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 sincehas 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?