If an upscale and once popular restaurant finds that their customers are declining and their spend when they do visit is decreasing, how do they respond? There might be some who go straight to cutting costs, replace the linen table cloths with paper, trade the fine wines for casks, and start serving a pot of slops instead of haute cuisine. But you don’t need to be an expert to know that this is only going to hasten the decline.

And yet, many print publishers have responded to declining print ad revenues in exactly this way!

How many once-great magazines have responded by:

  • Reducing editorial content, ie even less useful info to read between the ads.
  • Reducing editorial-to-ad ratios; ie even though there’s fewer ads, it feels like it’s jammed even fuller than before and reads more like a catalogue.
  • Reducing page count, an obvious by-product of the above.
  • Reducing production quality, thinner covers, cheaper paper stock, turning once proud magazines into limp comic books.
  • Reducing qualified circulation; ie. even fewer people actually reading it.

All this will save a few bucks in the short-term, but as with the fine dining restaurant, it’s the beginning of the end and will quickly put you into a death spiral.

If you’re going to do a print magazine at all, you had better to do it well.

Maintain your focus on what makes print good in the first place. The prestige and value that people place on the content in a leading industry journal. The sense of deep engagement they get when they take some time out from their normal day to leaf through the pages and read what you’ve got.

This quality needs to be maintained if you want to keep your readers and advertisers at all in the long term. Not just the production values, but also the quality of the content. There is so much information available online now, if you want people to read your print magazine, you had better keep give them a good reason to do so.

Print will always have a role, but it is a role that will increasingly be shared with other channels. Not all the print magazines that are in the market today will survive. There will be a settling down after this period of turbulence, and publications will again find an equilibrium between ad revenue and costs. But many magazines available today will not survive this change, and those that do will be the ones who can maintain their quality and their audience through this time.