Last night I picked up the latest issue of Fortune Small Business magazine and started flipping through. I almost never read the letter from the editor, but the headline ”Hail and Farewell” caught my eye. I thought maybe the editor was leaving and moving on. Turns out that this would be the last issue of the magazine. Time Inc is shutting it down. Damn. This is the second great business magazine that’s gone down in the last few years – Time Inc also closed Business 2.0 down in October of 2007.
I get why. There isn’t enough advertising out there to support the costs associated with running a magazine. Writers, editors, printing costs, and shipping costs are just too high when you make next to nothing on your subscriptions and your advertisers are buying less ads. I get that the internet takes away a lot of readers, and that most readers would rather not pay for the content.
But I still can’t help but feel like there’s a gap being created every time this happens. I can get all of my day-to-day business news on TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb and others. I don’t need a newspaper for that. And when I want to delve deep into something there are plenty of books available. While the book industry is in transition, it’s not dying. No one is talking about books becoming extinct (or at least they shouldn’t be). They’re too valuable. We’re just not sure of the medium that they’ll be consumed in the future. The Kindle seems to have at least partially solved the problem.
Magazines are great at feature stories. The kind that take a month or two to research and half an hour to read. Take for example, the recent Wired writer Evan Ratliff who wrote about people who vanish and try to create new identities for themeslves, and then decided to do it himself, placing a $5k reward for anyone who found him within one month. People from all around the world pooled their resources and finally caught him. The articles were fascinating. Great reads that I’ll never forget. TechCrunch doesn’t do stuff like that…and neither do books. Magazines have a very unique and specific niche.
However, the magazine model seems so flawed that I can’t help but see this as a trend that will continue. They charge essentially nothing for subscriptions (many times $10/year or less) and instead rely on hefty ad rates to subsidize the ever-increasing costs. The model used to be brilliant. You charge to create perceived value – both in the mind of the customer and the advertiser (it stands to reason that people are more likely to read something that they pay for). It’s not working anymore. Magazines are dropping left and right.
So how do you save that niche? I don’t think that ad-supported blogs alone are the answer. Do you charge for an online-only version? Do you charge more for a print version? Do you just run your business leaner – less writers, less issues (say bi-monthly), and less filler pages with misc news that people already know? Do you run as some sort of hybrid, blogging regularly but charging for a quarterly magazine with more in-depth articles? Something else?
I don’t know what the answer is, but I’d like to see some people start trying some of this stuff instead of folding or becoming a blog in a niche where there are already plenty of blogs. Especially magazines with a focus on business and entrepreneurship. Come on guys, think outside the box a little.