Magazines As Money Makers: The Commercial Role of the American Consumer Magazines. A Blast from Mr. Magazine’s™ Past: Dissertation Entries Part 9

April 29, 2015

Magazines as Money Makers

magsatnewsstands “Magazines are big business,” said Howard Rusk Long of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, in his introduction of James Ford’s book Magazines for Millions. No other description, no matter how many words are used, can better describe the money making role of the commercial function of the magazine. In fact, when a magazine, after a period of establishing itself, ceases making money, the graveyard is ready for it, together with the thousands that already rested there in peace.

The way magazines make money is in itself interesting because no other mass medium depends equally upon two sources at the same time to earn its income: the consumer and the advertiser. This was not the case in the early days of the magazine. Roland E. Wolseley noted that “the owners of magazines depended upon readers for nearly all their revenues. Advertising meant little.” On the other hand, with the advent of advertising in the early 1900s, a few magazines developed such power as advertising media that they were ready to give the magazine away free of charge in order to get the advertisers. Consumers became mere numbers to be sold to advertisers. Then television came. Together with the already existing radio and newspapers, it formed a new medium for advertising. The large mass circulation magazines could not compete. Losses started to accumulate, and profits started to disappear, and so did large mass circulation magazines.

The above information was written in 1983 and is taken from a portion of my dissertation when I was at the University of Missouri-Columbia where I obtained my doctorate in journalism. And while the majority of the material still holds true, things have changed drastically in some areas.

Magazines as Money Makers

webmd magazine Making money in magazine media today is a bit of a sticky wicket. While a lot of magazines are still making a lot of money; of course, the changes that have been wrought during the last 32 years since I wrote the above information have definitely affected the magazine’s ability to bring in the big bucks the way it used to.

With the advent of the internet and all of its technological minions, magazines have had to reinvent themselves through innovation and creativity simply to survive in some cases, let alone make money.

Porter cover Yet, new blood is being generated each and every month (a proven fact that can be reflected upon through Mr. Magazine’s™ monthly Launch Monitor) and the magazine’s legacy is never far from the forefront of the buying public’s mind or the publisher’s heart.

With the realization that in today’s market magazines have to maintain a collectability factor rather than a disposability trait, publishers have gone above and beyond the call by creating literally pieces of art and literary treasures with some of the new magazines hitting the newsstands today. They’re coffee table additions and heirloom items that are aimed at the need people have to keep and collect. Quite the right thing to do in today’s world of fleeting digital content that disappears as fast as it’s deposited into cyberspace.

And with the undeclared new business model of higher cover prices for magazines instead of sole revenue dependence upon advertising; publishers are ever-so-slowly shifting the revenue responsibility from the advertiser to the consumer and generating real numbers (albeit not mass numbers) through newsstand and subscription by placing true value on their product.

cnet_magazine_cover-1-514x640 Then of course, there is the controversial native advertising (I know, controversial to some, but the new norm to others) that some magazines have allowed to creep upon their content pages. As you read these ‘normal’ articles, it suddenly dawns on you (as the consumer) that what you’re consuming is not merely an article about margarine and its benefits or detriments, but an actual essay written by one company’s PR firm or staff member that in truth makes margarine for profit. Not that that particular fact is hidden among the wordage, but nevertheless, the article is presented in a way that it appears to be simple editorial.

But I am not here to judge, simply to state facts. Making money today in magazine media is no small feat. It is survival of the fittest and sometimes that means doing what one has to do to persevere.

And the fact remains that many digital entities are dipping their toes into the pool of print, seeing a lasting value that they can’t focus in on through just the web, from Airbnb and their magazine, Pineapple, to Porter, Pitchfork Review, C/Net, WebMD and Allrecipes, to name just a few.

AllRecipes-Magazine And while magazines may not be the towering moneymaking Titans that they were in the 1980s, they’re certainly as relevant and valuable to the buying 2015 public as they were thirty or forty years ago. And if we remember that fact, that ‘Audience First’ modus operandi, we’ll realize that is truly the only thing that matters throughout the whole exciting, fun, sometimes perilous journey of the magazine.

Apr15 Cover 300dpiLast but not least, I can’t conclude without a quote from Adi Ignatius, editor-in-chief of Harvard Business Review magazine, who told me in a recent interview with him, “When I’ve worked at legacy publications, we’d create this content that was basically designed to be an adjacency to advertising. Whatever, fine. Then the advertising disappears. Advertising definitely comes and goes; you have to make sure that you have a product at the end of the day that your readers actually care about, because the advertising dollar today will disappear tomorrow.”

Until next week, when Mr. Magazine™ continues the Commercial Role of the magazine with Magazines as Marketing Tools. Enjoy your week with a magazine!

One comment

  1. thank you very much for sharing your dissertation! I read from Pt 1 to Pt 9… The relevance it has even till today is a real eye-opener…Really helps me with what my magazine writing class in university. This is great series and so it the author so thanks 🙂

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