Assessing the state of the consumer magazine print business

It’s no secret that the digital revolution has had a profound effect on the consumer magazine industry. The industry’s treacherous transition from print to a print/digital hybrid has been, if anything, more difficult than publishers could have imagined just five years ago. We were reminded of these difficulties in two recent interviews: one conducted by Samir Husni with Bob Garfield, media columnist and critic, and the other a W Magazine interview with Condé Nast’s Bob Sauerberg.

Garfield implied in his interview that it’s no longer possible for magazine publishers to change the economics that have been imposed by the digital revolution. He further indicated that in the digital world, the most confounding aspect is that audience grow and grow, but CPMs continue to go down. He rightfully points out that this has created a plethora of what he calls “trash” advertising (reaching recipients not desired by the advertiser). Sauerberg implicitly confirmed some of the industry’s impediments described by Garfield. He indicated that Condé Nast still didn’t know how to fully monetize the relationship with the consumer. He also allowed, in this interview, that, although the company’s monthly visitors have increased 33 per cent in the last year to 87m, company revenues decreased, primarily because of continued weakness in print advertising.

Their comments perfectly capture the transition dilemma facing consumer magazine publishers. The Sauerberg interview demonstrated that publishers, even ones as big and successful as Condé Nast, still depend on print advertising to support this difficult transition. And in both interviews there’s a resigned acknowledgment that there are no easy revenue solutions in today’s media world, where the consumer magazine industry’s major competitors now include Google, Facebook and Amazon.

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