The pace of doom and gloom stories for printed media continues unabated but I’ve noticed more and more that are offering brilliant insight into the problem and even a few solutions.
A story in Business Week about a thriving newspaper industry in Germany (here) surmises that the problems with US newspapers is not the internet it’s the content:
“I suspect the real reason German papers still thrive is their embrace of competition. Unlike so many U.S. papers, Bild was never part of a quasi-monopoly that allowed complacency. It’s telling that Bild doesn’t deliver —it depends on newsstand sales. ‘Bild has to prove itself at the kiosk every day,’ says Deputy Editor-in-Chief Michael Paustian.
That pressure helped Bild maintain its focus on original content. It uses almost no wire copy and brags that every story is an exclusive. Even during the crisis years, Bild kept its 800-strong editorial staff intact. What advice does Diekmann have for American newspapers? ‘It’s too late.’ ”
Along a similar note Dr. Samir Husni (AKA Mr. Magazine) scolds all the top magazine titles for causing the failing newsstand themselves by selling subscriptions at cut rate prices. The practice, to offer dirt cheap subs as a way to control circulation and meet rate base not only undermines newsstand sales but in my mind it destroys the content by bringing in consumers who are barely interested in reading the magazine in the first place and forcing the editorial staff to cater to a more general audience of readers. Dr. Husini’s unlikely cure for the newsstand woes:
“Stop chasing the numbers of customers and concentrate on customers who count. The first step in doing such is stop the rate base gimmick. You can’t anymore chase a rate base number and try to meet that number. Today’s customers are different and reaching those who count is much more important than counting them.”
Mygazines continues to make headlines for allowing consumers to freely scan and distribute their favorite magazines in a clear violation of US copyright laws but it doesn’t look like they will go away anytime soon because they’re owned by the same company that runs Pirate Bay (CNet story here). They’ve been on Hollywood’s most wanted list for several years now and appear to be indestructible.
There are many, many reasons why this will never become the napster of the publishing industry; it takes a lot of effort to scan an entire magazine and converting magazine pages into jpgs hardly seems like a brilliant solution to portability online, to name a few, but it’s certainly caused quite a few people to sit up and take notice and spark discussion. I agree with this motley fool story entitled “It’s the end of publishing as we know it” (here) when they say:
“Magazines like Cosmo, Wired, and Playboy always looked like prime online properties, dishing out their advice, entertainment, and other well-written and popular articles through this huge series of tubes. But here we are, well into the digital age, and most of them simply haven’t made the transition yet.
If Mygazines teaches Time anything, it would be how to present the print magazine in a tasty online form, easy to navigate and easy to use. Copy that model and then improve on it, inject a bit of revenue-generating advertising, and see if your readers prefer the official version with corporate backing or some fly-by-night rip-off where everything is free but nothing is guaranteed. Now let’s see which publisher might be the first to get a clue so we can invest in it.”
Of course publishing companies are like lumbering giants and as risk adverse as you get (a few serve as retirement accounts for their owners), but it would only take one textbook case of a magazine doing it right online and proving that the revenue and audience exists to turn the entire industry around.
I don’t think printed magazines will ever go away completely and why should they, people still like to read them and they’re awfully convenient for the airport, bus, train or limo rides, but the audience is limited and will continue to shrink so publishers need to follow the young audience and the casual, used to buy it for 1 article readers where they’ve gone, online.
Also, if you’re simply going to reprint the entire contents of the magazine online with all the advertising intact it should be free. Simple math will tell you that the newsstand and subscriptions prices don’t even cover the printing and distribution cost for a single issue, so if I’m saving you that expense the least you can do is not charge me for it online. If you’re going to transform the content online and run epic photo essays, allow reader interaction and leverage the technology available then the possibilities for audience and revenue are endless. If you treat the internet like a piece of paper you may find equilibrium between audience size, expense to produce and profit but the the multi-million dollar profit glory days are now coming to an end.
Overall, the theme here seems to be content, quality content. Can it really be that simple? I think so.
UPDATE: Pirate Bay refutes ownership of Mygazines (here). Thanks Sean.