Reports of Mag-Industry Demise Greatly Exaggerated

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The world is flat, and so is the magazine business. But that doesn't mean the world and publishing are coming to an end.

That's not to underestimate troubles facing magazines. Three members of Ad Age's Magazine 300 -- Life (No. 88 in 2005 revenue), Child (113) and Premiere (179) -- shut down in March alone. Costs are rising, with paper, postage and labor pains. Advertising is under pressure, with a big pullback in Detroit. There's an open question as to how relevant magazines will be to the next generation of adults; last year's shutdowns of Teen People and ElleGirl offered two early answers.

But the magazine industry is in better shape than headlines may suggest -- and in a stronger position than its embattled print counterpart, newspapers.

Daily newspaper circulation has tumbled to its lowest point in decades, with a worrisome 2.8% drop in the Audit Bureau of Circulations' latest six-month dispatch. How about magazines? Circulation for the 200 largest titles rose last year 1.2%. Longer term, magazine circulation is relatively flat; paid circulation for the Magazine 300 in 2005 was 0.5% below the level of 1997.

There's no denying magazine ad pages have plunged over time. The Magazine 300's pages in 2005 were down 21% from 1997 and 26% from the bubble year of 2000. But recent trends suggest pages are stabilizing: Magazine ad pages in 2006 edged up 0.1%. Factor in rate increases, and measured consumer-magazine ad spending last year rose 4.6%, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Magazines' share of U.S. ad spending has fallen from its level a decade ago (5.2%), but it has held steady at around 4.7% since 2002.

Finally, consider jobs. U.S. magazines employ 28,000 fewer people now than at the industry's 2000 peak; one in six magazine jobs have disappeared. But recent government job figures offer some good news: Magazine employment has rebounded from its post-recession low, with jobs in January reaching their highest level (145,000) since 2003.

It's natural and healthy for publishers to shut weak titles and focus on their strengths. It's encouraging that new titles -- Conde Nast Portfolio for the business set, Bauer Publishing's Cocktail Weekly for 20-something women -- are ready to enter the fray. Time marches on, but there's plenty of life left in magazines.
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