Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing…
It might make me a blogopshere square to admit this, but I’m a huge fan of print magazines and journals. Right now, I only have three subscriptions, but read about seven other titles regularly enough that I should subscribe, especially now that “print is dying” (was it ever not dying?) as they say in the blogs. Admittedly, magazines are making less money than they were before; unlike those of us who write for blogs and make money hand over fist!
After all these years of reading magazines regularly (first subscription: age 8), I’ve become a bit of an armchair quarterback about print, and so was fascinated by this article on the plan to revise and expand Venus Zine, a feminist music magazine that I’m somewhat familiar with. Some of the plans the new publisher had struck me as both very misguided and very commonplace in the current publishing world, so I wanted to ask what people thought about them. [Update: Wow! By a weird coincidence, in the middle of writing this post, I found a more recent article saying that Venus Zine has folded, after nine months with the new publisher, so I guess I’m not going to say “I told you so”; more like “I was going to tell you so”.]
Nevertheless, here were the publisher’s plans for revitalizing the magazine, and again I should note how commonplace these approaches are in the current print media:
- Aim at capturing a much larger market. The publisher claimed her goal was to boost circulation from 60,000/issue as a quarterly to 200,000/issue as a monthly. I know of a few other titles that are setting similarly pie-in-the-sky goals. But it’s simply bizarre when you’re selling a disposable income item in a recessionary economy to define “success” in such grandiose terms and “failure” as anything much more than staying afloat and not losing your readership. But plenty of other industries are setting just these sorts of goals. Why are American businesspeople so lukewarm about building and sustaining a solid product with only small, incremental growth in sales?
- Aim at “broadening” your market by heading for another market. Quite controversially, the new publisher wanted to revise Venus Zine as a “general interest” magazine that was no longer explicitly feminist. The reasoning being that the word “feminism” might scare off readers. This makes sense, unless you already have 60,000 loyal readers of a feminist magazine who didn’t want to be told that you’re not that into them.
- Go generic! The new publisher aimed, instead, at creating a hip magazine for young women that would point out exciting new trends and products to them. “We’re much more into discovering trends, talent, whatever they are, and they can come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and forms.” So, basically just like dozens of other magazines. Why do so many businesspeople try to smooth out all of the edges that make their product unique? Does the watered-down version ever sell more?
In general, that last one is a common mistake in print media- trying to stay afloat in this economic climate, a whole slew of magazines are going generic and turning themselves into, essentially, catalogs of junk to buy with the ads in prose form. It strikes me as exactly the wrong approach to take. It’s a shame too because a well-written, lively, thought provoking magazine is something to subscribe to and support, but another prose-advertising catalog with no particular viewpoint is nothing to hold on to or mourn when it’s gone. Hopefully, a few publishers will figure this out.
But, if anyone has any thoughts on how to publish a magazine successfully in this climate, please share them.