The next golden age of magazines
Making magazines is bad business. That’s what the numbers suggest, anyway. Overall revenue from print advertising declined 3% in 2011. Newsstand sales fell 9%. Subscriptions were flat, but most publishers offer steep discounts to retain the readers they have. The sobering, bottom line, in the words of the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media report, is that in 2011, “for the fifth year running, advertisers cut back on the number of print ads purchased and consumers bought fewer magazines.”
And yet seen from another angle, we’ve never had it so good. In the U.S., more than 230 new magazines were launched last year, up from 193 in 2010. Revenue from digital versions rose by 15%. The growing use of tablet computing gives magazine editors a platform for delivering high-quality, multi-media content to a new generation of readers. And a slew of startup sites, from byliner to longreads, have helped to bring attention to the brand of serious, narrative journalism that magazines do best.
How do we explain these seemingly contradictory trends? Across all magazine categories, print ads are likely to continue to dwindle. As a result, editors will face pressure to reduce the number of editorial pages they publish, while maintaining or raising newsstand costs – in effect, asking consumers to pay more for less. Such an unappetizing value proposition goes some way toward explaining the apparent decline in readership for traditional news magazines. But it also presents an opening for those publications that can deliver what all readers want in a magazine: a consistent and trusted product that informs, entertains and surprises.
Bloomberg Businessweek has confronted the challenging sales and advertising environment by striving to publish a magazine that is both comprehensive and seductive. Bloomberg continues to add journalists around the world. At the same time, we have continued to invest in long-form feature writing and original photography – as well as cutting-edge design. Led by our creative director, Richard Turley, Bloomberg Businessweek has in the last three years distinguished itself running the most consistently original, witty and provocative covers by any American magazine.
Like all magazines, we are also adapting to changing circumstances and seeking new opportunities. We believe that weekly print news magazines, at their best, continue to have a unique hold on the imagination of readers. But we also believe that our magazine, as much as any other, must be platform-agnostic, which is why we re-launched Businessweek.com this year as a 24-hour source of timely news and analysis. We have continued to invest in improving our iPad app. And we have expanded our global presence, increasing circulation in Europe and Asia and running more covers tailored to readers outside the U.S.
At the same time, we remain committed to a product that is global in scope, equally relevant to readers everywhere from New York to London to Singapore to New Delhi. Politics, as the American saying goes, may still be local; but in our world, business is not. Magazines may look dead, but in our view their next golden age is just getting started. The future is shifting, unpredictable, dynamic and full of possibilities – a lot like magazines themselves.