Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Magazine Marketplace in Flux-How Can PR Benefit

It's never going to be the way it was, and sure as hell, it's not going to be the way it is.
- Bob Sacks

The Magazine Marketplace in Flux-How Can PR Benefit (and Help)?
By Samir A. Husni, Ph.D.; Chair, Department of Journalism, The University of Mississippi

When sporting events see small crowds, you don't hear the managers bemoaning the death of a sport; when stocks prices fall, you don't hear CEOs complaining that money is no longer a viable product; but for some reason a drop in new magazine launches makes our industry think our days are numbered.

The numbers this year are lackluster at best, but there is no reason to think this is the first step down a slippery slope to the death of the magazine industry. Just as many other industries experience every few years, we are seeing nothing more than a market correction. I said a few years back that we would see something like this during 2007 and 2008 with a rebound to normal form in 2009.

This year, through the first six months of the year, the numbers were significantly lower than last year's numbers. In fact, this is the first year that I can remember the numbers dropping by more than 38% from the previous year's numbers. With 342 new launches through the end of June 2007, this number is well behind the 555 new launches that 2006 saw by the same point last year. Magazines published with a four times frequency or higher totaled 125 or 37% of the total magazines launched in 2007. Last year, the total number of magazines with four times frequency or more during the same period of time was 163 or 29% of the total magazines launched in the first half of 2006. This year also witnessed a drop in the total number of specials and annuals. A total of 188 specials and 19 annuals were born in the first half of 2007 compared with 2006's 251 specials and 28 annuals. The July numbers looked just as slim with only 36 new launches during the month, a decrease from the 52 titles launched during July of 2006.

These numbers show no sign of improving over the remainder of the year, but this drop shouldn't mean panic for the publishing world. Reading though the state of the magazine industry may seem alarming at first but keep in mind that while the numbers may show a significant change from the past few years of record launches we still have more magazines alive and kicking on the newsstands today than ever before in our industry.

The number of launches will ebb and flow and it serves to remind us that change is a constant in this industry and we have to remember that the only way we can remain relevant in a constantly advancing world is to take note of the change and adapt to it as it comes.

In the case of public relations professionals, this means a change in the way PR has been done and a movement toward what the rest of the industry is slowly waking up to: The problem in our industry is with the message, not the medium.

When the average person on the street thinks of "public relations," he or she probably gets images in mind of mass press releases and email blasts to multiple outlets with the entire audience in mind, not the individual. For some time this has been a true representation of how PR has worked-but the numbers I mention above tell us that we have to change that perception and if not the perception, then most definitely the practice.

Over 15,000 magazines are presented to the general public each month on newsstands and in their mail boxes for their choosing. Many of these magazines share similar content and even design. Since the advent of desktop publishing in the 1980s and the increasingly easy means by which anyone can start a magazine, new titles have popped up in record numbers and are starting to see an increase in lifespan on the newsstand. With all the titles out there, the need for individual magazines to specialize and differentiate themselves from other titles is paramount to survival.

Because of this, the old way of blanket press releases cannot work anymore. Where one person could write a press release and blast email it to hundreds of outlets, it is now time to become more individual in the way we disseminate information. We must tailor these press releases to specific audiences and for specific publications.

With budget constraints becoming more and more of an issue to publishers, freelance writers are becoming a more necessary part of the magazine budget. Therefore, press releases specifically tailored for a magazine become a cost efficient way to provide content to readers, while maintaining a feel of title-specific material.

Simply put, before writing a press release or pitch, we need to go back to a pure, basic common sense approach to public relations. Remember to think of your audience, think of the magazine's audience and keep in mind that you are the matchmaker, putting the two together.

And above all, best of luck.

Dr. Samir Husni, a.k.a. "Mr. Magazine," has presented seminars on trends in American magazines and media to everyone from the Hachette Filipacchi Magazines to the American Press Institute. Chair of the Journalism Department at the University of Mississippi, he's considered "the country's leading magazine expert," according to Forbes ASAP.

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