“Are magazines doomed, too?”
That’s the title of a blog post written by Jeff Jarvis, a guy aptly described
by D. B. Scott as being “best known for his rather doom-laden posts about the bleak future for newspapers.” Jarvis also does a media column for the Guardian
and recently wrote a book called What Would Google Do?
He’s one of these new media evangelists that seem to be everywhere these days.
So, does Jarvis think magazines are doomed, too? Pretty much.
Referring to Condé Nast’s folding of Portfolio
, Jarvis says the days of the $100 million magazine launch are over. “We’ll see magazines fold and it’s going to be a lot riskier to start new ones to replace them — riskier because, just as on TV and in movies and music, it’s harder to create a blockbuster and consumer magazines depend on the blockbuster economy.”
Jarvis then writes a bunch of stuff about how magazines aren’t doing enough to turn themselves into “community platforms,” before going on to end his post on this dissonant note, “The death of Portfolio
doesn’t yet presage the doom of magazines. It marks the doom of magazine launches.”
Like a lot of the people who have already commented on Jarvis's post, I disagree. Portfolio
’s death just files it into the long line of badly timed and just plain bad magazine launches.
First of all, I should point out that in Canada, there was never such a thing as a $100 million magazine launch. Most new Canadian publishers have start-up budgets around $5,000-$25,000. Some established publishers might even spend hundreds of thousands on a new launch. And when big Canadian companies like Transcontinental Media start magazines like More
, they spend $5 million. No one spends $100 million.
, as I’m sure you’ve read in Masthead
before, has done very well. Some people might even call it a blockbuster success.
Good, finely tuned product + clear target audience + good circulation strategy + attractive, underserved advertising base=successful magazine launch. The formula still works, even in the crazy Internet age. Two more recent examples from our own backyard: Hello! Canada
and Best Health
. They're doing fine.
Now, I don’t want to come off as one of those print evangelist types; if you want to hear me to talk smack about the future of magazines and newspapers and all that, just call. I’ll give you an earful. But for Jarvis to suggest that print magazine launches are doomed because a poorly targeted, expensive-to-produce magazine like Portfolio
failed in a horrible economy? That’s just ludicrous.
Peter Willson, associate publisher of Hello! Canada
magazine, seems to have a handle on it and to help the rest of us, he created this chart, which was shared with a roomful of editors at a luncheon hosted by the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors
To view a larger version of the image, visit this Facebook group
, where Mr. Willson has posted most of his slides from yesterday's presentation.
Having spent the last two weeks traveling in Australia, I thought it’d share some of my observations on the magazine scene down under.
The first thing I noticed is that in Oz, it’s all about the newsstand. There’s a news agency on virtually every block in downtown Sydney and they’re all crawling with titles, both domestic and foreign (I'll add some photos soon). Cover prices, meanwhile, are generally much higher than they are here—I rarely saw a title selling for less than $7.
A little bit of research backs up my anecdotal observations. From the Magazine Publishers of Australia (MPA) website
Around 90% of magazine sales in Australia are via retail outlets, such as newsagencies, supermarkets, convenience stores and auto service stations. Approximately 10% are sold via subscriptions.
In Canada, subscriptions account for about
65% of total sales, based on a report
by Rogers’ Michael J. Fox.
Canada has about 12 million more people living in it than Australia but Aussies spend more money on magazines than we do—about $190 million more in 2007, based on numbers from the MPA and Fox’s report. Our southern hemisphere mates buy fewer copies than we do, though: about 223 million gross copies (subs and single copies, domestic and foreign) were sold in Australia in 2007, versus 338 million sold here in the same year. In short, Aussies pay about twice as much per copy as Canadians.
The other key observation I made is that Australian newsstands are packed with franchise magazines, i.e. Vogue Australia
, GQ Australia
, Australian Men’s Fitness
, Australian Macworld
and Australian Penthouse Black Label
. (N.B. Porn magazines are a lot easier to access and flip through on Australian newsstands; I often found them placed on lower shelves without any kind of plastic wrapping.)
Franchising makes a lot of sense in Australia, since it costs publishers a lot of money to ship magazines there and those costs have to be passed onto the consumer (a single copy of Harper’s
costs $18.95 in Australia). American and British publishers are better off selling the franchise rights to Aussie companies and allowing them to create a domestic version of the brand.
Based on some page flipping, content in many of these franchise titles is mostly homegrown, though in one of the books I bought—FourFourTwo Australia
, a soccer magazine—only about 25% of the content was domestic. This was fine by me—Australia is a great country and all, but they’re still Third World when it comes to the beautiful game.
Watching the watchers: The new RRJ issues launch tomorrow night.
As a former editor of the magazine, I must admit to a special fondness for the Ryerson Review of Journalism
. Produced and written by Ryerson University journalism students—most in their final year of the program—the professionally edited magazine offers a serious, sustained and critical look at Canadian media and remains one of last vestiges for long-form journalism in Canada.
Tomorrow night, two new issues of the magazine, Spring and Summer 2009, will be unveiled at launch party at Toronto's Cadillac Lounge, 1296 Queen Street West, running from 5:30-8 p.m. It should be a grand party and I'm sure all the 20-something media critics who spent the last eight months working their butts off would love to see you there.
P.S. I served as a contributing editor for this year's spring issue.
P.P.S. I'm back from Australia. Tomorrow I'll post some magazine-related pictures and thoughts gathered on the trip.