Mags matter

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In this issue, we deliberately ask a provocative question: Do magazines still matter? The answer: a qualified "yes, but...." This is an industry clearly at a crossroads, one whose future depends on its willingness to confront tough questions-questions about the cultural importance of its products and the viability of its business models.

The magazine industry is no different in many ways from other advertising-dependent media segments. The media business is cyclical; publishers have lived through downturns before, and most will emerge relatively unscathed from this one. But magazines face challenges unique to the ink-on-paper trade: from soaring subscriber-acquisition costs to sinking newsstand revenue, from escalating postal rates to sliding ad page counts. Most urgent is the need for publishers and editors to define clearly the role of weeklies and monthlies in an age of instant information. These matters have to be dealt with honestly, with a sense of leadership; hiding won't make them go away.

Our Magazine Forecast Special Report takes an unblinking view of the business of magazines as the year 2001 enters its final quarter. It's not a particularly bright view-Cathie Black of Hearst, for example, says there won't be an upturn "anytime soon"-but there are bright spots. If you read the report's roundtable discussion among the smartest editors in the business, you'll understand immediately that good magazines do matter. These editors drive home the point-underscored by columnist Michael Wolff-that "a great notion is worth more than plenty of capital."

The question publishers and editors need to ask is perhaps not "do magazines matter?" but "does my magazine matter?"

Those who can honestly answer yes will be able to surmount any challenge.

Those who say no will meet the fates they deserve.

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