business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Hate to begin the week on a downer, but…

The New York Times has a piece about how, within weeks of the announcement that famed magazine editor Graydon Carter was stepping down from his leadership of Vanity Fair, “three other prominent editors - rom Time, Elle, and Glamour - announced that they, too, would be stepping down.”

Then, Jann Wenner, who founded Rolling Stone, said he plans to sell his controlling stake in the company. “Suddenly, it seemed, longstanding predictions about the collapse of magazines had come to pass,” the Times writes. “Magazines have sputtered for years, their monopoly on readers and advertising erased by Facebook, Google and more nimble online competitors. But editors and executives said the abrupt churn in the senior leadership ranks signaled that the romance of the business was now yielding to financial realities.”

The Times notes that “before Mr. Wenner put Rolling Stone up for sale, Wenner Media sold Us Weekly and Men’s Journal to American Media Inc., the owner of the National Enquirer. Johnson Publishing, which is based in Chicago, sold the magazines Ebony and Jet last summer to a private equity firm. Rodale, whose titles include Bicycling, Runner’s World and Men’s and Women’s Health, recently said it, too, was for sale; a deal is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.”

The Times goes on: “Kurt Andersen, a former editor of New York and, with Mr. Carter, a founder of Spy magazine, said that print magazines were still breathing, but that the recent upheaval was a sign that the denouement might not be far off. ‘The 1920s to the 2020s was kind of the century of the magazine,’ he said, noting that The New Yorker and Time were founded in the decade before the Great Depression. Today, he added, the industry was in ‘more of a dusk, a slow dusk, and we’re closer to sunset’.”

“Andersen, who now writes books and hosts a public radio show, said that magazines might eventually gain a cult following akin to the interest around other obsolete media, like vinyl records. ‘Eventually, they’ll become like sailboats,’ he said. ‘They don’t need to exist anymore. But people will still love them, and make them and buy them’.”

It is a shift that is worth paying attention to, especially because magazines aren’t alone in being threatened with obsolescence; any company that is adhering to traditional business models risks being disrupted out of business, or at least out of relevance. The thing is, a number of magazines have done a pretty good job of trying to diversify, adapting and exploiting digital platforms, and yet the numbers for what they see as the core products have largely continued to decline. It simply has not been enough.

It is a scenario that other business sectors - especially retailers have to look at it and think about and - most important - act upon. It can and should be an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: