Monday, December 15, 2008

Why You're Losing Your Magazine Job

Magazine behemoths such as Time Inc. and Conde Nast (and Hearst, more quietly) have been slashing staffers and budgets in large numbers recently.

The reason? The economic downtown.

Or is it?

AllThingsD's Peter Kafka notes in a new post that publishing houses are also shedding ad dollars left and right, indicated in this graph from MediaPost, which is based off ad sales data from magazine trade publisher Media Industry Newsletter:

The problem? It's not just the steep decline of ad pages due to the recession -- no, it's because magazines were running flat even before the decline, thanks to a fundamental shift of ad dollars away from print and toward the Web.

In other words, magazines were barely getting by as it was, and an economic throttling just sunk an already barely-seaworthy vessel.

Remember two and a half years ago when I asked why newspapers were beating glossies to the punch on the Web? In that article, I lamented the ill-preparedness of magazine publishers in their Web dealings: flashy but poor "destination" sites with poor usability and poor brand representation that served only as subscription centers, rather than as logical extensions of the brand with original content (CondeNet, I'm looking at you).

Now it looks like magazine companies are finally paying the price for their (expensive but ineffective) dabbling.

Or, in other words: that's what you get when you only have one full-time staffer ("Web editor") for a magazine's entire online presence.

So should magazine editors contemplate an online-only career? Maybe -- it's not clear, because the magazine as a vehicle for content still has the tangible value: the bring-it-into-the-bathroom factor (a factor not as strong as it used to be).

Logically, then, I expect magazines to go on a decline, but not bottom out. Unlike newspapers, who peddle breaking content (strictly, "news"), magazines peddle much more design and commentary. So while daily newspapers will gravitate toward analysis to keep their printed product afloat, magazines already have a safety net in the basic nature of their product.

So what about magazine jobs?

It still doesn't look good. Kafka writes:

"It's unclear how many jobs the Web is going to offer, since digital content is worth so much less than its analog counterpart, at least in the eyes of advertisers."

But that's quickly changing, since there are so many more eyeballs on the Web. As circulation numbers steadily decline, advertisers will gradually place more value in the Web, and publications would be wise to encourage that. After all, there are no printing costs (just hosting), and overhead is so much lower thanks to almost-free distribution.

There are even rumors confirming such things: For example, the dissolution of (for which I've previously expressed my disgust) and the launch of distinct sites for GQ and Details.

But that still doesn't replace the original magazine, and in that way, the website will forever be an extension of the original (printed) brand.

Still, I blame magazine publishers for not being prescient enough. For example, have you seen the website for T, The New York Times Magazine? It's not perfect by any means, but it's an innovative way to make a website stylistically mirror the printed publication. There are several highfalutin publications that see T as a competitor. Why not also one on the web?

So where does that leave the magazine editor?

Well, start polishing that resume and brushing up on your HTML -- if you don't know what CMS stands for, you're just as much in trouble as the editorial assistant who hasn't heard of Adobe InDesign.

No comments: