Will the increasing costs of entry make print publishing a world where only the brave and truly committed dare to go?
As you may know, my friend Samir Husni, also known as Mr. Magazine, tracks new magazine launches. He has done so for decades and has amassed a wealth of data. In his latest announcement, the overall numbers for our business are less than stellar. Many possible reasons exist for this decline. Both Husni and I can postulate about its causes, but neither of us actually knows.
According to Husni: "The number of new magazine launches in the first quarter of 2008 (150) increased by five titles compared to Q1 2007. [While it was an increase,] it is still a far cry from the introduction of 192 new magazines in the same time period in 2006. However . . . only 41 magazines were launched with the intention to be published at least four times a year compared with 50 in 2007, and 72 in 2006."
Husni goes on to ask: "So what does this mixed bag of numbers mean? Not much. Since I have started tracking new magazine launches, I have witnessed a two or three years' decline after a very healthy and busy year.  was a very healthy year-1,013 new magazines were launched. The decline started in 2006. We are in our third year of decline. In 2006, we [saw] 901 new launches. The number dropped to 715 last year, and if the trend of the previous years continues, we will see another drop again this year before the numbers bounce back. Call it market correction if you please, but definitely it is not a sign that print is on its way out."
Well, on that last point, Mr. Magazine and I agree. Printed magazines are not on their way out. Not by a long shot. I believe that the printed magazine will have a prosperous run until the advent and adaptation of new technologies, which will finally surpass the printed magazine around 2025. So there is some breathing room left. And even in 2025, magazines will not be completely gone, and those publishers established to produce them will do just fine. But I do believe that by 2025, the printed magazine will not be the predominant way that the public will read, but rather only one of the ways. Sort of like it is now, only more so.
So what will happen to Husni's belief that there will be a predictable parabolic curve of highs and lows of new title releases? I think there will always be some high points of new releases and some low points. But as we move into the future there will be periods of lower highs and lower lows. And the long-term trend will be a decreased number of new printed titles, until we reach a new level of sustainability.
That new sustainability will be predicated on the dictates of the new information age, balanced with the cost structure of print-and-ship manufactured goods. This may not be a bad thing for the printing and publishing industry. Perhaps a more expensive entry fee to be a printed publisher will lead to a greater survival rate, as only the brave and the truly committed will apply. I believe we will reach a new successful, sustainable plateau of new releases more in line with the new business realities of the day.
The further the reach of a new digital infrastructure, the less drive there will be to spend money on printed products. Publishing has always had a component of vanity attached to it. Almost everybody wants to be a publisher. In the past, the only way to do that was to put ink on paper. It was significantly less costly than it is today to materialize those vanity impulses. I think we will find that the new world order is based on dematerialization.
The dematerialization business plan can send billions of words anywhere on the planet in an instant with no material form and no manufacturing expenditure. So, as usual, Mr. Magazine and I agree on some points and disagree on others. For today, we agree that the printed magazine is not going away any time soon, but disagree on the relevance of the decreasing trend in new startups.
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (Media-Ideas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.