Print Publications: Hanging In There?

Print magazines are hanging in there.There’s one thing you can say about print magazines: They’re not giving up without a fight!

The latest evidence of this comes in statistics released by Mediafinder®, a magazine tracking service run by Oxbridge Communications. It turns out that in 2011, there were 239 print publications launched in the United States and Canada. That’s a 24% increase over 2010, when 193 magazines were launched.

And at the other end of the scale, the number of magazines that ceased publishing in 2011 decreased over the previous year: 152 versus 176.

Actually, new magazine startups as well as closings are down significantly from just a few years ago. The worst year was in 2009, when a whopping 596 print magazines closed (but also 275 were launched).

Reviewing the stats, it’s not hard to understand the dynamics as to why print magazines have been on the ropes. For starters, magazine newsstand sales have dropped by nearly 50% over the past decade. And ad pages in consumer magazines fell more than 30% just between 2006 and 2010.

And in 2011 year-to-date, ad pages are continuing to track a smidgen lower (-1%), but at least the trend is now nearly flat rather than steeply downward.

To be sure, magazines have tried different tactics to stem the slide. One of the more interesting moves has been by the publishing firm Meredith Corporation, which announced a plan in the summer to begin guaranteeing that advertisers’ magazine buys will yield an increase in sales for their products or services.

Dubbed the “Meredith Engagement Dividend,” the program represents a new level of accountability for “analogue” media, which long relied on fuzzier metrics like audience reach and before/after market research.

The publisher’s new program is available to advertisers who commit to a minimum level of advertising impressions annually across multiple Meredith magazine titles. It works by correlating Meredith’s magazine readers with Nielsen’s Homescan (National Consumer Panel) service. That’s the same marketing research resource many top consumer products firms use to measure their product sales.

The Nielsen/NCP database of ~85 million consumer magazine readers is used to correlate the effect magazine ads have on resulting product purchase behaviors.

Meredith claims the research shows that advertisers in four key categories – household goods, beauty products, OTC drugs and food – have increased their product sales an average of 10% via ads placed in the Meredith publications. That claim is based on measuring the sales impact of “higher frequency” ad campaigns that ran during 2009 and 2010.

It’ll be interesting to see how the performance of print magazines evolves over the next few years. For now, the steep slide appears to have ended, but there’s no real evidence of a turnaround. The question is whether publishers can adjust their operating models to continue to work within the new, lower level of business activity.

Maybe they’ll succeed. You know … hope and change and all that.

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