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Are Magazines Dead?

  • B2B Marcom

  • The answer is, "no". Let's get that right out of the way up front. Magazines are NOT dead. Not across the board, anyway.

    Are many traditional B2B print magazines dying? Yes!


    Quoting from an article in PrintWeek:

    Maurice Lèvy, chairman and chief executive at global advertising giant Publicis Groupe, described the financial crisis as "a cruel and brutal accelerator and amplifier of long-term trends". "Let's face it, the traditional model is broken," he added.

    So, let's rattle the traditional model. The question for advertisers, clients, and media to each ask themselves is, "Is what I'm purveying valuable enough to my target audience to get them to pay for it?" And the very same question (altered slightly) should be asked of our target audience. "What content are you willing to purchase?" After all, shouldn't the party that derives value do (some of) the paying???

    I recently commented on a BtoBOnline article about this topic - it went something like this:

    You seem to be writing from a perspective where the ONLY way for a magazine to be funded is from advertising dollars. You say, "Without advertising magazines cannot exist." Many people fall into the same trap - and it IS a trap.

     Magazines need RESOURCES (primarily money). This money does not, necessarily, have to come from advertising dollars. There are many examples of magazines that exist quite nicely with NO advertising (typically funded by subscriber or member dollars).

    As a member of the media advisory council of AMERICAN BUSINESS MEDIA, I have studied this issue, and spoken and listened in detail to delegates from the media, agencies, and clients (like myself). To me, it seems that those who believe advertising is THE funding source will struggle and likely fail. I believe that the survivors will be those that exchange VALUE for funding. This includes all sides of the equation: the selling side, the content provider, the agency, the media, the audience (reader/viewer).

    I suggest that the antiquated Rube Goldberg contraption that we've all learned to live with (traditional advertising) needs to be simplified - and fast. Additionally, I suggest that the advertiser should NOT be the only party taking a risk in the process.

    The Rube Goldberg Contraption:

    An advertiser wants CONTACT information (a real customer with a real interest). To get to that point, the advertiser 1) develops content (information), 2) pays an ad designer, 3) pays a media buyer, 4) pays the media, 5) then hopes the right people see the ad, 6) then hopes those people respond to the ad.

    The Risk:

    The advertiser pays everyone in the contraption hard cash, or with content delivered. Each party gets exactly what they want right up front ... except the advertiser. They have to hope that every link in the chain (including their own perception of what content is important) is strong enough to ultimately deliver the desired goal.

    The Answer:


    CLIENTS: go to market with COMPELLING CONTENT (true value). Treat your target audience with respect, know they are smart, know they are building businesses and careers using innovative, new, empowering information. Create it, integrate it, own it, and purvey it. Then VALUE it.

    Insipid press releases or articles train your target audience to NOT TRUST you. Puffed-up advertisements encourage your target audience to figure out how you might be tricking them. Stop crying "wolf".

    AGENCIES: advise your clients to cease with the meaningless press releases, hollow articles, and filler stories. Teach them that these tactics devalue both their company and their value delivery mechanism.

    Additionally, work with your clients AND your media contacts to develop the proper valuation of the overall process.

    MEDIA: understand that you are not in the business of selling ads. You are in the business of earning the position of a meaningful and valued partner in the business cycle. Your specific role is EFFICIENT CONTENT DELIVERY. You deliver and present it for your clients and you deliver it to your target audience.

    Once you are delivering valued content to your audience - teach that audience how valuable your service is, and seek compensation for the value you deliver. Once you are delivering valued content to your clients (qualified leads, for example) - teach them how valuable this service is, and seek compensation for the value you deliver.

    Quoting Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International: "Love your readers and your advertisers and they will love you back."

    AUDIENCE: There is no such thing as a free lunch. If you truly value meaningful content that will rapidly advance your projects, your business, and your career, understand that you will have to pay for it.

    It seems that too many parties in this equation are mis-valuing what they are delivering or receiving - some give a bargain, others get a bargain. And it seems that too many parties are willing to shuffle along using a broken business model that has come to look like a contraption, and not a streamlined machine.

    GAMING THE SYSTEM: Here is what my media partners have told me (in essence) ... you can deliver valuable content to your target audience for free. Since we don't charge you for the placement of press releases or white papers, just create really compelling content and we will run it. Your message gets out to the right audience, and the audience can contact you when they want to know more. The same media partners have clearly been giving their content to the audience for free, effectively telling them to expect something for nothing. Almost everyone wins.

    The problem with "gaming the system" is that a potentially valuable partner dies - interrupting (temporarily) the delivery chain. The media can not survive if everyone games the system. I add "temporarily" because alternative means of reaching target audiences are popping up like dandelions in the Spring. In Digital Darwinism, Christopher Vollmer writes, "... digital platforms and capabilities are transforming the ways in which consumers experience advertising. What's more, they are dramatically reshaping the relationships among marketers, advertising agencies, and media companies."

    Our audience simply has so many newly-evolving ways to get valuable content that they can afford to step over the gasping carcasses of the soon-to-be-extinct media players.

    I hope:

    •  a newly-evolved media mindset and practice arises. One that charges clients to place content; One that charges the audience to receive content; One that charges the client for qualified leads that arise from the content.
    • that clients (advertisers) cease the generation of drivel - and put forth content that is truly worthy of respect (and worthy of a customer declaring their interest by providing contact information).
    • that agencies intermediate this process, teaching both sides how to make progress on this journey, delivering insight unavailable to the media or the clients, and charge for this valuable service.

    What are you hoping for? Please comment.