Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing…

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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25 Responses

  1. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    The Atlantic had $1.8 million in profits this year so it can be done.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to E.D. Kain
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      And that’s one I read regularly, although I don’t subscribe. But I read their blogs too and I think that’s part of their secret- the website and magazine push readers towards each other, instead of offering the same thing either in print or for free online.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F.
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        Also, good for them!Report

        • Avatar Barrett Brown in reply to Rufus F.
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          Also read The Atlantic here, which, along with The Economist, is the only magazine to which I subscribe non-ironically (I have subscribed to National Review off and on for purposes of hipsterism, which is not to say that the magazine does not publish some good and worthwhile articles, but rather that it also publishes a great deal of nonsense and is run by a group of frankly mediocre representatives of conservatism).Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Barrett Brown
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            The Economist is good too. They seem to have figured out how to create interesting content for their website that amplifies what they’re doing in the paper without just putting it online. I guess they do put that content online too, but I think you have to subscribe to be able to read the actual print content online. It’s not like the NYTimes where you can read pretty much the whole thing for free on the site.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Rufus F.
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          Atlantic mag—8 bucks for 3 years.

          The only reason I get it these days, since it’s turned pretty conventional center-left since Michael Kelly died. When Hitch is gone, it’ll be left to Fallows playing Friedman and mediocrities like Sandra Tsing Oh in the back of the book.

          http://www.magazinepricesearch.com/detail/atlanticmonthly.html?terms=atlantic

          Hurry, though. Atlantic does this a few times a year to jack its circ, but the deals only last a few days.

          $1.8M in profits beats a Newsweek-style bowl-circle, but I wonder if it’s an attractive return on investment for the ownership. That it keeps the unprofitable Excitable Andy in business indicates that running Atlantic is more a vocation than an actual investment.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to tom van dyke
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            Sullivan seems to be a writer that people either love or hate, which is certainly due to his excited tone. But I think “unprofitable” is what we’re trying to figure out in this thread. Certainly there are a lot of magazines that now pay to keep blogs running, which is an investment and blogs don’t exactly bring in the money. But someone really needs to figure out if, when Sullivan tells his loyal readers (and, let’s be honest, he has a pretty good number of loyal readers) that they owe it to him to subscribe to the magazine and keep his blog going, not to mention that the latest issue has this fantastic article about blah-blah-blah, how many of them actually do so? Because, if a decent number of subscribers to the print edition came there by that route, his blog would seem like a good investment, and if his readers just stick to reading him for free and the hell with the magazine, it would be a waste of money. But I’m sure they must have some internal data about this at the Atlantic.Report

            • Avatar RTod in reply to Rufus F.
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              Also, I’m not sure that a magazine – print or electronic – look at it that way. (Nor should they.)

              The New Yorker, for example, may not be able to “justify” the profitability of paying a Jonathan Frazen for a short story as opposed to a cheaper unknown writer. What i mean is, they don’t collect anymore per ad when they publish a Frazen story than a story by an up and commer you’ve never heard of. But buying stories from Frazen strengthens both the brand and the reputation of the New Yorker, especially with their demographic.

              I suspect that if the Atlantic looked at any of its bloggers and asked their accounting department, do we bring more $s in for banner ads than we do in paying to maintain these blogs, the answer would be “no.” But that doesn’t mean the Atlantic isn’t more successful and profitable for having them.Report

  2. Avatar Simon K
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    Sunset magazine is successful, and has a surprisingly young audience for what is basically a collection of gardening, cooking, travel and home improvement tips. I think the trick is to know what you’re trying to do, and why its not the same as what everyone else is trying to do, then do it. Same as any other business, really …Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to Simon K
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      That, and I think Sunset succeeds by being a good regional option, as opposed to a national one.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Simon K
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      Yeah, I think the mistake a lot of businesses make is to think, well, if people like Pepsi, they’ll like something else that tastes just like Pepsi. The problem is people can buy the established brand and skip your clone. So I think it’s important to be a bit different, although probably not way out in left field.

      Of course, this is the same thing with the League of Ordinary Gentlemen. Part of what got me thinking about this was trying to figure out what would have to change were this a print magazine. We’ve got writers who could probably be asked to produce one or two solid articles per issue that were a bit longer than a blog post. We know artists and photographers, and I know some editors. But would there be a market, or is this more of an online project? Anyway, I’m not planning to actually do this, but it’s fun to speculate about the business.Report

      • Avatar RTod in reply to Rufus F.
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        A fascinating idea, and one I will enjoy considering as I’m driving about town today. My knee jerk reaction is to say that it can’t possibly translate; that the spirit of community IS the League.

        But if you had to do it, what would it look like, how would you market it, could it possibly catch on? A good mental exercise, that.Report

      • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Rufus F.
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        I’d subscribe to it. Well, I would if I had disposable income.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Kyle Cupp
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          I get stuck at the point of thinking about how to market it. Sure, you could get it into bookstores at several points across Canada and the US, but would the concept make any sense to anyone else? Maybe it’s too much of a blogospheric concept.

          As for the content- and this is sort of becoming a general theory of mine about print/website journals- it seems to me that a magazine LOOG would work better than the site for long-form writing- say about 5,000 words or maybe more- and then the site could include posts responding to the articles- you know, along with all the usual posts.

          It seems to me that a lot of magazines are heading online and not all of them know what they’re doing there. The ones that work- and certainly the Atlantic is an example- tend to treat the website like a group blog with writers who are also writing longer-form articles for the print edition, which they sometimes discuss on the site. So both editions complement each other. One thing I’d love, for example, would be to read the blog of a reporter who was off in some foreign country filling out a report. It would be great to read about their adventures in their blog and then their article in the magazine.

          But it seems to me that the mistake a lot of magazines make is in offering roughly the same thing online because it’s what they know how to produce. The problem is that this gives you less reason to buy the magazine on the stands. Conversely, I’d like to see more of my favorite sites move to some sort of print edition, if only because I like the people writing for them and would like to see them make some money for themselves. I think this might be what Sullivan is trying to do with the books he’s publishing and, if he can sell them and they’re high quality, I think it’s a great idea.Report

  3. Avatar RTod
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    Are sales for magazines really way down from 20, 30 or 40 years ago? Or are sales roughly the same or greater, but way down per magazine? It certainly seems like for a dying market that are a gazzilion more to choose from today than when I was a kid.

    I honestly don’t know, but am assuming someone out there does and might enlighten me…Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to RTod
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      I have the same question. I’ve got friends in publishing and they say that everyone’s worried about the death of print publications, but none of their publications seem to be actually suffering greatly enough to start talking about death. Actually, most of them are talking about expanding in one way or another. It just seems to me that, in the lean times, the stronger are more likely to survive, as with any other business.

      Also, I’ve been subscribing to magazines for a few decades now and I can’t remember a time when there weren’t a gazillion new magazines and a bunch going under, so it’s hard to really believe that things are really so dire. But, again, when I’ve asked people in publishing, they tend to emphasize that everyone’s worried now, which doesn’t really answer the question.Report

      • Avatar RTod in reply to Rufus F.
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        It’s true that it doesn’t really answer the question. The parallel I always use in my head when folks talk of the Internet destroying an industry is the music industry. It seems the common consensus by those in the industry that it is doomed. But what they mean, I believe, is that their non-musician job is in jeopardy.

        Music itself seems to be thriving like no other time I’m aware of. And it’s better, and more diverse. If I just take the CDs in my car right now, three of the 5 artists (Shins, Pink Martini, Arcade Fire) would never have existed – at least on a national scale – because they don’t have the two criteria that music executives needed from a band when I was young: they are not fronted by a male model, and they don’ sound exactly like REO Speedwagon. The fourth CD, an Elvis Costello/Steve Neive live set, was released way back when, but in a very limited number and is now impossible to find; the recording execs that own the rights can be bothered to rerelease it. Which is a long way of saying that when I hear that the music industry is dying, I’m pretty sure what is meant is just that the douche in the executive office trying to play Starmaker! is going the way of the dodo. And as a music lover, I’m cool with that.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to RTod
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          I’m not sad at all that the music industry is losing its stranglehold on how music gets heard. It’s great that, if you can’t get your band played on the radio stations that the major labels have bribed to play nothing but Nickelback, you can still create a neat video, put in on Youtube, and get heard around the world. If bands can make it all the way to the top without a major label, all the better. The problem for the musicians is that it’s hard to finance a tour if you can’t sell any CDs and it’s really hard to sell CDs if people just file-share them for free. I read an interview with a band whose Youtube video was really ‘hot’ for some time and they were asked why they weren’t touring, and they basically said, ‘Look, tons of people are listening to our music now and it’s great, but we do everything ourselves and since none of them are paying for it, we can’t afford to even rent a van and tour, much less take a break from our day jobs’. So, I’d like to see a way for musicians to make money by selling music. Also, as a huge music fan, I often want to punch people in the nose who download all of their music for free. But, of course, that’s not directed at you at all. I’m just guessing you know what I mean when I say that I’d like to see my favorite musicians making a living by their music and it would be great if they could do that without the labels ripping them off in the process.Report

  4. Avatar James K
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    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?

    I suspect they remember hearing during their MBA programme that the number and size of niches a market can sustain depends on the market’s size (all things being equal). They thus conclude that if the market is shrinking a magazine has to head toward the mainstream to survive.

    The problem is that all things aren’t equal. What the internet has done is evaporate demand for magazine that hold mild interest for people. If you’re only slightly interested in something, you can find stuff on the internet. To get people to actually part with money for content these days, it has to be content you can’t get free, or content that really interests you. That means if you’re going to change your magazine’s content, it should be away from generic stuff they can get anywhere, and toward highly specialised or premium content that you’re sure your subscribers will like.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to James K
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      I think that’s exactly right. The magazines I read are the ones that bring me content that I likely can’t find online, either because it’s so specialized that I don’t have the time to do the research myself, or it’s something very surprising and offbeat that I wouldn’t think to research (I just read a great article on the “Nollywood” film industry for instance, which I’d never heard of) or the content is something most people can’t get access to and compile somewhere online. When I think about the real collector’s item journals, like Egoïste, the first thing that comes to mind is that there’s no way someone could budget that sort of content and then put in online for free. So, in other words, if the content is worth paying for, I’ll pay for it.Report

  5. Avatar Kyle Cupp
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    I subscribed for a brief time to a magazine that featured all of its printed content online, and the online content appeared several days before the magazine arrived in the mail. I didn’t realize this until after subscribing, but once I did, I didn’t really see the point in remaining a subscriber.

    I second (or third) the observation that a print mag has to offer content that you can’t find online or anywhere else. I also suspect the Atlantic’s practice of directing readers to its different media helps not a little.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kyle Cupp
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      ESPN has figured this out. More and more of their interesting content is “insider only”. (I’m not sure what the relationship between being a web-site insider and a magazine subscriber is.)Report

  6. Avatar RTod
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    Also, Sullivan is pretty good about reminding his readers that with out subscriptions, the Altiantic and the Dish might be gone. I often wonder what percentage of Atlantic subscribers might be more aptly termed Dish subscribers.Report

  7. Avatar E.C. Gach
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    I think the Atlantic’s blogs are key to the magazine’s success. Maybe I am completely wrong, and the print subscribers in now way overlap with the blog readers.

    At least for me personally though, the blogs give a personal face to the magazine. I’m a big fan of both Sullivan and Fallows (even while for some reason, Fallows is always really uninteresting when ever he appears on broadcast or the radio). So when I see a cover story by Fallows, I want to buy that issue. And then get follow-ups on his blog. Rather than just reading a long form essay, the blog makes it feel like a conversation, so that I can read it and the discussion will actually continue, rather than reading and having no further outlet.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to E.C. Gach
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      Yeah, I generally like Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog and have picked up the magazine before because he’s mentioned an article that he has in the latest issue and it sounds interesting. I know he’s a senior editor there, which means he is doing a good amount of work aside from blogging. Conversely, I have a friend who is an associate editor at a national magazine, which means in practice that she ends up rewriting parts of nearly every article they run and busts her hump full-time with that. She also blogs on their website. I wonder if it’s the same with the Atlantic bloggers or not.Report

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