When we started working on the annual Ad Age Magazines of the Year package in the fall, there were six large magazine publishers: American Media Inc., Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, Rodale and Time Inc.
Soon—once Hearst finalizes its acquisition of Rodale, and Meredith swallows Time Inc.—there will be four.
You've probably heard publishing types say something like, "It's been a challenging year." That's for public consumption. Private translation: "It's been absolutely brutal." Beyond the headline-making consolidation, the biggest players have all cut (sometimes slashed) budgets, and various independents—e.g., Wenner Media, which offloaded Us Weekly and Men's Journal to AMI and, as of this writing, is still looking for a buyer for Rolling Stone—began a slow fade to black.
But what made 2017 particularly transformative is that more than traditional publishers were under siege. Digital natives also faced stiff headwinds. BuzzFeed, after missing revenue projections, announced it was cutting 100 staffers; Mashable sold for a fraction of its previous presumed value; and Verizon laid off more than 500 employees of Yahoo and AOL.
And so a curious reversal is happening: The once seemingly invincible digital darlings are scrambling to rethink their businesses and diversify their revenue (native-advertising champion BuzzFeed, the sworn enemy of display advertising, quietly decided over the summer to start taking money for, yes, banner ads).
Sound familiar? Traditional publishers have been rethinking/reinventing/diversifying for years now.
And get this: Every honoree on our Magazines of the Year list still produces print editions that make money—in many cases a lot of money—while they've been building out their increasingly impressive digital businesses. Honestly, good old-fashioned "reader revenue"—money from subscriptions and newsstand sales—has a refreshing ring to it circa 2017. (Eat your hearts out, digital natives.)
Starting with New York magazine, the Magazine of the Year, followed by the diverse range of titles (in alphabetical order) that round out our honorees, we present to you modern media brands that are cross-platform, experimental, nimble and, perhaps most notably, disciplined. Memo to digital natives: Maybe take some notes.