There was a time when, to assuage my need for information on things like sailing, finance, college football, etc., I subscribed to a couple dozen magazines. Now, with my days having become progressively more hectic and the Internet always at the ready, I'm down to just one magazine subscription.
That reduction is more severe than the comparable decline in the number of newspapers that my family and I read -- now one, versus two not long ago -- and it's apparently more severe than the experience of others. But it does appear that the almost perceptible shifting of eyeballs to the Internet is hurting magazines, much as it has newspapers and broadcast news.
As a result, while the ad lineage declines at most newspaper publishers, including New York Times
At the same time, the Time4Media magazines that Time Warner is attempting to sell en masse, also have experienced a 5% decline in ad pages this year, with two of its books, Ski and Skiing, sliding downhill at rates of 9.7% and 11%, respectively. Also, Conde Nast's Vanity Fair finished 2006 down 6.7% in advertising pages. The areas that appear to have held up most strongly involve luxury titles that depend upon watch or jewelry ads.
There is some early -- but as yet mostly anecdotal -- evidence that 2007 could bring with it an advertising improvement for a number of magazines. For a growing list of publications, the boost may result in part from an enhanced balance of traditional publishing and a movement online. This approach clearly benefits those publications with immediacy considerations. For those for which a verisimilitude of design and feel is important, technology available from Austin, Texas-based NewStand Inc., among others, permits a digital delivery in a format that preserves the precise appearance of the hard copy.
And if you'll permit me to lead you for a moment into the world of golf, an area I'm always pleased to frequent, we can see how Time Warner's Time Inc. magazine publishing segment has managed to strengthen its golf coverage through a blend of traditional magazines and online coverage. Indeed, the company's 2006 purchase of Golf.com has extended its cross-media combination of product offerings for golf enthusiasts. That combination now includes Golf Magazine, GolfOnline, Sports Illustrated, and SI.com's Golf Plus.
In the final analysis, however, the blanket contention that the Internet represents the biggest culprit in the magazine readership and advertising falloff -- while accurate as far as it goes -- might be somewhat simplistic. It seems that there also are economic and lifestyle reasons for the declines. Indeed, for many potential subscribers, magazines' subscription rates have become more cost prohibitive and must be measured by consumers against other competing financial outlays. At the same time, it seems that many potential readers find that in our fast-paced world, there simply isn't the time to do justice to more than a couple of subscriptions.
I would therefore urge Fools to avoid those publishing companies whose world is likely to be interrupted, rather than benefited, by the Internet shift.
Fool contributor David Lee Smith does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments.