The State of Knife Magazines & the Web, Part II

Winds a blowing

In Part I of this series, we established our traditional print knife mags are primarily using their websites to generate new subscriptions for their print mags. Then we introduced potential problems they face if they give Web users what they want, while trying to maintain their content for their print editions.

Today, we want to look at the some other winds that are blowing against these print magazines and how they will be forced to change their business models, if they are to survive in today’s Web-oriented society.

Magazines Revenue Hit Hard

As reported in the New York Times, American magazines lost ad revenue- significant revenue, 58,340 pages worth of ad pages in 2009. Between 08 & 09, magazines lost, on average, one-quarter of their ad pages.

Is this decline a function of advertisers shifting their marketing dollars elsewhere or simply a result of their cutting back due to the economy? Don’t know, but it hit magazines hard either way.

Even the famous Sports Illustrated Magazine’s Swim Suit Edition has been impacted by all this-

The 2009 swim suit edition had 1.1 million readers, which is down from 1.5 million. The magazine had 70 print ads, which is 1/3 of the ad pages it usually runs. The President of the firm is talking about how they are using “new” channels (READ: THE WEB) for this edition’s “content.”

Many magazines also lowered their per-copy subscription prices to offset the loss in circulation.

Nate Ives in AdvertisingAge Magazine February 5, 2010 edition states,

“Nearly two-thirds of 344 magazines analyzed dropped their per-copy subscription prices between 2002 and the first half of 2009, but nearly 75% of those price-choppers also saw individually paid subscriptions decline anyway, according to an analysis of Audit Bureau of Circulations reports by Jack Hanrahan, the media-agency veteran who’s now an industry consultant and publisher of the CircMatters newsletter.”

Before we simply assume, “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” We must ask- “Are we witnessing a shift in what consumers want today?”

We Develop New Habits-

There is no doubt consumers’ habits are changing. More folks get their news and information online today than ever before. And I am certain the younger generations are already accustomed to using the Web as their primary source of information & entertainment.

We are in the Instant Information Age. We want news real-time, as it’s happening. We want information when we, the consumers, want it. The Web provides for both of these demands. Waiting on a monthly magazine to come out can be frustrating if the information is time sensitive. If it is not, and the articles are simply informational, then it is a function of if that information is exclusive, or is it provided elsewhere, like on the Web.

Form, Function and Place

MRI (Mediamark Research & Intelligence) MEDIA CONSUMPTION PATHWAYS IN AN EVOLVING WORLD reports-

“Ritual and current day passion for new media aside, there are some pragmatic reasons that arose within all of the generational groups that determine a reader’s choice of online versus offline. Much of print’s strength comes from the obvious portability and practicality in the commute as well as in the bathroom. Many talked about reading in bed. On the other hand, many of our participants spend a portion of their day in front of a computer, for work, school and recreation. Grabbing a few headlines in a short break at work is far less conspicuous than reading a newspaper or magazine.”

New Technology Helps Creates New Habits

How many folks subscribe to RSS Feeds or surf the Web on their phones today? I think you’d be surprised actually and the invention of Apple’s iPhone catapulted us into mobile computing unlike any other technology gadget.

So what does all this mean? It means it is becoming the norm to access the web everywhere, so the argument of “taking a pub to the bathroom because it is portable” is not as relevant.

Don’t like to stare at a small screen?- I hear ya. Pretty hard to see that Johnny Stout custom starting at it on your blackberry or iPhone isn’t it? So, isn’t that screen-size limitation going to deter folks from reading Web-content and will end up keeping the print mags safe for a while longer? Hold on there. Not so fast-

New Generation of Web Readers

Fast forward to portable media devices, like Amazon’s Kindle. The Kindle is a handheld device for reading e-books bought from Amazon. My 14-year-old daughter loves hers.

Apple's iPad

Last month, Apple announced the iPad for mobile websufing and its screen is the size of a regular print magazine. It is not targeting power uses either, but the folks who are computer users by virtue of their phones.

That’s right. Web content is mobile now, even without the smartphones.

In fact, an article on Seeking Alpha came out today showing that the website of the New York Times, the nation’s most popular newspaper, received 75 million page views from smartphones and the iPod just in the month of December 2009 and how the iPad is better than for reading the nytimes.com. Their website is already as popular as their print edition.

And you know what? Your wrist won’t hurt cause there isn’t a mouse. It’s a touch screen instead. And curling up on the couch? No prob. These babies are highly portable.

The Hearst Corp just announced its electronic device for reading newspapers and magazines. It’s called the Skiff Reader.

If this new electronic platform is too George Jetson and you have doubts if they will ever take off? Consider this-

Magazine Publishing Biggies- Conde’ Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp and Time announced in Dec. 09 a joint venture to develop a digital storefront for consumers to enjoy their favorite magazine content on portable digital devices.

“For the consumer, this digital initiative will provide access to an extraordinary selection of engaging content products, all customized for easy download on the device of their choice, including smartphones, e-readers and laptops,” explained John Squires, the venture’s interim managing director.

The digital initiatives underway by the leading publishers are staggering. The Atlantic Magazine, for example, announced in December 09, it was joining with Amazon for its magazine to be downloaded and read on the Kindle. And yet, the biggest buzz for the print media industry is the development of iPhone and iPad apps for content delivery.

Are consumers now using a new medium for content delivery because they want to or is the invention of web readers an attempt by a handful of companies to change our reading habits to online vs print?

The Skiff Web Reader- Not only highly portable, but also flexible.

The way I see it the answer doesn’t matter because in the end- we will change our habits and at some point- sooner or later- we’ll all be reading online as the norm.

Bottom-line

So, what does all this mean for our traditional print knife magazines? Your guess is as good as mine, but I say the publishing industry is changing, either out of necessity, or survival, or in anticipation of future demand. Many are now trying to get ahead of the curve as we speak.

And if you think knife pictures don’t look as good on the Web as they do in the glossy mags, then you haven’t check out SharpByCoop.com lately.

All I have to say is our knife magazines better take heed cause it is not a matter of if, only when.

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Published in: on March 4, 2010 at 10:52 pm  Comments (6)  
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The State of Knife Magazines & the Web Part I

A recent editorial by Mark Zalesky in Knife World Magazine caused me to stop and think about the state of our Knife Magazines and the Web today.

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).

Flip the switch?

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.

Stay tuned for Part II