Are Print Magazines Dying?


Yes. Kind of...Some of them…Most of them.. But not all of them.

I get asked that question all the time. “Why a print magazine? Isn’t print dying? Are any magazines growing?”

It is true that many of the traditional print magazines are declining in readership and seeking new ways to secure an audience. Even giants like TIME Inc have launched tv streaming networks like “Paws and Claws” which features viral videos of cats and dogs…(no, i’m not kidding.)

But my perspective is that print magazines aren’t dying, The traditional Print industry is and in that process There will be casualties.


But my perspective is that print magazines aren’t dying, The traditional Print industry is and in that process There will be casualties.

The Old Model

Before Facebook leveraged our information to sell advertisements and make a profit - Magazines were the original exploiter of customer attention. That’s not bad by the way. It’s just how the industry functioned. But the way the industry functioned created a few issues that have spiraled out of control for traditional media companies.

FIRST- the price per inch catalog model ruined magazines. If every square inch of your magazine is either costing you money through content or gaining you money by selling ads, we end up with the average magazine consisting of 41-55% advertisements. So next time you pick up a 80-page copy of PEOPLE magazine, realize that it’s only 40 pages of content and half of the price you’re paying is for people to advertise at you. You might be asking, “Why would I pay for someone to advertise at me? I can get that for free on Facebook.” And you would be right.

SECOND- is the issue with distribution. The internet changed everything. Blockbuster once looked impossible to beat. They had a chance to buy Netflix back in 2000 for a mere $50 million. They laughed Netflix out of the office. But Movies didn’t die, the old distribution strategy did. The same happened to the music industry with Spotify and Apple Music. and just about every other industry thanks to Amazon. Even the way we receive news happens far quicker than print media can compete with.

Magazines used to be convenient. They aren’t anymore.

Why does this matter? Because the publishing industry is brutal. Only a handful of distribution companies handle the shelf space of 90% of retail stores. So they pretty much make up the rules that the magazine has to follow. here is an overly simplified version of how it works if you want to be sold in a retail space.

  1. You need to print hundreds of thousands of copies of your magazine. (On your dime.)

  2. It will be distributed to every store you want to be sold in. (On your dime.)

  3. Whatever sells off the shelf you will get paid for.

So, if only 10% sell then you only get paid for that 10%. That’s what happens when Distribution is controlled by a small number of people. “How did magazines survive?”, you might ask. Advertising. It is the primary revenue stream for all major print magazines. Which makes you wonder what a magazine is really selling?

As media and consumer attention has shifted, online advertisers have realized that they can actually measure the impact of an ad on Facebook. they’ve begun to question why they would ever place a blind bet on advertising in print.

I used to work in marketing at an Ag company. When I first started we did a lot of advertising in print media. It was expensive. From $3,000-$12,000 for one full-page advertisement. And with no clear way to measure its effectiveness (besides the data that the publisher gives you on readership). It was about as trustworthy as Nielsen ratings on Television... Eventually, we started going direct to our prospects through social media. Placing ads for $50 that we could measure and change in real time. Duh.

THIRD- is technology and overhead cost. Writers, account managers, designers, photographers, distribution managers, editors and after the internet you also had developers, digital editors and social media experts. All of these people needed a place to work, so add in downtown Manhattan real estate costs (because that’s the only place good publishing could exist). It’s no wonder selling issues alone couldn’t keep these companies afloat.

Advertising revenue was needed in order to put the team together that could even make a magazine.

That’s not the case anymore. You can be your own designer though an Adobe subscription, build a website on Squarespace, manage your accounting through Quickbooks, and run your social media through it all. What used to require 15 specialties and departments now requires a handful of talented and hungry go-getters.

Print Media Reborn

So you and I no longer need the convenience of picking up a magazine on the way to work to find out the latest news/gossip in whatever industry we follow. Our phones do that.

And we no longer need to pay for the right people to advertise at us. Facebook and Google do that (for free).

So what does the future of magazines look like?

Well, not to sound arrogant, but I think it looks a lot like THE/RISE Magazine.

  • We have the opportunity to focus on content and community.

Our first couple of issues had a total of 8 advertisements (at no charge, because we believed in those organizations). And our upcoming Dec issue has Zero advertisements. Advertising isn’t bad, but not needing that revenue means we can save ad space for organizations we really care about or that we think will actually bring our readers value.

  • We have the technology to go straight to the people that care about what we care about.

We don’t need to go to a giant distributor who makes the rules and requires us to overprint. We can just connect with the people that care about what we are doing. If it’s for you, you’ll buy it. If it’s not for you, that’s ok. We only need to print as many copies as we have subscribers.

But we still have over head costs. So where is the number of subscribers that allows us to be profitable. well, i’ll tell you. The minimum number with this model is only about 100 subscribers. That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It’s truly freeing. That means anything above that can go back into making a better product for our community oR as a community we can support non-profit work that matters OR we can host fREE events with no agenda except to connect and drink good coffee OR it means we Can do all of that.

Most importantly, it doesn’t make us prisoners to selling ad space. It lets us focus on bringing the best content and maybe someday paying our awesome team so that we can continue to make something meaningful.

So, In The End…

Is Print dying? the part that needs to is. But I think what will rise from the ashes will be something truly valuable to the people that care. I think new magazines will feel higher quality. They’ll begin to only focus on serving the audience that cares about what they care about. They won’t overly rely on ad revenue. They won’t serve two masters. Publishers will get smaller, go out of business, or get bought out. Distribution will no longer be centralized. If they Haven’t already, People will leave this industry because There isn’t as much money to be made.

All of That might look like print is dying, and that’s ok. It’s just being reborn.

Thanks for reading.


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