Once again, the industry has heard the news of the doors slamming shut at another one of its print publications. Only this time, the dying publication is the most-read title in the industry: Scrapbooks Etc.
As one scrapbook magazine after another has closed its doors the past few years (Memory Trends, Simple Scrapbooks, Digital Scrapbooking, Memory Makers, and now Scrapbooks Etc), it is tempting to declare that scrapbooking is dying. Why else would the industry be littered with the shredded remains of revered publications?
The answer is simple. Yes, it’s inescapable that something is dying. But that something isn’t scrapbooking. It’s something larger: the printed word on paper.
Scrapbooking is certainly undergoing a decline after a few years at an unsustainable high as a fad, but not one so catastrophic that it would cause the industry’s leading magazine to pull the plug on its publication.
Instead, the culprit is the internet, and the iPad, and the Kindle, and the Nook, and the numerous electronic methods of publishing and viewing content that have exploded in the past five years. They’ve changed everything from the business model of delivering content, to the consumer’s expectation of that content.
We used to be content to sit down once a day to watch the evening news for an hour and be told what is going on in the world. Now, in the internet age, we have something called the “24 hour news cycle”. It means that we want (no, expect) to know everything the moment it happens. Big news spreads like wildfire via Twitter before the stories even hit official news channels. Newspapers aren’t published once a day anymore. They are expected to post breaking stories online on their websites as soon as they happen. Consumers want a constant flow of new content. Print news outlets have been struggling to adjust to this new reality, as newspaper and news magazine subscriptions have fallen dramatically and they have yet to figure out how to effectively convert to monetizing their web operations.
This same problem affects publishers in every industry. Readers don’t want to wait 5 months of print lag time anymore to read about today’s new fashions, computers, cameras – or scrapbook supplies. In fact, they don’t want to wait the 5 minutes it takes to write and hit publish on a blog post! The modern reader has now been conditioned by a frenetic and never-ending stream of internet content to expect a constant availability of fresh content, and to have their finger on the pulse of things the minute they occur. We no longer accept having content delivered to us in a huge chunk long after the things it talks about were new – we want instead a constant flow of new, up-to-the-minute content.
There’s another shift that has occurred: consumer price sensitivity. Because such a wide range of quality content is available for free online, it has lowered the perceived market value of magazine content in the eyes of many consumers. Many are simply unwilling to pay for magazine content anymore when they have plenty of content to choose from online at no charge.
Advertisers are also a very important part of the death of print publishing. Despite the revenue that it would seem to consumers that subscription fees bring in to publishers, the high price of producing a print publication (specifically, printing and delivering it to the reader) means that a large amount of advertising revenue is also necessary for the publication to not only turn a profit, but just to function. And despite consumer sticker shock in recent years at the newsstand prices of magazines, advertising at a financially healthy publication typically makes up over half of the publication’s budget.
One exception to this is the publications from Stampington and Northridge. Those titles are operating under a different business model than traditional newsstand print magazines by charging a very high cover price (around $15 for most titles) which means that they need only extremely limited advertising support. They are, basically, publishing a recurring series of books.
The problem is that advertisers in all industries are fleeing print publications in large numbers, attracted to the lower prices, fine targeting and detailed metrics that they can get on the web. The cost of entry to internet advertising is lower than the price barrier to entering the print advertising market – an important consideration in an industry that is dominated by small businesses that do not have massive marketing budgets. Ads cost a fraction on the web per 1,000 readers of what they cost in print, and web advertising gives advertisers the ability to carefully target a specific reader segment, diversify their ad buy without blowing their budget, or attach their ads to a specific event on a very specific day.
As a result, recent issues of Scrapbooks Etc and Creating Keepsakes have had ad content ratios less than 20% – whereas a healthy publication needs 40% of its pages to be ad content.
How can the web be so affordable to advertise on compared to a print publication? The answer to this question is the same as the answer to another important question: Why can’t the print publishers just convert to web publications? Many, in this industry and others, have tried, but no one has successfully fully converted to a web publishing operation from a print operation. Different methods have been tried – emagazines, mobile apps, internet paywalls – but consumers have been resistant and adoption has been limited.
The key to the true degree of difficulty in this transformation lies in the difference between the business models of print publishing and web publishing.
Print publishing requires a large organization to support editorial, layout, ad sales, marketing, printing and subscription fulfillment functions. In fact, because of the modern requirement that magazines blog in support of their print issues, print publications are really running two publications – both an online publication and a print publication.
Web publication, in contrast, is a leaner and meaner business model. With no printing and fulfillment to do, these publications don’t have costs associated with those tasks. Layout costs are minimal to none, especially if the publication is run off of a blogging platform – individual articles need no graphic design, just the design of the website needs to be worked on occasionally.
This change is going to keep marching on. New technology changes things. The automobile killed the buggy-making business (or rather transformed it into making cars instead of buggies, an excellent analogy to what is happening to print magazines). Mobile phones have decimated the pay phone business. And on, and on, and on. It’s no reflection on the people who work in those industries. It’s just progress marching on, replacing old technology with a newer one. Sometimes, you have to lose something to gain something.