Nope, print still isn’t dead.
During the two years I studied publishing, I fielded a lot of sentiments about the death of print/magazines/publishing. “Isn’t the industry dying?” said, like, everyone. I could understand why it was such a common perception. There was a lot of disruption going on with publishing technology and business models, and a lot of media coverage about it. Doomsaying the printed word was hugely trendy in 2012.
Then, as now, print lives though. You could even say it flourishes, just in a way that looks very different from the days when popular magazines were notching million-plus paid subscriptions and even million-plus single-copy sales. MPA circ numbers from 2000 show TV Guide (TV Guide! So quaint.) with 8.7 million subscribers and an average 1.6 million single-copy sales per month. Some stalwarts like Good Housekeeping and Sports Illustrated have maintained or slightly grown their paid subscriptions, but single-copy sales in general have seen steep declines. There’s very little growth among the top titles, and very few new print launches from the major publishers like Time, Hearst, Condé Nast, Meredith, and Bonnier. Instead, these
magazine publishers media companies have diversified, finding revenue growth in online content, product extensions, insights, and much, much more.
No, print’s flourishing is happening among indies. The big players have their work cut out for them, trying to reach relatively general audiences in a time when media consumers are ever more fragmented across devices and interests. They have to marshal eyeballs in order to make advertising revenue. Indies, on the other hand, aren’t trying to find the widest possible audience; they’re trying to find the right audience, by going niche and premium.
That’s how magazines like Banana (a brand new biannual? annual? about culture among first- and second-generation Asians in America) and Cereal (a travel biannual featuring spare text and minimalist design) find audiences in today’s noisy, relentlessly paced media landscape. They have unique perspectives, exquisite design, “slow” content, and luxe production. It’s not uncommon for a single issue to cost $20 or more, which is to be expected not only of a premium product but also one not subsidized by ad revenue. These reader-supported indies aren’t to be simply read and tossed. They’re objects to touch, display, and keep. They embody the taste of the reader. This sort of publication will never match the business complexity or revenue of major corporations, but that was never the point for most indie magazines.
The first half of 2015 has already seen the launch of 93 new magazines with intended frequency (as opposed to one-off special publications). Any magazine launched with a strong vision can find an audience, even if the audience is just a few thousand or even a few hundred people. Print is a powerful way to talk to them, all the more so as audiences are awash in ephemeral digital content.