Magazines Hurting Just as Much as Newspapers

Last Updated Mar 27, 2009 9:17 PM EDT

While the tsunami sweeping through the newspaper world grabs most of the headlines these days, there is an equally dire crisis besetting the magazine industry.

According to eMarketer, a stunning 525 magazines folded in 2008; with another 87 already shut down during the first quarter of this year. Even though I've covered some of this wreckage, especially the troubles at the newsweeklies, I'll admit that these numbers shocked me.

U.S. magazine ad revenue dropped by one billion dollars last year, or 7.1 percent, and eMarketer is predicting it will fall by more than twice as much this year (16.2 percent) to $10.9 billion. Furthermore, the forecast for this negative trend to not bottom out until at least the year 2012, when the industry will have shrunk to $10.1 billion, or roughly 28 percent frtom their peak in 2007.

Just as with newspapers, magazines have been frightfully slow to develop their online businesses. According to Advertising Age, even one of the more aggressive magazine publishers, Time-Warner, only gets 10 percent of revenue from digital advertising. Conde Nast, which owns Wired, arrived so late to the party that it only collects 3 percent of its ad revenue online.
What all of this adds up to, of course, is many more print magazine closures to come. Some will attempt to migrate into an online-only model, but as with newspapers, this transition is easier to talk about than successfully implement.

The day may arrive where most titles end up as nostalgia items on eBay; and that day may be far closer at hand than any of us would have thought -- until now.

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital,, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.