Some perspective on magazine closings2009-12-29
Much has been made of the statistics cited in a press release issued December 14 by MediaFinder. According to the release, 275 new magazines were launched while 428 folded. These numbers were presented as further evidence of print’s inevitable demise.
There’s no question that the Net is having a profound impact on the publishing business. Many of the major titles that shuttered print production shifted to online-only models.
But context is a valuable thing. It’s worth noting that far more magazines perished in years long before the digitization of media began. It’s also worth nothing that those were all recession years: 1992, 1993, 2000 and 2001. In fact, in 2000-2001, 1,802 magazines went out of business, a 22.1 percent drop.
In case anyone missed it, 2008 and 2009 were recession years, too. That’s a factor that needs to be considered when analyzing the failures of those 428 magazines. According to Ulrich’s Periodical Directory, magazines closed at an average 80 percent higher rate in recession years than in the year before. Ulrich’s showed 54 magazine closings in 2008. (Ulrich’s, which tracks U.S. and Canadian magazines, doesn’t sync up with the MediaFinder numbers, by the way, but MediaFinder noted that 525 magazines folded in 2008, which makes 2009 a better year than the one before.)
The reason for these failures has more to do with advertising than reader defection. In a recession, companies scale back the advertising that is the lifeblood of magazine publishing. In the advertising and marketing world, we’ve been talking about any number of studies that report company plans to scale back their spending in order to conserve money.
For those who think circulation is that big a factor, consider that 2008 saw only a .4 percent decline in total circulation from the previous year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Total 2008 circulation was virtually even with the number of subscribers in 1990, the year the ABC began tracking such numbers. (2009 numbers aren’t available yet.)
Magazine publishing has always been a precarious business, but the fact that 275 print magazines were born in 2009 speaks to some optimism about the future of the business.
So yes, magazines are having to examine their models as more and more content moves online. But to suggest a single year’s statistics are proof that print is on its way out is a knee-jerk reaction—a hopeful one among the print-is-dead crowd—that fails to examine all the facts.
Speaking of facts, the Magazine Publishers of America produced this video; the citations for each fact appear on the MPA’s site: