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Industry Insight

BoSacks Speaks Out: Magazine Revenue and the numbers.

The magazine industry only produces revenue by having a product worth selling. I am happy to report that the industry still produces tens of billions of dollars in revenue. But as an industry the count of sales of magazines has been declining in both newsstand copies sold and subscriptions bought.

By Bob Sacks
Published: June 5, 2014

My friend Samir Husni and I have been discussing publicly the future of the magazine business for perhaps a decade. You would have to be out of your mind not to understand the deep passion he has for printed magazines. It is truly a beautiful thing to behold. He is Director of the Magazine Innovation Center and Professor and Hederman Lecturer at the University of Mississippi, and he speaks and consults around the globe. I deeply respect my friend and his passion for the industry.

But we wouldn't be able to debate, if we didn't have different positions on various aspects of the magazine industry. I deem these conversations to be healthy for us and for the industry.

Samir has for years tracked new start-ups in the magazine business. And the following report is very exciting for the robustness of the count of new magazines. Insightfully one of his favorite expressions about our industry is that publishers should pay more attention to customers that count than the count of the customers. I surely agree with that. Decades of counting irrelevant customers to build rate base, although lucrative for some very large publishing houses, has also done damage to the reputation of an industry by dropping magazines hither and dither in the hope of reaching a guaranteed set of eyeballs. This is seeking a count of customers rather than customers that count.

With that same logic I think a more poignant indication of the health of the magazine business is the count of the titles we sell rather than the count of the titles we produce.

We are all in this industry for one major reason, which is that it is or can be lucrative. The only way we can continue to publish is if we make money - money to support the ongoing business we are in, but more importantly money to feed and shelter our families. Many of us love this industry, and it is doubly wondrous when you can make a living, support your family and actually love your job. But the priorities are to make money first to feed the kids and then have fun and enjoy your job as a close second.

As an industry we only produce revenue by having a product worth selling. I am happy to report that we still produce tens of billions of dollars in revenue. But as an industry the count of sales of magazines has been declining in both newsstand copies sold and subscriptions bought.

It's not a life and death situation, as print will be around for generations, but rather one of increasing or decreasing revenue streams for the magazine industry at large. And that is where Dr. Husni and I seem to disagree. The numbers of different magazines we produce as an industry has little bearing on the number of titles we sell. John Harrington, publisher of the New Single Copy, a trade publication for the newsstand industry, reported, "Since 2008, magazine retail sales have declined by approximately 50%, exacerbating the problems of an already financially distressed wholesaler level of the channel."

We all know that industry averages lose meaning on an individual basis, meaning that some magazines are bucking the downward trends of magazine sales. But the fact is that the total number of magazines sold is decreasing regardless of the count of the numbers of new magazines we put on the newsstand. This is a sales situation we all need to be aware of and understand. Our future as revenue producing wordsmiths will be with multiple platforms of word distribution, only one of which is print.

I am excited to hear and read about all the new titles, and I encourage the new publishers joining our industry to be fruitful and prosper.

 

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