Mar 05

Attention publishing industry: The times they are a-changin’ – and there’s nothing you can do to stop it

Posted by Mandy Minor, marketing strategist and copywriter   Let me start by saying that I love publishing.  I’ve been mad about magazines since I was a kid; in fact some of my happiest childhood memories are of times it was just me, the radio playing 80s tunes, and a stack of magazines and catalogs.

But I fear for the publishing industry’s future.  Things just aren’t like they were in the 80s or the 50s anymore; people can get information just about anywhere, and for free.  And they do.  So magazines and newspapers are struggling to stay alive.

I know part of this has nothing to do with the industry their product at all.  There are hundreds of magazines and newspapers still producing great content with unique editorial perspectives.

But a large part of it *does* have something to do with them.  The big “fail” that is happening is, in part, their fault.  Here’s an example:

The Tampa Bay Business Journal has an annual Book of Lists, which contains data on area companies by rank and key decision maker names and contact details.  Really valuable stuff, no doubt, and a great add-on sale idea.

But here’s where it gets really 1950s: It’s $50 in print and $170 to download or get on CD.  Now I’m no supply cost guru, but it seems that after the cost of research the cost to print would be the second highest.  Meaning it would be better to drive sales to the version that’s cheaper to distribute, i.e. the download.

The print version is what costs them money to make, yet the pricing basically insists that you get it that way.  The download would be easier for them and for you but it’s over three times as much.  So it’s a lose-lose.

I say make the print edition a fancy affair in faux leather with a gold embossed cover – something companies with bigger budgets can buy and proudly display in the lobby, something that costs $399.  A real status buy, which naturally comes with the digital version.

Then make a one-time download part of each subscription and upsell the interactive version.  Now people have more of a reason to subscribe and many will likely buy the interactive version to get the frequent updates.

And more importantly, everyone is happy.

You just can’t shoehorn customers into your product anymore, whether that product is cars or graphic design or content.  You must give people what they want and need or they’ll get it somewhere else.  In publishing’s case, on the Internet.  For free.

No, I don’t have the magic bullet that will stop publishing’s creep toward total irrelevance.  But I have a few ideas, and lots of people out there have lots more.  It’s up to publishing to come to terms with the way things are, embrace change, and start doing things differently.

Like I ended a recent consulting gig with a statewide magazine, God helps those who help themselves, and fortune smiles on the brave.