Is the wake of major magazine closures and layoffs a great time for the Magazine Publishers Of America to remind people that print still rules? Maybe.
You have to give the MPA credit, especially if you're one of those, like me, who doesn't believe that the Internet will actually drive glossy magazines into extinction. Their new promotion, “The Twenty Tweetable Truths About Magazines,” is a cute gimmick to spread factoids, each with its source, that testify to the "vitality of magazines." The campaign sends the message that the print magazine industry "gets" social media and the Internet. According to the MPA:
We wanted each “truth” to be short and simple to understand, which is why they’re 140 characters or less.
The MPA e-mailed its members, asking them to pass along the link (with a Twitter-friendly shortcode: http://bit.ly/6qNKn but no #hashtag) to "clients, advertisers, reporters, suppliers, politicians, vendors, interns, family and friends (especially via Facebook and LinkedIn)." On their site, each "truth" provides a link so users can retweet. It seems to be working: a Twitter search shows the MPA's message is beginning to circulate.
So how do their "Twenty Tweetable Truths" stack up? Having worked in print media, I'm ready to take a stab at providing some backstory. I may not be neutral, but their central premise (that despite the Internet, people still like to relax with magazines) rings true for me. But some of their items seem a little off-message.
1. Magazine readership remains steady in an increasingly crowded and noisy media landscape.
This is true (they cite the 2008 MRI study). All evidence points to the continued popularity of magazines.
2. 92% of U.S. adults read magazines.
Yes, almost everyone does read them, to at least some extent.
3. Magazine readers pay attention to magazine ads. They don’t pay to avoid the advertising as they do with other media.
MPA cites a 2008 BIGResearch Simmultaneous Media Usage Study, but its findings fit with what I have heard. Unlike with electronic media, magazine audiences don't usually consider ads intrusive or time-wasting, since they are able to control their exposure.
4. Consumers spend more than $86 million each week on single-copy magazines.
5. Subscriptions to magazines are on the rise. 2007: 322 million paid subscriptions. 2008: 325 million paid subscriptions.
Oops! Subscriber numbers are highly manipulated. If a magazine starts to lose newsstand sales, they have to boost subs to maintain their rate base, through costly but effective means, like discounted subscriptions and increased direct mail. A rise in subs doesn't necessarily translate into good news for the industry.
6. Magazine subscriptions increased in the first half of 2009.
Did newsstand sales go down?
7. New magazines continue to be launched. The latest figures show that magazine launches surged 10% in the first part of 2009 from the prior year.
I cannot think of a single one. Has any had an impact? I'm all ears. (Also, oops! You're at 143 characters.)
8. Magazines covers chronicle key events. President Obama’s election resulted in dozens of covers with him, his family....and even his dog.
Yes, Obama is the salvation of print. Too bad he can't get a new dog every day! But honestly, those magazines needed to put something on their covers. They'd have to be brain-dead not to cover a popular, history-making new president and his young, appealing family. But how does this mean print is thriving? After all, Obama was a fairly big presence on TV and the web too.
9. Who says that iPod-dependent teenagers have abandoned magazines? 75% of teens read magazines.
Um. You just told us that 92% of adults read magazines. This isn't the best argument to say you're winning the future.
10. Magazines appeal to younger adults. Adults 34 and younger read more magazines than adults +34.
Yes, younger adults do read magazines. Most Americans are chained to their computers throughout the work day and don't necessarily see them as an ideal source of entertainment. At lunch, or on a coffee break, they're likely to prefer flipping through US Weekly.
11. Over the past 5 years, the median age of magazine readers has remained consistently younger than the median age of total U.S. adults.
Don't be coy! Yes, magazine readers are younger than the population average. But has the median age gone up or down?
12. 54 magazines closed in 2008. A decrease of 17% from 2007.
Oof! Have you looked at 2009? It's not a pretty picture.
13. Magazines love the Internet. Almost a quarter of all new subscriptions come from the Internet.
Yes: magazine publishers rely increasingly on online sales, since traditional forms of selling subscriptions (direct mail, agents, blow-in cards) are performing worse and worse each year, thanks to declining response rates and increasing costs for postage, printing and list acquisition. But this is not the hugest indicator of "vitality."
14. Magazines build buzz. They excel in reaching people who shape attitudes and behavior.
Impossible to deny. Magazines reach influencers; that's the industry's salvation.
15. The top 25 magazines reach more adults and teens than the top 25 prime-time TV programs.
This is an arbitrary statistic. We live in a long-tail media universe where the top shows (and magazines) reach many fewer people than the top shows 10, 20, and 50 years ago. There's no logic to comparing the top 25 shows with the top 25 magazines, other than that it sounds catchy.
16. Circulation generates more than 40% of all magazine revenue.
Meaning ad revenue is in decline, right? Clearly advertising plus circulation revenue equals most of a magazine's income (aside from those with revenue streams from merchandise, events, list sales and the like). But how impressive is that stat if the overall size of the pie is getting smaller?
17. The number of consumer magazine websites grew 78% between 2005 and 2009.
... a period during which magazines, who had long resisted the web, finally started playing catchup. But why are most of the sites so terrible?
18. Magazines excel at long-form journalism, superb photography, eye-catching design.
Yes they do. Which is why there's still a need for them. But is there enough demand (and ad revenue) to pay for all of it?
19. Consumers buy more magazines when there’s big news. Michael Jackson-themed magazines in July drove an extra $55 million in sales
Too bad MJ can't die every day! Seriously -- who doubts that people buy magazines when there's big news? They also watch more TV news and visit more news websites. How does this help?
20. Magazines drive web search more than any other medium. More than double Internet advertising and social media.
The long and the short of it: it's commonplace now to observe that TV killed neither film nor radio, though both changed substantially in response to the new medium. Magazines whose content is better adapted to the web (perhaps because they cover breaking news, sports, gossip and business), and whose main commodity are words, are facing rough sailing. Those that thrive will be the ones that provide a unique experience -- tactile pleasures like the lush photography of a fashion magazine -- and content not tied to the immediate moment.