Mags not dying, just a bit poorly

Magculture linked to a Salon feature arguing that the magazine isn’t doomed, it’s just been badly mishandled. According to the writer (Gabriel Sherman), publishers aggressively launched titles during the “bubble years” (is that we’re calling the last decade now?) to exploit new advertising markets, but without cultivating the standards that build lasting readerships:

a closer look at the types of magazines that have closed reveals a more nuanced and, in many respects, hopeful portrait of the magazine business. According to a list compiled by Advertising Age, titles that have shut down in the past year come from the shelter, technology, travel, luxury, and teen categories. The reason for each category’s challenges are obvious, from a meltdown in the housing sector to teenagers’ wholesale abandonment of print for Facebook and Twitter.

As someone who’s pretty keen for people to carry on buying magazines so that some of the magazines will hopefully pay me to write for them, I don’t feel totally consoled by the suggestion that it’s ‘just’ the teenagers who are deserting the news-stands: if teenagers aren’t buying mags now, then what’s going to make them start in time to replace the older readers who’ll be dying off? And similarly, it’s possible that the tech audience is just out at the front of a movement into reading online, and the recession is masking a much more permanent shift.

Still, the failed mags gibbeted by Advertising Age do seem to have been mostly aimed at conspicuous consumers, and the fact that so many were diffusion titles – jimmying an established brand into a new marketplace – backs up Sherman’s thesis. And obviously, I’d really like this part to be true:

the current downturn can be good for publishers. Magazines still offer an unsurpassed ability to marry literary ambitions with deep reporting, photography, and visual design. In this new media age, people talk about the importance of transforming readers into “communities.” Magazines have never had a community problem. Great magazines have built enduring relationships with their readers that Facebook and Tumblr still aspire to. But in a race to grow their businesses, publishers put advertising first and editorial excellence second.

Magazines still retain emotional capital, and publishers need to remember that they’re not in the advertising-delivery business. If a magazine can speak directly to the reader, advertising dollars will follow. Titles launched to capitalize on a booming market segment will never survive over the long haul.