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Content is king

It’s not all bad news in print publishing

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BY TOM KEER
We’ve already heard the mantra: “Print is dead.”
But 2014 provided a cause for celebration for journalists, photographers, illustrators, and other communicators. According to Amy Mitchell, the director of journalism research at the Pew Research Center, “there is an unmistakable sense of new energy that emerged over this last year.” The Pew Research Center’s “State of the News Media 2014” report was bullish for the past few years.
And according to industry leader Samir Husni, (Mr. Magazine), there were:

  • 865 new magazines launched in 2013
  • 870 new magazines launched in 2012
  • 231 of those magazines launched in 2013 publish more than four issues per year (an increase of 48 magazines over 2012)
  • 85 percent of the magazines launched in 2012 have survived beating the previous record of 70 percent

The magazine industry had rather unexpected news from the New York Post as well: Quality is up. The trend among newly launched titles is away from recycled paper, computer generated artwork and saddle-stitched bindings. Magazines are trending toward original artwork and photography, content generated by the best writers and poets, printed on 80 pound stock and delivered in a perfect binding. A cross reference on the revenue generation side of things comes from the Association of Magazine Media and shows print advertising revenue increased in 2012 despite a percent reduction in ad pages.
My research shows more than 500 news outlets created more than 7,000 full-time jobs in 2013. Venture capital firms invested at least $300 million into new media digital startups in 2013 as well, but there is a new sheriff in town: digital is discovering print. Publishers and editors of digital platforms realized that the world is not yet ready for all things electronic. Sites like allrecipes.com, pitchfork.com and others launched print products that allow them a different platform to showcase more of their great content and photographs, in an entirely dissimilar way than their digital counterpart.
Not every cloud has a silver lining. Overall the newspaper industry, which accounts for the largest portion of reporting jobs, lost more than 16,000 jobs from 2002 until 2012. The industry now counts about 38,000 editorial jobs.
With the increasing crop of sporting e-zines, blogs and social media threads, I searched to see if there is any one commonality that any media professional could takeaway. I reached out to my friend Ed Gray, the man who founded Gray’s Sporting Journal in 1974. The takeaway? Gray focused on a special interest audience.
“As businesses grow and expand, niche models increase,” he said. “A very specific audience of sportsmen exists and they favor print. Many will read digital, but the primary customer base who spends money on products and trips read print.
“The last century showed us a similar pattern in live theater, film and then television. As film and television emerged as new markets, live theater suffered a slight retraction. In our time, small movies have been replaced by those with tremendously large budgets. That said, live theater is still vibrant, and in many instances, actors are not considered ‘real actors’ unless they have been on Broadway.
“It is a quality versus quantity issue and customers buy quality magazines. Talented writers and photographers combined with quality print magazines properly address the sporting customer demographic. It might not hit the youthful sector, but it addresses the largest percentage of the total market, and that is what is important. Communicating to them with outstanding content is critical.”
Digital publishing guru Marshall Cutchin from MidCurrent believes content is critical to success.
“With digital comes an appealing low-entry cost which partly explains the dramatic increase in digital sporting publications,” Cutchin said. “And with that low-entry cost comes a second issue, which is the vetting process. In the 1990s, bulletin boards were a tremendous vehicle for disseminating information, though much of it was suspect. Blogging software enabled publishers to produce and distribute content very inexpensively and it changed everything. But it also didn’t guarantee quality. The internet has proven that the loudest people are often the least knowledgeable. In the long run, any media that offers outstanding quality will attract an audience. And that is the key to remember.”
For anyone looking for a resounding endorsement of the viability of outdoor magazines look no further than OWAA member Kris Millgate. In 2014, Millgate assumed the role as editor of East Idaho Outdoors, a magazine devoted to the active-outdoor sports. Her vision was to create a high-gloss magazine with useful content and outstanding images.
“Our initial launch has been overwhelmingly positive,” Millgate said. “With our intensely regional focus we knew that content was critical, and we’ve had an outpouring of terrific writers and photographers contribute to our magazine. Advertising and circulation is building faster than planned and we’re optimistic for 2015.”
So before uttering “print is dead,” take a look at some magazine racks. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future of print, particularly because print still remains a solid foundation for the outdoor world. And for 2015 I think I’ll send out magazine subscriptions as gifts. It’ll be my way of helping strengthen what I consider to be an important business model. ♦
—Tom Keer is an award-winning writer, columnist and blogger who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He is a columnist for Covey Rise magazine, Upland Almanac, and Woodcock Limited and is a contributing editor for Fly Rod & Reel and Fly Fish America. He’s a spokesman and blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program. Keer writes regularly for more than a dozen outdoor magazines and owns The Keer Group, a full-service, outdoor marketing company. www.thekeergroup.com or at www.tomkeer.com.
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