An exciting wee chart in PaidContent, showing the decline in magazine sales over the past decade. The bairns over there correlate this fall to the point where the interweb achieved popular lift off; up to a point Lord Copper, but Private Frazer would draw your attention to a couple of other seismic shifts.
The first is hubris – publishing companies’ belief that they could launch any old tat, increase cover prices way beyond inflation, pack titles with content that kept advertisers on side (and forming whole new divisions to come up with ‘creative (sic) solutions’), and reduce the numbers of people putting the titles together (boosting instead the number of management and sales staff). In the first part of the decade the sense that magazine publishing companies were able to defy gravity was palpable – ‘sod the readers, count the money’.
The second is the retail tipping point. Smith’s continue to be as rubbish as ever, but in the mid part of the decade they went from being charmingly hopeless to being ruthlessly crap – range reviews, shelf fees, expensive promotions that benefited no one other than Smith’s themselves. At around the same time, the supermarkets overtook independent retailers and were more brutal and significantly less pliable than the fags and mags stores of old. Magazine circulation managers suddenly discovered their place in the supermarket pecking order (significantly less important than biscuits, on a par with bleach) and realized that the old rules didn’t apply.
Private Frazer tends not to be prescriptive, preferring the easy routes of sarcastic comments, vulgar abuse and unconsidered opinion, but it seems to him that if magazines are going to survive in any form then publishing companies need to concentrate more on their consumers than on the means of delivery. It matters little to me that my copy of Barra Life is stuck through my letterbox, bought from McTavish’s Store, accessed via my old Amstrad or sent psychically by a medium. In fact, I might use all of these ways, using the delivery method that is most appropriate to that content – absorbing a feature article from the print edition, scouring the death notices online for new customers, checking the app to see who on the island is selling the cheapest oatmeal today. If all Barra Life can offer me is overblown features written in conjunction with the ad department, estate agents’ puffs disguised as editorial, and rewritten press releases, then it could be delivered by the massed pipes and drums of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and would pass unread from door to bin.
Publishing companies always claim to be in the content business, but if the truth be told, a lot of them aren’t very good at it. They produce a great deal of it, but they haven’t invested in its quality, or its relevance to its consumers. A good editor or publisher can tell you more about his or her readers than a focus group (the problem being that all editors and publishers think they’re good and very few of them actually are); a subscription strategy will build more loyalty than a bought-in picture of Kerry Katona, an editorial campaign that connects to its audience offers more substance than a covermount.
We’ve sacrificed the long term for the short-term fix, but up to a couple of years ago this short-termism was for the sake of a quick bawbie, now it’s because of desperation. From profit-taking to existential crisis in five years, there’s progress!