Worth

Posted on Feb 12, 2009 in Business | 20 comments

Magazines
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There is a ton of talk about yesterday’s announcement that CRAFT magazine will cease its print publication and will shift all production to craftzine.com. I’m hoping to post an interview with senior editor Natalie Zee Drieu in the next couple of days, but there are issues that transcend this one event that I’d really like to talk about.

Sister Diane wrote a great post about CRAFT yesterday, and I’ve enjoyed following the very thoughtful comments over there. She mentioned one of the most significant reasons print periodicals are suffering right now: a decline in advertising. I wrote a long comment over there:

I wonder when or if the magazine industry will revolutionize itself by asking people to pay for what a magazine is worth. We’re seeing the television industry (specifically broadcast TV, that has also been subsidized by advertising) trying to deal with this in its struggle to come up with solid online distribution channels, but we already know traditional television can work without advertising subsidy since cable TV has been a raging success for two decades.

Few tangible things we buy are subsidized, and especially in the world of the handmade we focus a lot on valuing the products we buy. We’re willing to pay more for something that’s handmade than for something that’s mass produced. We believe in fair compensation.

Would we pay more for print magazines if that’s the only way we could get their quality information, images, analysis, and news? I would. However much I love learning about things online, I also love sitting down offline with some (preferably recycled) paper in my hands.

Magazine specialist and prof Samir Husni frequently rails against magazine publishers practically giving away subscriptions—the fees would barely cover postage in many cases. Publishers do this to get as many readers as possible so they can attract more advertising. I agree with him that this is wrong-headed. Magazines should cultivate a quality audience that’s willing to pay for what the publication is worth.

What is a publication worth? It seems to me that the alleged impending death of print hinges on the simultaneous refusal of print publications to innovate and of consumers to pay enough for the publication that the publisher can make a profit.

One of the things I loved about CRAFT, beyond its awesomeness, was that they charged $15 per issue. Maybe that wasn’t enough to make the magazine successful enough to keep in print, but I always felt very good about paying what I imagined was in line with what each issue was worth. I loved the voice of the magazine, the editorial content, the DIY championing and the high production value they managed to pull off despite such a strong component of writer-submitted photography. Abstractly, I also loved that it came from O’Reilly Media, one of the most forward-thinking publishers around. (This contributes to why I’m very optimistic about the trail CRAFT will blaze online. I don’t think they’ll do more of the mediocre-same. I think they’ll do great things.)

Diane asked what people do to support the publications they love. I was fascinated to see how many people said they subscribe to magazines they love specifically because they know it will help the magazines stay afloat. If that’s not voting with dollars, I don’t know what is. Unfortunately, with magazine subscriptions priced so painfully low and with advertisers less willing to spend, those votes don’t end up counting for very much, do they?

What is a magazine or newspaper worth to you? If the ads went away and an issue were to cost $20, would you buy it?

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  • http://skamama.com julie

    I like the relevant ads. How else will I find out about a small online yarn supplier, a new book of patterns, hooks, and independent suppliers? I really don't understand why ads should go away.

    I buy craft publications for the articles, not really the patterns. .If a publication provides information that is in depth, well researched, and of interest to me. Yes, I will pay $20.

  • http://www.kimwerker.com Kim Werker

    I don't know that it's a question of whether ads should or shouldn't go
    away; it's just that they *are* going away.

  • http://www.knitgrrl.com knitgrrl

    On the topic of CRAFT, by the way — they paid contributors VERY very fairly for their work in the print mag, much more so than similar publications, and I for one think that alone warranted their cover price. Of course, not everyone is privy to what mags are paying, but on other recent online discussions of designer compensation, etc, it seems that people are almost uniformly willing to pay more if they know that a designer/artist/etc on the other end is getting paid well and being treated fairly.

    Heck, look at Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Even if they'd already seen it online, how many people turned around and bought the DVD (or the soundtrack, or both) anyway. It has *value.*

    I consistently buy all the knitting and related craft magazines because I feel I *have* to in order to be prepared for my job as an editor, designer, etc. But if I wasn't in that position, if I had to pick or choose? Sure, I'd pay more for a magazine if

    * there weren't ads, or were fewer ads (Yarn Forward, which I edit, does only 10 pages per issue!)
    * I knew its contributors were being treated fairly in terms of compensation and intellectual property issues
    * I thought there was definite value in its format — having just cleaned out dozens of old New Yorkers jamming the living room, I am contemplating dropping my print subscription in favor of just getting it on Kindle (it just became available there)! And in case you're curious, the cartoons reproduce VERY nicely on the screen, though it will be tough to cut them out and put them on the fridge!

  • http://www.craftypod.com Sister Diane

    I think that “special issues” are the near future of print magazines. We've seen more and more of them in the past few years – one-off magazines with a tight thematic focus. The best ones bind in additional value – like Interweave's Stitch, which had full-size pull-out garment patterns and in-depth how-tos. I'll pay a higher cover price for a special ish if it contains in-depth coverage of its subject and some element of added value like this. It's essentially a hybrid of magazine and book.

    I don't necessarily mind the presence of advertising in such things, but wouldn't it be great if the ads could be real vehicles of informational value instead of colorfully wasted pages?

    . . . Well, now I'm just makin' crazy talk. Loved this post!

  • http://www.knitgrrl.com knitgrrl

    Well, they're going away (or at the very least, having a hard time) in the print publications where they've made no attempt to keep up with online ad sales trends, and where advertisers are not treated as partners in the publishing experience. If you treat your advertisers like human ATMs, and treat them differently according to how much they spend, then you know what? Your smaller advertisers are going to flee somewhere friendlier, like Ravelry, with a more equal playing field.

    I had a conversation with a yarn company owner last week that pretty much = exactly what I've just said… she felt her business wasn't being valued despite the large sums she spent in the mag we were discussing, and so she went elsewhere. Pretty simple, eh? No one likes to feel as if they are only interesting or useful to a mag when the pocketbook isn't out.

    I'm pretty thoroughly entrenched in the UK mag market right now because of the day job, and what I see happening there is that other mags, in a desperate attempt to get more more more advertising, are taking ads from the most ridiculous, non-knitting-related companies imaginable. (Seriously — stairlifts and orthopedic shoes? are you stereotyping the knitting audience much?). The readers NOTICE, too. And (mwah ha ha ha) then they buy our mag, which only does knit-related ads and none of this filler nonsense.

  • http://skamama.com julie

    I'm going to take a leap and guess that the mags these ads are appearing in are from a large publishing company that likely sells the ad space in bundles. Like when t.v. ads are taken out for cable they pay by the bundle of networks they want to be advertised on. So, the orthopedic shoes ad probably bought the female ages 40-60 demographic bundle, Knitting, Readers Digest, Family Circle type ad bundles.

  • http://skamama.com julie

    But…
    If as long as there are ads (as a supplement to revenue) the publisher could afford to treat their contributors more fairly in terms of direct compensation.

    I think all print mags should go by way of a smaller trim size

  • http://www.kimwerker.com Kim Werker

    Contributor compensation is a factor separate from revenue sources (not
    separate from revenue itself, but from where that revenue comes from). For
    many magazines, advertising is the primary source of revenue; for others,
    newsstand and/or subscriptions provide the bulk of revenue. In any case,
    there are two aspects of contributor compensation: direct fees paid and
    rights. I think much of the issue surrounding the rights that publications
    allow their contributors to retain (or set up to revert back to them after a
    time) has to do with the pub's desire to control content. That is related to
    compensation, sure, but it's also related to the attitude of control. A pub
    that wants to control their content entirely should, presumably, pay much
    more in direct fees to its contributors; one that's comfortable with the
    contributor having more control can usually get away with paying lower
    direct fees.

  • http://www.geekxnerd.com geek+nerd

    I love this post. It's so much more thoughtful and articulate than the comment that I left over at Diane's blog, ha. I'm just feeling very frustrated that CRAFT is the fifth magazine that I read regularly to stop print publishing in the last year and a half (Punk Planet, Blueprint, Home Companion, Domino and CRAFT).

    I think that if I were to pay $20 for a magazine, then I would like a substantial amount of content. I felt like CRAFT dealt with this well. Buying CRAFT for $15 each time, (which I did, because it was one of the few of my regular reads that I never subscribed to for some reason), felt like I was buying a mini-book, rather than a magazine. If, BUST magazine were to up their price in absence of advertising I think I would pay $9 or $10, but not more unless it came with heftier content.

    One of the points about advertisement that I made over on Diane's blog was this: She stated that advertisers have noticed that we have gotten better and better at ignoring ads. To retort, maybe we're ignoring them because the ads or *gasp* the products themselves are not all that compelling. I'll mention Bust again (because I love that magazine, and if they tank as well I think my heart will break!); When I first started reading Bust on a regular basis, I would read every word, cover to cover, advertisements included. Why? Because the adverts were interesting and compelled me to check out the businesses and products!

    Thoughts trailing off…Anyways. I'm going to post a little rant on my blog, and I'll definitely link back to your post. Brava.

  • http://www.kimwerker.com Kim Werker

    I've had a similar experience with ads, for sure. I'll read all of them in a
    mag like Bust, and few or none of them in a more mainstream mag. In a
    knitting or crochet mag, I'll read some but not all, and that will be
    entirely based on the aesthetics of the ad — some of them are downright
    terribly designed and I don't get the impression I'll learn anything from
    them. In a mag like Wired, I'll read a bunch of ads and then I'll follow up
    online to learn more about the products, books, or events.

    Anyway, my point is that I imagine it's a bit of both: that people are both
    ignoring ads and that, like you said, not all advertisers are bringing
    something interesting to the page.

    I always end up waving my arms around and exclaiming the same thing: When
    something isn't working out for a company, quit pointing fingers and start
    coming up with new ways to get the job done. For mags, this means figuring
    out ways to stay afloat with less advertising revenue; for advertisers, it
    means evaluating their ads, their products, and where they're buying ad
    space.

  • http://jossisahottie.com/whedoncraft/ Kiba

    So I'm doing a double reply, one to the original post and one to Shannon's comment.

    First, ORIGINAL POST REPLY! I think that my notion of what a magazine should cost has been so distorted by the ad-supported mags that I have no sense of what it is worth. I only bought a couple issues of CRAFT ever – maybe just the special Halloween one, even – and that's because I was not at all thinking about its worth when I looked at the price, but instead was just thinking, “$15! That is a lot for a magazine!” (Like I said – no consideration at all of what I'd get for my $15, which I now realize is A LOT.) I love the Craftzine site/blog, but I feel like one thing CRAFT gets right in print is the tactile experience so unique to actually reading a magazine you can hold in your hands. If I had been pushed to think about this concern a while ago, I might've bought more issues, and since they have their back issues available for purchase, I may go on and get those over time.

    SHANNON'S COMMENT REPLY! Specifically re: Dr. Horrible. I bought Dr. Horrible on iTunes (my only iTunes video purchase ever), the soundtrack on iTunes, and the DVD. I was willing to throw that money their way for two reasons. 1) I knew it was going to actually get to them (as you've mentioned) but also 2) (more than 1!) I felt like it was going to real people with whom I have a connection and whose work I wanted to support in a very direct way. I love Joss Whedon to the point of absurdity (if I explain how much I just end up sounding like I'm trying to make myself out to be a Big Name Fan) and I love his work. And as long as his work continues to satisfy me, I will continue to pay for it, especially when I know he and the other brilliant creative people with whom he works are getting the money. They added an untold amount of value to the DVD, which also helped.

    Anyway – if I feel a personal connection with a creator, I am much more likely to buy the work, regardless of the format. This is why I bought Amazing Crochet Lace, it's why I buy Interweave Crochet, it's why future book purchases will include Julie and Amy's books, it's why I bought Crochet Me… and on and on and on. (It's why I bought Astonishing X-Men but stopped after Joss stopped writing it…)

    That is all I have to say about this I think.

  • kate

    I think this is a very relevant post as well, especially considering the current issues surrounding designer compensation for designs in the knitting/crochet industry. Am I the only one that sees the correlation between publications not being able to pay designers huge sums for designs and subscriptions prices around $20 US for a *whole year*? I miss Blueprint and will miss Craft and Domino terribly. Consumers demand *cheaper, faster, more* then cry foul when the paper quality is bad or claim to be surprised when the magazine cannot pay huge sums out to contributors. It is the WalMart effect right in front of us. It seems Craft tried to circumvent these problems and it — regretfully — didn't work

    In my ad experience, the company we choose has been really wonderful and supportive to work with. I think if an educated advertiser picks a company they feel good about, they will not find themselves used or unappreciated.

    (Re: ad aesthetics: Agreed! Oh, man, are some of them terrible or what?)

  • http://www.nexstitch.com Amie

    I belong to CGOA, so I get “Crochet!” mag. I was surprised to see ads for things that are not crochet related in any way in the latest issue. Inserted in the middle of the magazine was an 8 page booklet for “Woman Within” clothes. CLOTHES. Sweatpants and nightgowns and these dreaded elastic waistband “jeans,” if you could call them that, which were straight out of 1982. It was the first tangible sign of trouble (in my eyes) that I've seen.

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  • http://oneprettything.com Rachel

    I have no problem paying more but I still want the ads! They are just as important and inspiring to me as the articles themselves!

  • http://helentilbury.blogspot.com Helen Tilbury

    No. For me that would equate to R200 & by the time it got here it would retail at R400. They have to find a cheaper way 'cos that would just outprice them. I could get a book for hald the price. Doesn't make good financial sense unfortunately ;-(

  • http://helentilbury.blogspot.com Helen Tilbury

    No. For me that would equate to R200 & by the time it got here it would retail at R400. They have to find a cheaper way 'cos that would just outprice them. I could get a book for hald the price. Doesn't make good financial sense unfortunately ;-(

  • Pingback: CRAFT Nixes Print, Goes Digital: The Scoop | Kim Werker()

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