Journalism

Don’t Write Off Ink-and-Paper Publications Just Yet

The life cycle of journalism played out last week as a regional magazine was born in Metro Detroit and a national print counterpart announced its death.

The casualty is Newsweek, a 79-year-old that will survive only in digital form after 2012. The small newcomer is Xpress, a niche-market monthly based in Birmingham, Mich.

“Our business has been increasingly affected by the challenging print advertising environment,” Newsweek editor-in-chief Tina Brown explains in an Oct. 18 announcement at The Daily Beast, which merged with the magazine in 2010. “The last print edition in the United States will be our Dec. 31 issue.”

Closer to our home, a scrappy publisher sees more opportunities than challenges for precisely targeted magazines. David Hohendorf in 2010 created Downtown Birmingham/Bloomfield, a free monthly mailed to 27,000 residential addresses in those suburbs with marketer-enticing demographics. It mixes in-depth feature articles with profiles, dining guides, social event galleries and color ads.

Now he’s giving away another upscale newsmagazine – Xpress, aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender readers in the tri-county Detroit area. The 56-page November issue, with 20,000 copies printed, is stacked in 300 stores, gyms, restaurants and other gathering spots. Twenty-four pages of ads promote jewelry, fashions, salons, restaurants and high-end homes. [An earlier post is here.]

Hohendorf believes in the power of print – some print, that is. “Mass distribution products have a limited future,” he told me in his cozy, bright downtown Birmingham office suite. “Niche monthly publications have the fastest growth. Advertisers know they can work.”

There’s plenty of evidence, nationally as well as locally, of a healthy environment for specialty publications we can flip and clip – even as newspapers and traditional magazines struggle “as lingering objects of nostalgia,” in the words of onetime magazine editor Andrew Sullivan, blogging Oct. 20 at The Daily Beast.

“It’s easy to overlook ‘traditional media’ success stories in favor of ‘new media’ hype,” Ad Age columnist Simon Dumenco writes this week. “A lot of willfully ignorant folks in the ‘print is dead’ crowd lump magazines and newspapers together, which is a big mistake.”

Glossy niche monthlies around Detroit include Metro Parent, Macomb Now Magazine, Metro You Magazine for women and Xology, with business news from Automation Alley.

Nationally, magazine launches this year include Coastal Carolina Life, Louisiana Kitchen and Culture, and Colorado Life. Other publishers introduced narrower themes – Cannabis Now, GI Journals, Wrist Watch and Equestrian Quarterly.

Newcomers in 2011 included big players such as HGTV Magazine from Hearst Corp. and Style.com/Print, a fashion title from Condé Nast.

Amid signs that print can thrive in a digital era, some observers still see a half-full glass getting emptier. “Print magazines today are basically horses and carriages a decade after the car had gone into mass production,” suggests Sullivan. “Why do they exist at all?”

If the skeptical blogger really wants an answer, he should ask readers and advertisers who appreciate the value of ink-on-paper communication.

Do you enjoy print magazines?

[This post was commissioned for SMZ Advertising’s blog, where it appeared Oct. 26, 2012.]

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