Guest Columns
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Bo Sacks: Are the 2020s when print media will end?

Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” That comes mighty close to our understanding of the magazine industry today, at least when it comes to the various reports we constantly read on the subject.

Too often some industry prognosticators confuse what is happening to “the big guys” to be representative of the entire publishing industry. It is not. There is a complete disconnect between mid and modest titles and the Hearst’s, Condé’s, and New York Times of this world. What Condé does is irrelevant to any other publishing house large or small. It is a fiefdom with its own set of rules, agendas, and methodologies. Whatever game plan Hearst or any other large publishing house has is nothing like yours or your competitors. It a brave new world out there, and it is adapt or die time.

Let me start with this statement by Mark Thompson, chief executive officer of The New York Times, “At least 10 years is what we can see in the U.S. for our print products. There may come a point when the economics of [the print paper] no longer make sense for us.” That is fine for his perspective, but it has nothing to do with the magazine business. We are all aware that no printed newspaper can possibly contain actual news that wasn’t available globally 12 hours before publication. It is one of the distinctions that keep newspapers and magazines worlds apart.

There is a place, and revenue producing value for accurate, considered and deliberate magazine media. Real life is actually slow; it takes professionals time to figure out what happened, and how it fits into context. That’s the added value that professional publishers bring: Figuring out what happened and giving it meaningful context.

There once was a time when there were rules and an established pecking order. If you were in TV, Radio or Print, you knew the process and the possibilities of your profession. Each method of communication had pluses and minuses, boundaries and well-trodden logical pathways to reach the consumer and make a profit in the process. One might also say, there once was relative business stability.

What makes the current state of affairs so different is the evaporation of boundaries, rules and stability. There is little distinction between modern multimedia magazine publishing, TV and radio because they are all streamed. It’s up to you to create a uniqueness that separates you from the crowd.

It might seem inconceivable to some pundits, but many print magazines have strength, durability, and permanence. In fact many magazines, now called magazine media, are quite lucrative. As I have said before, the print survivors will be considered luxury items and not inexpensive commodities. So, to you I ask, is your magazine a commodity or a luxury?

The print footprint is indeed getting smaller but not evaporating. Smart publishers will make their products full of perceived value to the paying reader. The only way going forward is to make today, right now, the next golden age of publishing. All you have to do is compete with your rivals smartly and in totality – across all markets, and all platforms. This is not only possible; many are already doing it.

Bo Sacks, President, Precision Media Group

This commentary originally appeared on Bo Sacks daily newsletter and is re-published with kind permission. You can subscribe to Bo’s e-newsletter here.

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