Friday, September 20, 2013

Settling the Great 'What Is A Magazine?' Debate

The definition of “magazine” and whether a magazine must be a printed product have been favorite topics of discussion, and debate, among publishing folks in recent years.

Publishing pundits BoSacks and Mr. Magazine have been sparring over the issue for years at various events and via social media (as described in Print vs. Digital: The Great Mr. Magazine vs. BoSacks Tweet-Off). I’m sure when they appear together at the Publishing Business Conference next week that they’ll put on the gloves once again – and that it will be quite a show.

But, for me, a circulation colleague recently put an end to the debate with a straightforward answer: “I don't care where you read it – print, tablet, laptop, or a big tattoo on your momma’s backside – if it counts toward ratebase, it’s a magazine.” (A more polite version of that quotation appears in my new article for Publishing Executive, 6 Things Magazine Publishers Should Stop Doing Now. Oh well, it’s not the first time I’ve been censored by PubExec’s editors.)

I’m still a print guy and mostly read magazines and newspapers in their dead-tree versions. And I’ve heard friends in the industry grumble about how the hype about tablet magazines isn’t paying off and that Apple Newsstand is even more dysfunctional than the real newsstand system.

But none of that matters. The point is that only one thing counts – whether we satisfy and even delight our customers, be they readers or advertisers. If we have readers who want our “paginated content” in digital form and advertisers who are willing to pay for those eyeballs, who are we to argue about whether that digital product is a real magazine?

For further reading:
  • Is Ratebase the Magazine Industry's Crack Cocaine? explains what ratebase is -- and why so many in the publishing industry detest it. I feel their pain but haven't heard of a viable alternative. 
  • Bezos Needs To Learn the First Rule of Newspaper Ownership scored a dubious hat trick: Three cyber-friends -- BoSacks, Denis Wilson of Publishing Executive, and Jim Sturdivant of Media Shepherd -- castigated me for focusing too much on pleasing advertisers rather than readers. But at least noted publishing consultant Alex Brown left a comment defending me, stating "the sweet, rosy, unicorn-filled future of publishing as something that readers/viewers will sustain has more cracks in it than we have mortar to patch."  
  • A Troubling Sign for Tablet Magazines? Maybe their time will come, but so far tablet versions of magazines have been a disappointment for most publishers. Even tablet owners prefer to read magazines in print.


Phil Whomes said...

“I don't care where you read it – print, tablet, laptop, or a big tattoo on your momma’s backside – if it counts toward ratebase, it’s a magazine.”

Absolutely. All the above are just different methods of distributing 'magazine' content.

BoSacks said...

As Professor Irwin Cory said, “If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we are going.” There are only two considerations here in this topic. What is/ will be the predominate way that people will read? And how can the publishing industry continue to make a fair profit on supplying good words worthwhile paying for? Will there be money in print? Sure. Will there be money in digital? Sure. Where will there be more money? Check the trend lines of subs and newsstand titles sold. If those trend lines were a stock, which would you invest your mortgage on long term?

S G (Sam) Keith said...

I could not agree more! In my opinion; A MAGAZINE is WHERE YOU READ IT... The cost of printed media(as with everything else, these days)is extremely prohibitive to small publishers.