Dwell Among Those Who Don't Dwell on Old Print Business Models

Last Updated Sep 29, 2009 9:41 AM EDT

With the magazine business in the toilet, it gets a little tiresome to read about the boring old ways that publishers are going about saving their businesses. Rather than focus on innovation, many seem mired in the same old, same old -- like the (duh!) cuts of at least 25 percent rumored to be happening at some Condé Nast publications. Something tells me that nothing terribly revelatory is going to come from putting an end to those expense account takeout lunches from Balthazar.

So, it was refreshing to read yesterday about how some independent magazines are joining forces, not by merging themselves under the same umbrella, but by joining into business partnerships that allow them to realize savings on things like back-end operations, ad sales and paper.

The story about this in Mediaweek focused mostly on the partnerships started by Dwell, the San Francisco-based shelter book, that handles some business affairs for a travel magazine called Afar, and now is taking on U.S. sales and marketing for a New Zealand-based shelter magazine company called Trends. It made perfect sense to me that Dwell would be at the forefront of what is now only a trend-let. Back in 2006, I wrote a sprawling story that ran in Mediaweek on Google's aspirations to get into ad sales for analog media, including a plan to bring an auction model to the magazine business (and later, the newspaper business). While the east coast media elite almost completely shunned the idea, Michela O'Connor Abrams -- the then and current publisher of Dwell -- embraced it, telling me she thought it would complement the ads directly sold by the magazine and bring in some new advertisers. It did.

Although Google's print ads gambit turned out not to be a workable idea, that's not the point. The point is that succeeding, or just surviving, in the current environment requires an open mind, and it seems as though the upstarts, not necessarily the established franchises, will lead the way. Dwell has seen a 45 percent drop in ad pages this year, per Mediaweek, but has branched out into other areas, like running a home furnishings show, publishing special issues that go for $10 on the newsstand and its own line of homes. Who knows if these ideas will work? But at least the magazine isn't sitting there, waiting for better times to come.