Are Magazines Dead? Not Quite

August 15, 2012

Newsstand sales of magazines dropped about 10 percent in the first six months of the year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Newsstand sales are only a small portion of a magazine’s overall circulation, but they’re considered a good barometer, because newsstand buyers pay the full cover price.

Some of the biggest and best-known titles took major hits. People, Vogue and Cosmopolitan fell by 15 to 18 percent, according to news reports. Time was down by 31 percent and Newsweek by about 10 percent.

So, are magazines dead? Not quite. Subscription circulation held steady, and digital sales more than doubled. Meanwhile, certain niches, most notably home and food, showed healthy gains.

My household is part of the problem. Twenty years ago, in the pre-Internet era, my wife and I subscribed to more than 40 magazines. Magazines were the only place to get in-depth stories on politics, entertainment and sports. It was a bad day when we didn’t get at least one or two magazines in our mailbox. Now we get no more than seven or eight.

The magazines we still get are the ones that give great and abundant coverage to topics we care about, with provocative, informative writing and excellent photography. There’s still a place in the market for magazines that offer something more than commodity information you can get anywhere. And there’s still a place for luscious photography and well-packaged presentation.

The magazines that will thrive going forward, I think, will be those that are aspirational — publications that don’t tell you what happened, but show you what could be. Smart publications that are well-produced, intelligently targeted and know their audience can succeed.