Writing about magazines with blinders on
It is difficult to know whether those who write about the magazine industry are lazy or just living with blinders on, but each time a circulation or ad page report is issued by a reporting firm a slew of articles appears which tries to divine an entire industry by one set of numbers. The truth is that, thanks to digital media, the magazine industry is today much more than just AAM-audited titles or those whose ad pages are counted each month.
Of course, it always has been. Even a decade ago many magazines that are read regularly were neither audited of had their ad pages counted. These magazines were either considered too small to be considered, or simply outside the area of interest for media observers. Branded magazines, association and academic periodicals have always made up a significant portion of the industry, but it was probably safe to ignore them if you wanted to take the temperature of the magazine industry. No more.
Today, a far larger portion of the industry lies outside the view of the auditing bureaus and ad page counting services. On any given day more digital editions are launched by both individuals and publishing start-ups. Apple, Google and Amazon don’t make it easy to see track them, but they are there, nonetheless.
This post from David Dale of The Age is a good example of the media trend: report on the latest ABC numbers and then write a conclusion. The piece is the equivalent of an SAT examine where one reads a short piece and has to answer questions based on what was written.
This morning’s AdAge piece is even worse, it tries to conclude that the growth of digital magazine circulation on iPads is not as impressive as it first appears because the AAM numbers show that one publication dominates. Someone didn’t take a logic class in school because the whole piece is based on the idea that one report that looks at legacy titles shows us what is happening inside the Newsstand.
The fact is that trying to track the new digital publications appearing every day is not easy – and I still do find those circulation and ad page reports useful. But much of the industry is hidden from view. Worse, that portion of the industry that is to be found only inside the digital newsstands do not feel part of the same industry as the legacy portion, and therefore might not consider themselves candidates to join the trade association, or use auditing services.
One hopes that at some of the larger publishing houses there are smart people paying attention. Just as the NYT saw the blog written by Nate Silver as a good investment, there are many new titles out there in digital-only form that could be good acquisition targets. There is a lot of good talent out there, but more and more the mainstream media writers are missing the full picture and so it will be up to the magazine publishing executives to make sure they don’t start operating on the assumptions being doled out by these blinded observers.