This is the eleventh article in a series about surviving as an independent magazine publisher. If you want to start at the beginning, check out the Introduction to The Ball Bearing and the Beach Ball.

The Ball Bearing and the Beach Ball

Wow, it’s been a while. When I first told the good folks at Publishing Central that I’d be writing a chapter a week for this book, I had no idea what it would entail. As I headed into the late spring/early summer, I realized that I was in too deep. So, I decided to take some time off and retrench. It’s been a nice hiatus. They say a week is a long time in politics. I wonder what five months equate to in magazine publishing?

I have been watching the Conde Nast implosion with great interest.  For a ball bearing publisher like myself, the news over the last little while has validated a lot of what I’ve surmised: small really is the new big. Consider the following “top ten closure list” from Mediafinder:
  Country Home - 1,200,000 circulation
  Domino - 1,100,000
  Nick (Nickelodeon) Magazine - 1,000,000
  Gourmet - 977,000
  Hallmark Magazine - 750,000
  Travel & Leisure Golf - 650,000
  Time Style & Design - 550,000
  (tie) Cookie - 500,000
  (tie) Best Life - 500,000
  Condé Nast Portfolio - 450,000

Media Finder points to several reasons for the folding of these extremely prominent magazines: declining subscriptions, falling ad revenue and the shift to digital delivery and preference.

The reality is that some of these publications had very loyal readers, extremely large circulation and advertisers who were happy to spend a huge amount of money to reach their audience. The kind of ad dollars invested into Gourmet blows my mind. A full page ad was $87,574…and that’s if you book for 12 times. This equates to over one million dollars! A back cover? Over $107,000 (assuming you book 12 times!) Want your ad to bleed off the page? That’s an additional 15%.

Just to give you an idea of incredibly huge these rates are, assuming you took a 1/6 of a page for a full year. The cost to do this would be $20,434 x 12 = $245,208. For a ball bearing publisher, this cost seems stratospheric. Many of my advertisers don’t even have a revenue of $245,000!

But take a step back however and do the cold analysis of cost per thousand and you’ll see that with a guaranteed rate base of 950,000 is actually CHEAPER to advertise than Concrete Wave. Don’t believe me, have a look:
With a circulation of 20,000 and a 1/8th page ad retailing for $645, the cost per thousand of Concrete Wave works out to $32.25. With Gourmet, you are paying $21.50! ($20,434 divide by 950,000 x 1000).  Concrete Wave is actually $11 per thousand MORE expensive.

The reality is that most of the magazines in the Conde Nast empire are actually an incredibly good bang for your advertising buck. They are beautifully designed, expertly written and are positioned towards companies with significant marketing budgets.

I sometimes like to think of high end magazines (with enormous circulations and hugely expensive ad rates) as being a little bit like luxury hotels. A Holiday Inn might be a quarter of the cost of the Hilton. You may pay extra for all the amenities at a luxury hotel, but the high prices also keep the “riff-raff” out. The fact is that if you are marketing an exclusive product or service, you want to surround yourself with like-minded goods and services. The high prices keep the riff-raff out.

What does this mean to a ball bearing publisher? Simple. There will always be advertisers interested in communicating their message through print. There will always be advertisers looking to spend money on a small but highly vocal audience. As ad budgets implode, the focus will be on reaching on customers that count. It’s not going to be about quantity of eyeballs, it’s going to be about quality of eyeballs. A ball bearing publisher is uniquely positioned to deliver this. Again, give me 10,000 people who are absolutely INSANE about skateboarding as opposed to 100,000 who don’t really care. I will get way more accomplished with the 10,000!

Sure, it’s scary to watch the beach balls implode, but don’t get caught up in the media hype. Many advertisers couldn’t afford the big magazines, even when times were great. Now that times are so upside down, look for niche magazines to look even better.

Michael Brooke is the publisher of Concrete Wave Magazine.