A defensive tone crept into many of the acceptance speeches at last night’s American Society of Magazine Editors magazine awards at the *Time Warner* Center’s Rose Hall. Aside from expressing gratitude and pride in their accomplishments, editors seemed to feel a need to mention the “dignity of print” and that even in the digital age “print has value.”
There are plenty of reasons to feel under seige. As the economy has worsened, dozens of titles have shuttered in the past year. More recently, magazines’ ad pages sank 26 percent in Q1, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.
I approached several editors and asked their thoughts on the industry’s fears about the “the death of print.” Esquire editor David Granger, whose magazine picked up three “Ellie” awards, pointedly responded, “Who’s saying the magazine industry is dying? Is there an industry anywhere that’s having a really good time right now?”
More after the jump, including comments on the state of the industry from The New Yorker’s David Remnick, The Nation’s Katrina Vanden Heuvel and Rolling Stone’s Jan Wenner.
So do the mag closings and the dismal PIB figures simply reflect the general economic downturn as opposed to something more fundamental throughout the media business? Granger: “If you look at the history of magazines in recessions, we respond negatively to bad times. But then we also come out of it at a much quicker rate than most other media and most other industries. If that holds true, then we’ll be fine… I don’t think you should compare magazines and newspapers. They’re two different entities, especially when you consider monthly magazines. As for the difficulties facing broadcast and online as well as magazines, we won’t know if there is a fundamental change in the dynamics of the industry until more time has passed. As for my personal outlook, times are very hard. But I remain very optimistic.”
Here’s what some other magazine execs had to say about the future of print during our conversations at the post-awards reception:
— David Remnick, The New Yorker (winner of three Ellie’s): “Magazines that have commitment, moxie and ambition are going to find their way commercially because they have such strong attachments to the audience. Is it going to look the same way in two-, five- or 10 years? No. There will be all kinds of different ways to read a magazine. And it will mean a bigger audience.” Would consumers will be willing to pay a lot more for content, as the ad-support becomes more uncertain? “To tell you the truth, I’m an editor, not a business-seer. I have great colleagues that discuss that issue. Of course I’m involved in those conversations. But my job is to put out a great magazine, whether it’s on paper, online on Kindle.”
— Katrina Vanden Heuvel, TheNation: “TheNation doesn’t belong to a conglomerate… and that helps.” TheNation is owned by a non-profit entity. Some newspapers have begun exploring that model. Do you think it has wider viability? “I think there a number of different models that can work. TheNation itself is a for-profit company, having lost money for 144 years. [Laughs] But what is unique about TheNation is that we have a community who think of us not just as a magazine, but as a cause. And not every magazine can inspire their readers in that way… We’re all grappling with the internet. And we’re all about producing journalism on all platforms. And I think most people here agree with that. What you saw tonight was mixture of the confusion and the fortitude of magazine editors and the print culture at large. I think the ‘death of media’ notion has been vastly overstated. There will be print, there will be the internet, there will be apps. And we will find ways to continue to do quality journalism, investigative reporting. Because people have shown they want to support it.”
— Jann Wenner, Wenner Media/Rolling Stone: “Newspapers are having and will continue to have a more difficult time than magazines. I think it’s reasonable that people will be willing to pay more for magazine content, because in terms of journalism, it’s more original and more unique.”