Mark writes Irons in the Fire each month and in the February 2010 edition he shares with their readers the reasons for not publishing current, or past editions, articles or features online. I would link to the editorial so you can read it for yourself, but…
One of Mark’s reasons, among many, for KW not going digital is a concern about sustaining their revenue.
“But once one factors in the cost of material, preparation, setting it up and maintaining it online….generating enough income to make the effort pay for itself is one hard row to hoe.”
OK, that’s Knife World’s position for not publishing online, so what about our other Knife Magazines? We can tell a lot about their business models by looking at how they are using their websites today.
Knife magazines and their websites
What about Blade Magazine? When you visit their website, you quickly get the impression Blade is stuck between publishing fresh content for their website and selling print magazine subscriptions. In fact, the moment you hit their site a “subscribe” window pops up and won’t go away until you click it closed, or subscribe. Clearly their business model is to use their website to sell magazine subscriptions, or CDs of back editions. To their credit the site does include some articles and a blog.
Then take Tactical Knives Magazine, part of the Tactical-Life family- Tactical Knives publishes its traditional print magazine every other month. Their website is also used to sell subscriptions or back editions but they take a different approach. Once each edition comes out, they will put up the contents. I’m not sure of the lag time between when each print edition hits the street and when they add it to their website, but why subscribe if each edition is published online?
“Stuck in the middle with you…”
The traditional print magazines are stuck-not just our knife magazines, but the whole print magazine industry. Their business model is to generate ad revenue and sell subscriptions. If they go online with their content, folks will probably quit subscribing to their print magazine. Then their circulation drops and advertisers quit running ads. On the other hand, web users today want content- substantive content. The trend is clearly going that direction. Sure some folks may want to curl up on the couch with a print edition, but more folks are comfortable reading online than ever before, and that trend will continue too (more on this in Part II).
You’d think traditional print magazines could just flip a switch and go totally online. Think of the huge cost savings- no more printing, paper, or postage. Sell online advertising and move on without a hitch. Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The challenge our print knife magazines face is the continual operating expenses during the time to get the new online business model up and running. And they may not be able to have the same amount of ad space in their digital magazine as they do in their print editions, which are very ad heavy.
Plus, another challenge is most content online today is FREE. While there are a few online magazines that charge for access to their articles, it is too early to see if the other content providers are going that way. A publication must have an extremely strong brand or exclusive content to pull it off right now. If the others follow, then the norm becomes for consumers to pay for content, if they don’t follow, then it will be difficult to be in the minority.
Traditional magazines simply can’t make the shift to publishing exclusively online without additional risks. At face value it appears they will have to generate additional revenue streams, like charging fees to join their forums, putting up a paywall to access their magazine or even pay-per-click articles, like the New York Times does with their archives.
My opinion is they are right dead in the middle of a paradigm shift and the answers depend on how you look at it. However, there are clearly other strong forces blowing right now- we’ll look at what they are in the second installment.