These are troubled times in the magazine industry. Reed Elsevier announced today that it is selling its mag publishing division, which includes Variety and Publishers Weekly, in order to reduce exposure to "cyclicality" in ad markets. And bad news for any editors looking for employment at Meredith: their president, Jack Griffin, says "We don't hire editors any more. We hire content strategists." Hope they teach that at Medill! But the real question is, is the magazine industry actually changing as quickly and perilously as business types seem to think?
In one sense, yes; the latest circulation figures showed almost no big gains among the top 25 magazines, and Time and Playboy even took double-digit dives. The biggest winners were AARP's in-house publications, which is not a good sign for the youthful vitality of the industry.
Magazines aren't in as bad a situation as newspapers are in terms of the "death of print," but they're on the trailing edge of the same phenomenon. One difference is the demographics of the readerships—an area in which magazine companies should have a theoretical advantage, because they are much more well-positioned to tailor their publications to suit them to desirable demographic groups than newspapers are. People also value magazines more for their production values, which gives them an advantage over plain old news, which can be easily replicated for free online.
Also, trade magazines and other super-specialty publications are the sector of the magazine market that should be the safest in these crazy times. They will be much slower to suffer declines, generally speaking, than the consumer market will be (just like small, community papers will be slower to see the internet eat their profits than national papers have been). So if you have hundreds of millions of dollars laying around, buying up Reed Elsevier's magazines might not be a bad investment.
Of course, if the overall economy declines, trade magazines can be a dangerous place—when their industry subscribers see their own revenue fall, high-priced trade mag subscriptions are one of the first nonessential expenses to get cut.
So, magazine industry: Fun place to work, semi-poised for a slow decline, and no longer looking for "editors." Possibly a good contrarian investment, but subject to be punished by broad market fluctuations.