Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What Will Magazine Publishing Be Like in 2020? January 14

By a strange coincidence, four separate events on the same day pretty much tell you everything you need to know about magazine media in 2020.

Not un-undead yet
I could have just waited a few hours and let the events of the day do the talking.

Early the morning of January 14, when I submitted my 2020 magazine-publishing forecast to Publishing Executive, I had no idea the day would foretell what lies ahead for magazine media.

Within a few hours of me finishing that article, four different announcements provided glimpses into what’s in store for publishing this year. (PubExec added notes about two of the announcements before publishing my article.):

1) Change of Fortune
The New York Post revealed changes in store for Fortune magazine that checked off three boxes in my forecast: a “tiered paywall” on its web site, reduced frequency for its magazine, and upgrading of its paper. It didn’t take a crystal ball to see that those three trends from 2019 would continue into this year.

2) Chopping plants
LSC Communications, one of the two megaprinters that dominate U.S. magazine printing, announced the closure of three magazine and catalog printing plants, including one of the nation’s largest. My article noted that “heavily indebted LSC was left in a weakened state” and is “shaky,” but I wasn’t expecting such a swift, radical downsizing.

All three plants were noted for producing relatively large-circulation magazines, including some with print orders in the millions. Their closure underscores a theme that will continue to play out in 2020: Magazines are nearly dead as a mass medium; the future lies in niches.

3) Paper cuts 
Resource Recycling published an article pointing out that Verso Corp. had stepped up its plans to shift some production capacity at its Duluth mill from supercalendered papers to packaging papers.

Verso’s original plan was to start making 48,000 tons of packaging papers starting early this year, but in a recent financial filing it raised that number to 90,000. And it said that might be just the first step to a complete conversion that would eliminate production of printing papers.

Like LSC’s giant, doomed Mattoon plant, Duluth’s strong point is rotogravure products, which are typically used for publications and newspaper inserts having print orders in the millions. No wonder Verso would rather use the mill to make cardboard.

Duluth’s gradual conversion probably won’t rile the paper market. But, publishers beware: I believe other such machine conversions are likely to cause some sort of paper shortage this year, as explained in the PubExec article.

4) Zombie renaissance
Meredith Corporation had its struggles last year, but its zombie resurrection strategy wins my vote for New Business Model of the Year. It revealed a new twist in that strategy on (when else?) January 14 in announcing the new Rachael Ray In Season quarterly bookazines.

Just a few months ago, Meredith “zombified” Rachel Ray Every Day -- killing off the monthly magazine and transferring its subscribers to other Meredith titles, while keeping it undead with occasional newsstand-only issues.

Light my fire? No thanks
Last week’s announcement didn’t go full zombie resurrection, since there was no reference to subscriptions. However, the commitment to a quarterly publication schedule of seasonally themed issues and the emphasis on advertisers (bookazines usually contain few if any ads) suggest that the Princess of Perky may once again have a real magazine.

This time, though, it’s likely to be more of a niche effort, with a target circulation that’s only a fraction of the million-plus numbers of Rachael Ray Every Day's zenith. And, of course, it will have a higher price, more pages, lower frequency, and better paper than its predecessor.

Bonus prediction: Don't hold your breath waiting for Rach to start hawking vagina-scented candles. Goop is going to have the monopoly on that one.  
Other Dead Tree Edition commentaries on the "magazine media" industry include: