Is there a future for business magazines?

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I love the magazine format. I’ve admitted that on this blog quite a few times during the past decade.

However, I’ve also repeated many times that I am not a fan of the magazine business model — the mass media business model where a publisher depends on gathering a mass audience and selling ads to mass advertisers who’d like to reach that mass audience.

For me, the future of magazines is all about tightly focused, niche titles that serve groups of people who share a passion — a passion so deep that those who share it go seamlessly from web to mobile device to magazine to off-line meetups to learn and share as much as possible about that passion.

That’s why I believe the future of magazines is more likely to be found in today’s news that HP’s on-demand magazine service MagCloud will promote the service to the people who have created and manage the 50,000 wikis hosted by Wikia than in the news that Fortune Magazine is cutting back from 25 issues to 18 issues annually.

Wikis and on-demand, printed magazines? A marriage made in heaven, if you ask me.

But a mass market, general interest business magazine? Can’t see it in my crystal ball.

To me, the only business magazines with a future will be tightly focused business-to-business magazines that fit within an ecosystem of related products (online and off), services and events. Perhaps local or regional business magazines that do the same. But magazines intended for a broad business audience that depend on mass advertising as their primary business model?

The clock is ticking down, and it doesn’t stop at 18, 12, six or even four.

Related: That Strange Light you’re seeing is the future of magazines

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  • I agree the future for b2b trade pubs looks bleak. But, I think there's room for some to survive IF they would learn to adapt. But, unfortunately, few if any do. I'm amazed that the format has stayed the same for the past 20 years. I still see trade pubs that focus on things like “executive changes”, “M&A news”, etc – even though the news is 3-6 weeks old by the time it's in print.
    What trade press still has going for it are 2 things:
    1) Editorial expertise – take something like “American City & County”, which Primedia used to own (when they were a trade publisher). the editors really know the world of municipal government and speak the language in ways outsiders cannot;
    2) Relationships with the advertisers

    The trick is how to leverage those two assets in a new world. I think it can be done. First, the editorial focus has to shift from “breaking news” to “insights and context”. I'll get my news from the web (and the real-time web), but I still need sources to help me understand “how does this impact me?”. Trade press could have a role to play here.
    Second is to leverage relationships with buyers and sellers in fostering community. So, whether it's moderated forums, wikis, etc, these sites often have the right traffic but need to change the way they think. Today, too many of them lock their content away inside the pay wall – which is dumb for a product that derives its revenues from ads. So, get rid of the pay wall (though OK to provide added features for registration) and develop real communities.
    Think about what StockTwits has done to develop a community of active traders. Why couldn't trade media do similar things in other markets?

    The problem is that this is a market segment that has rarely brought innovation and I don't think they are likely to change. But, the opportunity is there if they want to go after it.

  • Every thing you said, I agree with, except one thing:

    I didn't say the future for b2b trade publication looks bleak.

    My post is about general business magazines.

    I think — if they do the types of things you say — the future of narrowly focused b2b media can be very successful.

    Unfortunately, those companies are not run by people who have ever heard of StockTwits.

  • Rex – I stand corrected. And, yes, I agree there is no future for general business magazines (a la BW, Fortune, Forbes, etc).
    And, no, none of the trade publsihers I know of would know StockTwits; their knowledge of Twitter is more at the Oprah-Ashton level.

  • What about surviving as the long-running, money-losing vanity projects of billionaires? That could work, maybe, maybe?

    Isn't Gourmet isn't a great example of a tightly focused niche title? I still don't understand the decision to close it. Crazy.

    p.s. I have removed myself from the future of business magazines test tube experiment. What about the future of business-oriented wire services 🙂

  • I think the money-losing vanity magazine projects of billionaires category has legs. Indeed, I'd be happy to supply a wide range of content and design services to any of them.

    I don't read Gourmet, but its the first time I've had people from the real world (meaning, non-media and non-tech) ask me what I thought, as they were fans of the magazine and didn't understand its closing. As I've said, its overhead structure was out of whack. I also believe it probably strayed away from its core focus (food) and had ventured into topics its readers enjoy (travel) but are not central to the advertisers' comprehension of what the role of the brand is. That's purely conjecture on my part, however.

    I think magazines like Cooks Illustrated (more tightly focused) was encroaching on the space significantly and Conde Nast decided to quite now and refocus rather than ride the magazine downhill. Which, as a business person, I think is smart.

    Congratulations on your new job. I think the future of business-oriented wire services is swell, as long as they're not run by the idiots who seem to be in charge at AP. Whenever I can, I point to stories from your new employer rather than stories from them.

  • What about surviving as the long-running, money-losing vanity projects of billionaires? That could work, maybe, maybe?

    Isn't Gourmet isn't a great example of a tightly focused niche title? I still don't understand the decision to close it. Crazy.

    p.s. I have removed myself from the future of business magazines test tube experiment. What about the future of business-oriented wire services 🙂

  • I think the money-losing vanity magazine projects of billionaires category has legs. Indeed, I'd be happy to supply a wide range of content and design services to any of them.

    I don't read Gourmet, but its the first time I've had people from the real world (meaning, non-media and non-tech) ask me what I thought, as they were fans of the magazine and didn't understand its closing. As I've said, its overhead structure was out of whack. I also believe it probably strayed away from its core focus (food) and had ventured into topics its readers enjoy (travel) but are not central to the advertisers' comprehension of what the role of the brand is. That's purely conjecture on my part, however.

    I think magazines like Cooks Illustrated (more tightly focused) was encroaching on the space significantly and Conde Nast decided to quite now and refocus rather than ride the magazine downhill. Which, as a business person, I think is smart.

    Congratulations on your new job. I think the future of business-oriented wire services is swell, as long as they're not run by the idiots who seem to be in charge at AP. Whenever I can, I point to stories from your new employer rather than stories from them.