Spotlight on… magazine closures

It is a perilous time for magazines. Titles that once had loyal readers and enviable circulations are closing at an alarming rate.

In late April it was announced The Debrief, an online publication aimed at ‘millennial’ women, was closing after four years. It had been a popular, award-winning title that struck a chord with its readers.

After announcing its closure, social media was awash with comments from fans and freelancers expressing their sadness and disappointment. But despite its successes, a statement from staff said they “could not see a viable future for this brand as it stands”.

On 14 May, Time Inc announced it was closing Look magazine after 11 years because of ‘continuing pressure on sales’. The title had launched in 2007 and at its peak sold more than 300,000 copies a week.

But according to the most recent ABC figures, sales had dwindled to a circulation of 57,110. Time Inc UK’s managing director, Justine Southall, blamed the closure on its readers getting similar content from online sources.

Look used its final issue, published on 29 May, to champion its former rivals: Cosmopolitan, Stylist, Marie Claire, the Sun’s Fabulous, Women’s Health, Notebook in the Sunday Mirror, Red, and Grazia. It urged readers to go out buy another print magazines, to prevent more “beloved” brands from facing the same fate.

A week after Look announced it was shutting up shop, Interview magazine, founded almost fifty years ago by Andy Warhol and British journalist John Wilcock, followed suit. The iconic magazine – described as “the Crystal Ball of Pop” and known for its unconventional interviews – had been struggling with legal problems in recent years.

The magazine that, for decades, was synonymous with the “it” crowd, culture and creativity, was ceasing all operations immediately and filing for bankruptcy.

Runwild Media Group, a luxury lifestyle magazine publisher, is the latest to go into administration—closing six of its seven London-based monthly titles. The group had printed sfree luxury titles including City magazine. Eren Ellwood, the group’s managing director, blamed declining sales and advertising revenues for the closure.

Different titles, same demise

These titles were all very different, operating with different business models—paid for print, free print and online. They were all attempting to appeal to different demographics. But despite their differences, they have in common a failure to remain commercially viable.

To put it into Darwinian terms, natural selection has won out. None of these titles were well suited to the current media environment, and they paid the price.

Competition for readers and the advertising budgets they bring is fiercely competitive. As consumers we now have more choice than ever before. Those on the hunt for fashion advice or social trends could pick up a print magazine, visit one online, check out Pinterest, a blog, a podcast or go to dozens of other sources all offering what they claim is engaging and worthwhile content.

Media forecasters have for at least a decade been predicting the demise of magazines. But what we don’t know yet is just how radical the impact of this new competitive environment will be. Is the industry facing its own Permian extinction—which obliterated up to 96% of marine species and similar numbers of land animals? Have we seen the beginning of the end for all magazines?

What comes next?

A simple fact is that many magazines are operating on broken business models. Let’s take online publications a sold example, which have historically relied – and still do – on other platforms, from Facebook to Google to Snapchat, to drive traffic and revenue. Having to pay these platforms for access to their audiences is minimising the impact of the advertising revenue made by publications—creating an ever-descending downward spiral.

This is especially affecting the middle market. When content is free and designed to appeal to everyone, it often ends up appealing to no one. Magazine publishers should be rethinking their business models and their target audiences, asking themselves two questions: “what can we offer readers that is genuinely unique and interesting?” And, of course, “what will be people pay for that?”

Perhaps there is still reason for optimism—shifts in environment are rife with opportunity. The magazines that are the most innovative and creative can adapt and flourish, in the process creating new formats and features that we wouldn’t recognise today.

It’s always sad to see well-loved publications depart, but here’s hoping that new, fresh magazines will take their place, and lead evolution within the industry.