Magazines and books both have a long standing in the publishing industry. For a long time, the magazine industry specifically has relied on ad revenue to maintain a steady flow of income. Now that advertisers are forced to be more specific with their spending, publishers are left to figure out how to fill that space. But, thankfully, it’s not all bad news! Excitement in magazines is growing, and some publications are seeing their subscription numbers peak. So, what’s going on? How are magazines now coping in our digital age and an ongoing pandemic? And how is the industry specifically in Portland doing?
While publishers are working through these tough questions around books and magazines, every cloud has its silver lining. With many of us finding ourselves with more time on our hands over the last two years, reading magazines has become more popular than ever.
According to Forbes, nearly sixty new magazine titles were launched and published in 2020. “What accounts for the fact that people are still launching new magazines at all? Aren’t these erstwhile publishers cognizant of recent trends in American journalism, like the supposed crises afflicting print media; the commercial imperatives that make the economics of print news products a Herculean challenge; not to mention myriad other obstacles?
“Now, the fact remains—the number of magazines launched in 2020 is considerably down from what 2019 produced on this front (when the industry saw the launch of 139 titles, per Professor Husni, which feels so long ago now that it seems like one of the last of the go-go years of print). But the million-dollar question is nevertheless crying out for an answer: “People still believe there is a need for print. People are stuck at home, bombarded by bad news. They are looking for diversions.””
It’s true that the impact of the pandemic and shifts in consumer behavior are transforming the book publishing and magazine industry. To better understand how these trends will shape the future of magazines, publishing house Walsworth reached out to industry expert Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, PhD. Husni is the founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. He engages in media consulting and research for the magazine media and publishing industry.
“Our conversation with Mr. Magazine ranged from how publishers can build better business models to account for declining ad revenue, to the booming trend of bookazines, in-depth special edition magazines on a single topic, and beyond. The following conversation has been edited for content and clarity.
“I wish I could say it’s something that sticks. We’re seeing it implemented more than ever before. But I recall back during the 2008 recession, magazine executives were saying we have to change the business model and be in the business of circulation and depending more on the consumer. Then the minute the economy started picking up, they went back to their old ways. But this time because of the magnitude of the impact I think it will be different, and because there are so many other outlets for advertisers like emails and text messaging. Advertisers know how to reach their customers; they don’t need a third party to sell their stuff. There’s a major change taking place, and whether it shifts to bookazines or quarterly magazines, there is less dependence on advertisers and more dependence on people reaching into their pockets and spending up to fifteen dollars for a magazine. So, the content of the magazine better be experience-making content that is timely yet timeless—it’s not going to make a difference whether I read the magazine today, tomorrow, or next month. That’s where we’re going to be seeing the big change; magazines are going to be the only non-disposable media platform.””
I find this fascinating as someone who always waited for the mail to come, hoping for the next issue of my faerie or party supply magazine. Now that I live in a city with one of the largest Zine libraries and a robust indie magazine scene, I now have even more options. Here are some of my favorites:
So, whatever the future holds, it is clear that the demand for magazines will remain. In the midst of great uncertainty, the human mind craves information and entertainment like never before. And, I reckon there are few things that scratch that itch like a good magazine or zine.