As Magazines Hemorrhage Cash, Industry Evolves

An issue of 'Gourmet' magazine on a newsstand i i

hide captionNewsstand mainstay Gourmet folded last year, but new publications, including Food Network Magazine, were launched.

Mario Tama/Getty Images
An issue of 'Gourmet' magazine on a newsstand

Newsstand mainstay Gourmet folded last year, but new publications, including Food Network Magazine, were launched.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Among the casualties of this rotten economy has been the magazine industry. One by one, some venerable titles have announced they're publishing their last issues, including Gourmet, Metropolitan Home and Modern Bride.

Meanwhile, Fortune says it's cutting back the number of issues it publishes every year, and BusinessWeek was sold for the embarrassingly low price of just $9 million.

The publishing industry points out that readership remains strong, with 92 percent of American adults reading magazines on a regular basis. And they do especially well when big news happens.

All this is true, but newsstand sales (which tend to bring in more money, because they're not as deeply discounted as subscriptions) have fallen sharply, and advertising revenue has been dismal. In 2009, it fell more than 18 percent from the year before, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

By The Numbers


Percent of U.S. adults who regularly read magazines


Percent of U.S. teens who regularly read magazines


Percent decline in magazine ad pages during 2009


Percent decline in advertising revenue during 2009


Percent increase in the number of consumer magazine Web sites between 2005 and 2009

$55 million

Amount of extra magazine sales driven by the death of Michael Jackson in July

Sources: Magazine Publishers of America and the Publishers Information Bureau

'Magazines Have To Keep Up'

As with TV and newspapers, magazines remain relevant, but the economic model that has long sustained them has fallen apart as advertisers have abandoned them for the Internet.

"I think the paradigm is shifting, and magazines have to keep up," says Brad Adgate, of the media buying firm Horizon Media.

Many magazines are struggling to do just that. Publications are looking for new ways to keep Americans reading and are trying hard to adjust themselves to the digital age by developing Facebook pages, iPhone apps and Twitter feeds.

They're also launching new titles. Some of the most successful have leveraged brand names from television, like Food Network Magazine. Others started out as Web sites, like Meredith's The Mix, based on a recipe-sharing site.

The Knot was founded as a Web site for brides and still makes much of its money from e-commerce and online ads. But it has also branched into magazines and is now publishing 17 regional editions as well as spinoff publications for pregnant couples and new homeowners.

New Titles Still Launching

More than 600 new magazines were started in 2009, although many were one-time-only publications, often tied to specific news events like the 2008 presidential election and the death of Michael Jackson, says Samir Husni, who directs the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi.

Many magazines are also successfully raising their newsstand prices and relying less on advertising, an economic model favored in other countries, Husni says.

But Husni says many publishers have been slow to deal with the changes roiling the industry.

"They still believe that it's just a cycle, that advertising will come back, and things will go back to the way it used to be," Husni says. "I think they're in a coma. If they think things are going back to the way it used to be before 2007, they are not living in this world."



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