“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.

Mag Drag: The midyear report on magazine closings says it all.

The “gone for good” list has been compiled for the first half of 2009 … and it looks pretty grim for the magazine industry. In fact, Oxbridge Communications’ Media Finder, a database that tracks U.S. and Canadian periodicals, reports that a record 279 magazine titles ceased publication during the first half of the year.

The news that 187 new magazines were actually launched over the same period is little consolation. The net loss of 92 magazines is more than ever, and demonstrates all too clearly how the recession has hit key market sectors particularly hard – finance, automotive, fashion and several others that have traditionally been major contributors of advertising revenue to print publications.

Which categories of magazines fared worst over the past six months? Media Finder’s data show that “regional interest” publications suffered the most casualties, with 27 magazines in that category folding. “Lifestyle” publications were also hurt, with 14 titles biting the dust. And magazines catering to the construction business and related segments were also hit hard, no doubt reflecting the depressed real estate and housing market.

What’s particularly interesting about the YTD 2009 list of shuttered magazines is that many of them were well known in their category and boasted significant circulation. Certainly, periodicals like Country Home, PR Week, Portfolio, Nickelodeon, Hallmark Magazine and Teen weren’t slouch publications by any means.

What can we expect for the rest of 2009? Is the worst over? Seeing as how the economic recovery is (optimistically) still months away, you’d have to bet on additional magazine titles folding during the second half of the year – including a few more of the big ones.

And we’re certain to see editorial format and other changes being made to some of the more famous publications (such as Newsweek’s recent makeover) in a bid to reestablish their relevance and maintain their financial viability.

Yes, even the Reader’s Digest …

Reader's Digest logoAs print magazines have been hammered by falling advertising revenues and as eyeballs have shifted from paper to PCs, the one publication one might think would be spared much of the fallout is Reader’s Digest. With its readership skewing older along with its strong popularity across the entire income spectrum — not to mention its 8 million domestic circulation — it would seem to be the media property best able to maintain a strong position in the current environment.

Well, you can burst that bubble. This past week, Reader’s Digest announced plans to shed some 2.5 million subscribers. It also announced that it is reducing its frequency from monthly to just 10 issues per year.

Plus, like other consumer magazines, Reader’s Digest is expanding its digital presence. Just listen to how Eva Dillon, Reader’s Digest president and group publisher, puts it (in florid language): “As one of the world’s largest producers of original content, we will continue our transformation into an innovative, multimedia brand by delivering content to users whenever and by whatever means they want, through expanded digital and print investments and the development of new mobile, video and multimedia applications.”

Translation: The print model isn’t working anymore, so we’re trying what everybody else is doing. We’ll see how it goes.

Of course, let’s not forget that Reader’s Digest is the world’s largest transnational magazine brand. When you add up its 50-odd country editions around the globe, its circulation tops 14 million.

So this brand isn’t going away anytime soon. But it is interesting to see that despite its unique (and enviable) position in the publishing world, Reader’s Digest is having to deal with the very same issues as everyone else in the industry.