Private Frazer’s Doomed Magazines

March 12, 2013

Five years down.

Filed under: Uncategorized — privatefraser @ 5:53 pm
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It is five years since Private Frazer’s Doomed Magazines posted its first entry, a short squib about the death of Paranormal magazine. Since then there have been another 405 posts, a couple of thousand tweets and a few dozen truculent comments on the Press Gazette and Guardian Media pages.

The reach of the blog is small, with generally just over 1,000 visits a month (one picture of cute kittens would probably get more traffic). Its ‘influence’ is zero, knowledge of its existence is marginal and it attracts few comments.

But I have it on good authority that is has annoyed senior people at several publishing companies (hi, Stevie!) and at the PPA (here’s looking at you Bazza!), which does at least warm the cockles of my chill old heart.

Because if there was a point to the blog, beyond amusing myself, it was to try to irritate the complacency out of publishers; to shake that belief that the money would continue to flow because customers would continue to buy any old tosh that was served up to them and, because an ink on paper issue of Heat could trace a direct line back to Gutenberg, it was therefore a product that should be venerated. In particular it was a place to vent about the stupidity and short-sightedness of the many publishing companies who did not seem to appreciate that the industry needed more than another round of cost-cutting and redundancies to survive.

That the market was turning down in 2008 was pretty obvious, as was the fact that this was a structural rather than a cyclical downturn (although there were numerous voices both in my company and the broader industry that argued that this was temporary and that the good times would return). What even I didn’t appreciate then was just how bad things were going to get and how quickly.

Compare today’s circulation of nearly any magazine with 2008 and see how far they have fallen; compare the balance sheets of nearly any publishing company over the same period and scratch your head at what has happened to those profits; and particularly compare the number of people who are employed in our business and wonder whether there will be anyone left in five years’ time.

We’ve seen the death of several whole categories and are witnessing the final throes of several more – lad’s mags: all but gone; celebrity gossip: on the way out; computing titles: near extinction; classified ad papers: no more; the B2B press: decimated; motoring: on life support – do I have to go on?

Actually, of course publishing will survive, but in five years time there will be fewer titles and fewer big companies. Magazines will continue to close, publishing companies will go out of business or merge, and fewer people will be employed. We will continue to read articles (on mobile devices, obviously) about the ‘vibrancy’ of print because another tiny indy publication has launched; the PPA will continue to send out press releases about the health of the industry even as its membership continues to fall; and senior executives will continue to pay themselves ten times more than most of their employees as their reward for managing decline.

And what of me? I run the blog to keep myself amused during long, repetitive meetings with the advertising, editorial and circulation departments. As they each tell me how well things are going (apart from the fact that they are going to miss budget again) I try to think up another gag about another failing title, or an abusive tweet about the industry and it gives me enough of a boost to get through the afternoon.

So is there a way out for us publishers? I’ve always avoided suggesting solutions, preferring the easy route of snark, abuse and bad puns, and I don’t intend to change. (More to the point, I’m generally wrong), but here are some lessons:

  • Most of your magazine is unread.
  • Advertisers never loved you, they were after your audience.
  • Cutting the price is not a circulation strategy.
  • A page-turner facsimile and a crappy app is not a digital strategy.
  • Calling your editors ‘content managers’ is also not a digital strategy.
  • Readers do notice that your magazine is getting thinner.
  • Your digital staff could earn more working for an e-commerce company.
  • Your circulation director is beyond caring.
  • Your advertising director is running out of favours to call in.
  • We are actually, doomed, doomed I tell ye.

Yours aye,

James Frazer

Walmington on Sea

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8 Comments »

  1. Your blog is oddly up-lifting in a peculiar way.

    Having been in publishing for more than 30 years I am always amazed, bemused and horrified at how an industry manages to bury itself in it’s own rhetoric and bullshit.

    Publishing does have a future but PDF excuses always suck. The Newstrade is shooting itself in both feet by putting shareholder interests before the survival of titles (okay, well some of them ain’t worth a light but you get the point).

    This is such a cool time to be in publishing because the opportunities are like gaping chasms waiting to be plugged.

    I recently was a speaker at the London Publishing Expo and my god it was depressing event. Not me, I hasten to add!

    But this has always been an industry that’s painfully luddite and slow to react.

    The future will indeed unfold and it will be the brave hearts ready to adapt that will be around in the months and years to come.

    For now, anyways, the patient is sort of dead.

    But then I guess you would know all about corpses, wouldn’t you Frazer.

    dk

    Comment by David King (@drking0211) — March 12, 2013 @ 6:45 pm | Reply

  2. Just to say, I love your blog. Very witty & often the first with the news.

    Comment by John Woods — March 12, 2013 @ 7:07 pm | Reply

  3. Congrats on five years. I’ve enjoyed every day of it!

    Comment by paulconley (@paulconley) — March 12, 2013 @ 7:19 pm | Reply

  4. We’re all doomed. Just slowly.

    Congratulations. :-)

    Comment by Adam Tinworth — March 13, 2013 @ 9:43 am | Reply

  5. Great blog and congrats on 5 years of top snarking – keep up the good work Mr Frazer.

    Comment by Sam — March 13, 2013 @ 9:52 am | Reply

  6. [...] Private Fraser marks five years of depressed posting with a humble post outlining his desire to ‘irritate the complacency out of publishers.’ [...]

    Pingback by Overmatter 15.03.13 « magCulture.com/blog — March 25, 2013 @ 9:26 pm | Reply

  7. I came to Private Frazer’s blog from long admiration of Magazine Death Pool. Private Frazer has been in his own way a delight over the blog’s five years. Naturally I hope everything will turn around for magazine publishing, not only in statistics but in the wisdom and beneficence of publishers, so that before I know it there won’t be a niche for this blog. How likely that is I leave to others to determine, not least publishers.

    Comment by Jerome Tarshis — March 29, 2013 @ 3:08 pm | Reply

  8. Congrat’s on 5 1/2 years Fraser!!
    Like many an old publisher I lament the recent (can I get away with 12 years as recent?) decline in the industry. You can pretty much trace it back to a few factors, the internet, increased fees by newstrade (particularly supermarkets), the post office postal increases and a shed load of crap decisions and launches driven by the fact that any reasonably capable person could use Quark/Indesign – whilst forgetting that whilst there may have been a gap in the market was there a market in the gap.
    Future were particularly adept at this, not so much niches as crevices within a niche.
    Anyhow, I have spent the last 8 years advising anyone I meet to steer clear of media, no money in writing, no satisfaction or career in sales, production can be done by a monkey – all that leaves is a shiny suit to bull about the reasons it has all gone wrong.
    Oddly, about 4 years into my career I thought about re-training as an accountant but was enjoying the long lunches, afternoons playing golf, corporate jollies too much – never thought it would end… well it has well and truly ended.
    Ah well, who cares eh???

    Comment by Richard — October 10, 2013 @ 2:53 pm | Reply


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