“Mag Drag 2009”: Year-End Update

Earlier this year, I reported on the sorry state of print magazine publishing as illustrated by the spate of closures reported up to that time.

Now that we’re wrapping up 2009, we can see the full scope of the damage. MediaFinder has tallied up more than 370 magazine titles that have folded over the course of the year. And the number is closer to 450 if you also include magazines that ceased to publish in print form and went to an all-digital format.

Interestingly, magazine closure stats for 2009 were actually a bit lower than in 2008 and 2007. But this year saw the demise of some pretty important titles. Among the more noteworthy casualties were:

 Country Home
 Editor & Publisher
 Gourmet Magazine
 Hallmark Magazine
 Modern Bride
 Nickelodeon
 Portfolio
 Teen
 The Advocate
 Vibe

As we move into 2010, will these trends continue, or will magazine closures level off? It’s too soon to say, but some prognosticators are forecasting a slight uptick in print magazine advertising revenues, so perhaps the worst is behind us.

But coming off of a disastrous 18-month period when print advertising revenues have tanked 25%, 30% or more, it’s hard to see how some magazines can continue to survive at the new, depressed revenue levels which will likely be a fact of life going forward.

And what about newspapers? For them, 2009 was even more depressing, with a record number of bankruptcies filed including the companies that own the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Sun-Times, Minneapolis Star/Tribune and a number of other iconic newspaper brands. At the end of the year, though, some firms had managed to resolve their bankruptcy proceedings thanks to cash infusions, labor concessions, or selling out to new owners.

Condé-Nast Gets Real – and Reality Bites

Conde-Nast logoThis week, magazine publisher Condé-Nast announced the closure of four magazines, including two bridal publications plus the prestigious and well-known Gourmet Magazine title.

It’s an indignity for a publishing firm that has fallen pretty far pretty fast. For years, the company seemed by-and-large unaffected by the winds of change in the publishing industry. Even as other firms were belt-tightening and divesting themselves of low-performing magazine titles, the storied “in-your-face” Condé-Nast business style – replete with jet-setting executives and seemingly endless clothing and expense accounts – appeared to remain intact.

It didn’t hurt that parent company, Advance Publications, also owns cable TV properties that could help prop up the print publication segment of the business – at least for a time.

But with plunging ad page revenues from its luxury goods advertisers on the order of 30%+ throughout 2009, it was only a matter of time before the day of reckoning would arrive. And the sense of impending doom was only heightened when McKinsey & Co. consultants started roaming the halls, poking around the company’s headquarters like a nosy relative, asking all sorts of questions and taking notes.

And now, a few short months later, we have this announcement.

Accompanying the news of magazine closures and personnel layoffs, Condé-Nast reported that it is shifting its priorities to digital properties even while focusing on a fewer number of “core” magazine titles.

Will it be enough? One unnamed company executive was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying, “We’re going to make a go of everything else.” But I think that’s doubtful. McKinsey has recommended that nearly all of the remaining publications cut their budgets by upwards of 25%. Whether or not that happens – or whether it will be enough to save the remaining titles – is something we’ll be able to judge pretty quickly.

UPDATE (11/7/09)The New York Post is reporting that Condé-Nast has now hired Michael Sheehan, the famous crisis manager and media coach, to help the company with PR. Sheehan has coached presidential candidates from Clinton to Obama, as well as handling AIG Insurance’s PR during its financial meltdown in late 2008. Reportedly, Gina Sanders, publisher of Lucky magazine, prodded top brass to bring Sheehan in, citing deep morale problems at the company. Considering the dramatic events at the publishing house over the past year, this news is not at all surprising.