Amidst closures and frequency reductions, print publishing is hanging on tenaciously, trying hard to develop sustainable business models around trusted coverage, special editions and brand collaborations, says Peter Houston in this chapter of our Media Moments 2019 report.

No, print still isn’t dead. Yes, there have been closures in 2019 and print revenues are definitely still on the slide.

Last year, just 481 million consumer magazines were sold – 60% less than in 2005 – and advertising sales have suffered as a result. But, many print magazines are holding on with some sectors even saw launches.

Newspapers in print? Well, they’ve taken the biggest beating and there are genuine worries that many communities in the US and the UK could end up without any local press coverage if something doesn’t change.

The UK lost 245 local news titles between 2005 and the end of last year. An estimated 58% of the country is now served by no regional newspaper. In the US, the picture is probably worse: one of five local papers have closed since 2004; and weekday print circulation fell 12% in 2018; Sunday print circulation dropped 13%.

The local newspaper crisis has even drawn the attention of global newspaper The New York Times, which is reporting the collapse in its ongoing ‘Last Edition’ feature.

Where are we now

Magazines 

In the magazine world, some publishers came to the conclusion this year that they will no longer require the services of a printer, or at least not as often as they used to. Titles throwing in the inky towel in 2019 include:

  • ASOS magazine
  • Marie Claire (UK)
  • ESPN The Magazine
  • Now
  • Money magazine
  • Brides magazine (UK)
  • Family Circle
  • Beer Advocate

That list is a small sample of the magazines that left print behind, but illustrates the range of titles going digital-only, or closing completely. From branded title ASOS magazine with a peak circulation of 700,000 to Family Circle an almost 90-year old title owned by Meredith and the Beer Advocate a niche, enthusiast title published by two brothers –  print is tough for everyone.

One of the highest-profile print closures in the UK this year was Marie Claire, with its demise coming to be seen as a harbinger of doom for the entire Women’s magazine sector. With a print circulation drop of more than half between 2008 and 2018 and the brand’s new owners, private equity firm Epiris, were looking to its “ecommerce aggregation platform” The Edit as the future, not print journalism.

“Why pay for journalism – and journalists – to bring clothing sellers and their customers together when you can connect them directly?” wrote the New Statesman’s Jasper Jackson of the closure.

The decline of Marie Claire is echoed elsewhere in the fashion magazine market where this year’s ‘Bumper Fall Fashion’ issues were decidedly average. US industry magazine Folio’s annual September-issue weigh-in shows ‘flat and falling’ numbers for Fashion titles.

Unable to track ad buys in print, Folio has been monitoring top fashion magazines by weighing and measuring them since 2015. This year’s story is not too good – the headliner is that the thud factor at fashion bible Vogue is down 30%.

Folio’s content director Casey Welton says they will do the same report next year, but expecting further declines, he wonders for how much longer it will be before ‘the once-dominant September looks like every other issue a magazine publishes’.

And in that context, former Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman’s suggestion that the future of print magazines could lie in switching to less frequent, special editions, carries some weight. She says it would allow media companies to take costs out of the business while maintaining a print format.

Read the rest of this article by Peter Houston on What’s New in Publishing…