State of the magazine industry, 2004: I’m glad to link to this impressive attempt to take a snapshot of American media, the “State of the News Media 2004.” It includes this analysis of the state of magazines. The annual (this is the first) is an initiative of Project for Excellence in Journalism, an institute affiliated with Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The study is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, and was produced with a number of partners, including Rick Edmonds, Andrew Tyndall, Esther Thorson, and Princeton Survey Research Associates International.
Here are some highlights from the magazine analysis. The analysis focuses on consumer magazines and within that category, primarily newsmagazines :
The news agenda has gotten softer and more oriented to lifestyle rather than traditional hard news. The audience for news in magazines is fragmenting. The large, well-known general interest news weeklies continue on their mission of reaching a mass audience with fair to moderate success. But a small group of news magazines with a very different approach to the coverage, such as The Atlantic, is seeing gains. These magazines have eschewed the conventional wisdom about the need for more pictures and lighter stories. Instead they rely on fewer photos and deal with serious topics. Aimed at a more educated audience, they seem less concerned with getting as many readers as possible and are more focused on getting the right readers. They come out just once a month and charge more per subscription, yet their circulation is growing. Their ad revenues are not near the mass-market competitors, but they are growing. The overall number of magazines is growing, but much of that is occurring in niche service magazines such as child care, travel or bicycling. The largest and most powerful magazine owners are largely not involved in the service niche. Instead, they are heavily invested in pop culture and entertainment magazines, which have also seen large growth in the last decade. There is less interest at the corporate level in traditional news. With a few relatively minor exceptions, publishers are not launching new titles. Among the magazines that exist the audience is flat even as the population grows. Perhaps as a result, coverage in the general interest news weeklies (Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report) is edging into lighter areas such as pop culture, health and service. To survive, they are becoming less specialized experts in anything and more a lighter version on every topic. The vast majority of the high-profile opinion-making magazines – everything from Time to Esquire to Vanity Fair – are owned by one of three big media companies. Overall, the magazine industry is healthy, but its landscape is very different than it was even 10 years ago, let alone 20.