BoSacks Speaks Out: On The Survival of Magazines, Paper And Printing

By  on July 21, 2016

There was a time when you couldn't pick up a media trade journal and not have almost half the conversation about the paper industry. At the same time magazine manufacturing costs for print titles (there was no other option) were approximately 60% of the cost of doing business.  In today's marketplace there is very little "talk" about paper, the one and only substrate for printed magazines, although we as an industry do have lots of dialog about "what is a magazine" or "how long magazines will be around."   

As a case in point, I had a very challenging conversation - one of many - while on my trip cross country. My friend who is in our business took the position that magazines won't be around much longer. It is possible, even probable, that he was testing my opinions and was taking a contrary position just for fun. Nonetheless it was an exciting conversation. He showed me charts and graphs about our industry that were steeper in the negative than Mount Everest. I pointed out that those charts are an aggregate of everyone and, although they might be interesting, averages contain both winners and losers. There has always been death and destruction in the magazine business, but there have also always been winners, and I believe we need to focus on the winners. 

I take the position that at our peak of production in the early years of the 21st century, when our competitors were only TV and radio, we had reached a print position of irrational exuberance. We topped out because readers could/would support it. Now as we head into a more digital focused age of media distribution, it is harder, but surely not impossible, to justify an existence for print titles. The bar for success in print is now higher. The readership is more refined and narrow. Niche enthusiast titles rule the roost and general mass market titles are fewer and fewer.  Still and yet, there is plenty of room for print titles and the paper that supports the process. 

The days of irrational exuberance in print are over, but we are reaching a point of cogent maturity for publishers, printers and paper manufacturers. Print will be around for quite some time, not as a commodity, but as a luxury item worth paying for. The only catch is that what is printed has to be worthy of the commercial exercise to produce it. 

July 21, 2016

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