The headline at BtoB Online announcing rosy revenue increases for magazines seemed like great news for the magazine industry, but when you look at the details of statistics from the Magazine Publishers of America’s Publishers Information Bureau there's a far less rosy picture for several major publishers to consider. While Time Inc.'s People showed a reasonable 6.4 percent revenue increase in 2Q07 versus 1Q06 Time magazine was down 16.8 percent, Fortune down 13.4 percent, Money magazine down 8.3 percent, Business 2.0 down 38.4 percent - enough to spark talk of Business 2.0 heading to the dead pool - and the now-deceased Life magazine clocking a 78.7 percent drop in revenues. Overall health, fitness, food titles and hardcore business magazines fared well while older regional and niche titles, small business, consumer-oriented finance and men's enthusiast magazines seemed to fare worst.
Magazine gainers easily trumped losers in overall title count and revenues so there's some good reason for print producers to feel that there is some good potential growth ahead as print becomes the status media of choice for affluent people trying to achieve more and to hold on to what they have through health and diet regimens. But general-interest print publications and publications catering to more traditional home and recreation interests (who has time?)
seem to be fading or growing moderately at best, with few exceptions. This may be a reflection of the current U.S. economy as much as anything else, but it also indicates that print is going to continue to succeed as a status symbol for mostly high end up-and-comers but only when it meets very specific points of pressing concern. In the meantime most entrepreneurial and tech-oriented audiences seem to have migrated for good to online venues.
Where this leaves general interest publishers such as Time Inc. is uncertain. The Web's ability to excel in both general audience aggregation and to dissemble general interests into highly focused niches rapidly via social media and vertical portals puts any traditional publication's strengths in a precarious position. For the most part these publications are going to have to make sure that they are contextualizing their content online as effectively as possible via search engines, social media and personal syndication, with their revenue streams following their content to its most valuable contexts. In print these publications will need to consider how mass customization will enable them to extract editorial value from a range of staffs more effectively through different interest lenses.
In general publishers have to consider how they can use their online portal presences to drive print consumption more effectively. Users need to be encouraged to let publishers know what they'd like to see in print - and to facilitate its delivery along with other editorial content that complements those expressed interests. It is difficult for publishers to out-Google Google in contextualizing online content but for now they stand a chance to do that more effectively for individuals in the print medium