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A Dire Week for Deadwood Publishers

May 6, 2005

It’s been a tough week for deadwood media. The newspaper industry just reported a 1.9 percent drop in daily circulation, and a 2.5 percent decline on Sundays, over the last six months, compared with the same period a year ago, wrote the NYT. “The weak numbers for 814 daily newspapers, reported by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, represent the largest circulation losses for the industry in more than a decade, and indicate an acceleration of the decline.”
Earlier in the week, The Magazine Publishers of America, a trade group, said it will be spending $40 million on an ad campaign to reassert the relevance of magazines. Put more plainly, this is less a reassertion than a frank admission by magazine publishers that many of them are slipping into obscurity.
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Magazine Publishers: We’re Here to Stay!!
So what’s going on here? Newspapers really are in bad shape. The immediacy of Internet news, shifting demographics (read: younger people), the availability of cheaper computers, and the proliferation of mobile devices that can increasingly offer a good reading experience are all conspiring to make newspapers irrelevant. At this point, we can’t even waste much more space on this once-controversial statement. It just seems self-evident.
As far as magazine publishers are concerned, we believe monthlies that focus on long-form journalism will be able to carve out an existence for a while. Dumbed-down service journalism (think Cargo and Oprah) will also continue to find a market. Greater problems loom, however, for the news weeklies. To the extent that these magazines try to deliver news and immediacy, we see the same problem that faces newspapers.
The infrastructure in place to run these types of news operations is staggering, as are the associated costs. As weeklies go, the ones with the best chances for survival are those that have invested heavily in their Internet operations. Businessweek and The Economist come to mind. At a recent conference, Jim Spanfeller, the head of Forbes.com, told the audience that Forbes.com will surpass the print edition of Forbes in terms of revenue, “probably in about 18 to 20 months.” That’s pretty amazing, particularly when you consider how mediocre the Forbes.com site is.
And before you accuse us of being knee-jerk new media types, let us be clear: we love deadwood! We’ve worked at glossy deadwood publications and even tried to start a print magazine. Magazines are great platforms and they’re not going to disappear – particularly those that can figure out the right balance between their online and offline properties.
Read: Newspapers’ Circulation Still Going Down – [nytimes.com]
Read: Print Insists It’s Here to Stay – [nytimes.com]
Read: As digital dollars grow, b-to-b publishers debate impact of blogs – [btobonline.com via paidcontent.org]

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