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.
Walmington on Sea