As Magazines Hemorrhage Cash, Industry Evolves Advertising dollars and newsstand sales are way down. Well-known titles like Gourmet and Modern Bride have folded. But start-up magazines are still launching, using new business models to try to stay relevant in the digital age.
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As Magazines Hemorrhage Cash, Industry Evolves

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As Magazines Hemorrhage Cash, Industry Evolves

As Magazines Hemorrhage Cash, Industry Evolves

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

This past year was a grim one for the magazine industry. Advertising revenue plummeted, and major publications, including Gourmet and Modern Bride, shut down for good. Other magazines like Fortune scaled back the number of issues they put out. But even in this tough climate, new magazines are still coming out.

NPR's Jim Zarroli looks at what magazine publishers are doing to stay relevant in the digital age.

JIM ZARROLI: Many people are pessimistic about magazines these days, not Carley Roney. She co-founded a company called The Knot that publishes bridal magazines. This morning, she's brimming over with enthusiasm as she addresses her sales staff.

Ms. CARLEY RONEY (Co-Founder, Editor-In-Chief, The Knot): So we have been on an absolute roll, I think, on the editorial side. I mean, I feel like we are working like a crazy machine at this point.

ZARROLI: The Knot is part of a new generation of companies trying to take advantage of a rapidly shifting media landscape.

The University of Mississippi's Samir Husni, who writes a blog called Mr. Magazine, says people still read magazines, but advertisers are deserting them for the Internet. And the problem has gotten a lot worse since the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the meltdown in the financial markets.

Dr. SAMIR HUSNI (University of Mississippi; Blogger, Mr. Magazine): They have a serious problem with the advertising because the entire business model died. I mean, the American business model died in September 2008.

ZARROLI: Big magazine companies are desperately looking for ways to survive, says consultant Martin Walker.

Mr. MARTIN WALKER (Consultant): All of the smart publishing companies not only be into the Internet and into digital magazines, but they have TV deals, book deals. They're into video. They're into television.

ZARROLI: A lot of existing magazines have tried to accommodate themselves to the digital age with Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and iPhone apps. Esquire recently had an augmented reality issue. Hold up the cover of the magazine to a Web cam, and an image of Robert Downey, Jr. pops up on your computer screen.

Mr. ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. (Actor): Oh, yeah. In your face. And bless your soul. Welcome to the augmented reality issue of Esquire magazine. My name is Robert Downey, Jr.

ZARROLI: These efforts have had mixed success. But despite the industry's troubles, a lot of publishers aren't ready to give up on magazines. Samir Husni says more than 600 new titles came out in 2009, though many were one-time-only publications.

Some of the more successful launches used brand names from television, like the Food Network magazine. Others, like The Knot, started out on the Internet. It was founded as a bridal Web site and it still makes money through Web ads and e-commerce. It sells wedding merchandise and it runs a gift registry linked to major retailers like Macy's. Carley Roney says the company has amassed a huge database of new brides and this gives the company a pipeline into what its audience is thinking.

Ms. RONEY: So we have a variety of different revenue streams so we don't have to rely on just one. And it's really proven to be successful for us because we are focused on the consumer.

ZARROLI: And in recent years the company has also put a lot of its energy into magazines. It publishes 17 regional bridal magazines and spinoffs for pregnant women and new homeowners. Roney says magazines do something for their audience that other media don't.

Ms. RONEY: Magazines provide you a sort of realm of discovery, I think, that looking on the Web, you're searching for information. You might find some, but when you're browsing through a magazine, it's just a much more, it's sort of a relaxing and just entirely different experience. And so we've always felt that particularly in the world of weddings, where brides are hungry for pictures and inspiration and ideas, there will always be bridal magazines.

ZARROLI: Still, The Knot has to cut corners in a way that its wealthier, uptown rivals never did during their heyday. It's published in a downtown Manhattan building where the heat is uneven and the wooden floors creak underfoot. The same staff members write content for both the magazines and the Web. It's a long way from "The Devil Wears Prada."

Samir Husni says the economic fundamentals of the magazine world have changed for good and too many publishers are in denial about it.

Mr. HUSNI: 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. I think they are in a coma. If they think that things are going to go back to the way they used to be before 2007, they are not living in this world.

ZARROLI: Those companies that are to survive, he says, will have to do what The Knot is doing - figure out how to reinvent their business model and find ways to make money off the many people who still want to read traditional magazines.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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