation. Circulation, especially newsstand, isn’t immune, but advertising budgets are commonly (and often mistakenly) the first place that businesses cut back, whereas dropping a subscription to a magazine you enjoy is a relatively minor economy for an individual or family.
But beyond the present economy, there seems to be a steady migration of advertising away from print and toward new media—another warning sign for magazines which depend heavily on ad revenue.
This, of course, leads to the more fundamental question, whether to structure your editorial product, primarily to appeal to readers or primarily to advertisers. If you depend primarily on circ revenue, you must please your readers, both to acquire new ones and to retain (renew) current ones. This requires an increased emphasis on editorial credibility, and the ability to inform, analyze, entertain and impress, in words and images—in Samir Husni’s words, “create an experience” for the reader.
Regionals, let’s face it, can’t snag readers with scantily-clad models, screaming headlines about celebrity scandals or the hottest new cars. But there is an audience out there that looks for what we already do best: provide useful, accurate and entertaining information in depth about our regions, for both locals, visitors and prospective visitors. Regionals need to be, and in most cases are, the authoritative voice that readers turn to when they want information about an area that provides more depth and insight than they are likely to find on the Web.
Magazine aren’t going away, but they will continue to change. The future of our magazines may include
- less advertising
- smaller circulations (and therefore smaller and more targeted circ promotions)
- higher subscription and newsstand prices, and
- higher quality editorial content, paper and online resources.
Magazine are likely to become more of a prestige, not to say luxury, item, read and discussed more like books and more frequently retained in personal libraries. Their businesses will derive most of their revenue from readers, with fewer, but more expensive ads for businesses that recognize the value of quality over quantity in a well-targeted audience.
So we should start planning now, thinking about subscription pricing, paper quality, attracting the very best writers, photographers and illustrators, maybe even a major publication redesign, revising our circulation plans, advertising sales strategies and, online presence—in short, entirely new strategic plans and business models for the long term.