Monday, July 30, 2007

Abrupt slowing in magazine launches

BoSacks Speaks Out:

I think the author here is jumping to several conclusions with Samir's data.

Yes, new launches have slowed. They have slowed before and they will slow again. These things are normal trends. The peaks and valleys of normal business. Where I do agree is that new launches will, on the most part, be of smaller and smaller circulation bases. Short run niche titles edited for a specific and devoted group will always have a romantic appeal to the new and novice publisher. Hell, it still appeals to me and I know better.

Short run titles will be printed magazines bread and butter. How the distribution models work is a whole other story, but that aside, short run publications, in my opinion is the future of the printed magazine new and old.

Statistics: The only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions.

Evan Esar (1899 - 1995), Esar's Comic Dictionary

Abrupt slowing in magazine launches
More than 1,000 new titles were launched in 2005
By Katy Nelson
Media Life Magazine

Magazine launches come in waves, rising and falling with the economy, or that was long the case. Back in 1997, a boom year, 1,065 new titles made their debut. New launches then sank with the ad recession, only to begin rising again as the economy recovered, reaching 1,013 in 2005.

Then something happened.

Last year, new launches slid, reaching only 901, and this year will likely come in further down, perhaps 750 new magazines, predicts Samir Husni, chair of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi, who follows magazine launches.

There has been a fundamental change in the magazine industry. If launching magazines was once all about chasing dreams, it is no longer. There is less romance these days, a lot more cold reality.

There are fewer launches, and even fewer big launches.

Certainly, a significant cause of the shift is the internet, which is taking ever-larger chunks of ad revenue from all forms of traditional media.

But it goes beyond the internet. Magazines have lost some of their glamour among the big-money people who once stepped forth to back important new titles, as the Weinstein brothers, the Hollywood moguls, did for Tina Brown's Talk magazine a few years back.

The industry itself has gone through changes as well, with the major publishing houses becoming increasingly cautious and risk-averse, their bigger concern shoring up existing titles that may be at risk of folding.

"The industry has entered a dark tunnel. The only thing they can see is the train coming," observes Husni.

"The face of the publishing industry has changed," says magazine consultant Martin Walker of Walker Communications. "I think you're going to see fewer entrepreneurial launches and fewer launches by major publishers in general."

So far this year, magazine launches have dropped 38 percent, to 342 titles, compared with 555 launches in the first six months of last year, according to Husni's figures, for the most substantial year-to-year drop since he began tracking magazines in 1978.

Of those 342, 125 are published four or more times per year, compared to 163 magazines for the same period a year ago. For the month of July, Husni expects just 25 new titles to launch, versus 52 in July 2006.

Other factors behind the cutback in launches include consolidation in the number of big publishing houses, notes Walker. Gruner + Jahr retreated from the U.S. market a couple years ago after several troubled years.

But another factor, as both Walker and Husni point out, is the rising cost of a launch, upwards of $10 million or $20 million for a title with a circulation of 100,000 to 150,000. There are also higher postal rates and bigger distribution challenges to contend with.

The high cost of entry is particularly crippling for independent publishers, which makes it that much harder to raise capital, says Walker. "Investors by and large, with good reason, are becoming skeptical about the potential for print."

Rather than go with print titles, more entrepreneurs are simply going online. Says Walker: "They'll launch the equivalent of a magazine on the internet. It's a lot cheaper to do it that way."

But there is one positive note to Husni's latest launch figures. Fewer magazines may be launching, but the ones that are launched stand a better chance of succeeding. The survival rate is now up to 40 percent, he says, up from 18.3 percent in 1996.

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