2017 was a busy year for mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations, and new launches. These changes mean new opportunities for publishers, and 2018 likely holds many of the same challenges and windows for growth. Here’s a brief overview of developments that changed the publishing landscape last year — and what they might mean for publishers going forward.
The iconic publishing venue and voice of the baby boomer generation is changing hands. Wenner Media, long-time publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, has sold controlling interest in the famed entertainment magazine to Penske Media, Variety publisher. Although perhaps shocking, it’s not entirely surprising to industry insiders. Critics say the magazine has failed to keep up with the times and advertisers have been turning elsewhere. Controversies such as founder Jann Wenner’s flamboyant lifestyle and a botched article about a supposed gang rape at a well-known university have tarnished the magazine’s reputation and further degraded circulation as well as advertising numbers.
Both Wenner and his son Gus will remain involved in the magazine. Still, it feels like the end of an era to those who grew up thinking of it as “the Bible” of pop culture and entertainment. Penske Media executives founded the company in 2003 and believe their expertise in digital media and live events will help pull the struggling magazine out of this trajectory and on to a bright future.
Another stalwart of publishing is undergoing changes as well. After 63 years as a weekly publication, Sports Illustrated publishers announced in December the magazine would be going bi-weekly, much to the dismay of many long-time readers. Editor Chris Stone said the new model will be “heftier” with more in-depth long-form stories, more photos, and higher-quality paper. On the plus side for those who want their sports news as it happens, the SI.com digital news site saw a 50% traffic increase over last year.
In related news, SI’s parent company, Time Inc., sold to Meredith Corp. We’ll have to wait and see whether Meredith keeps the remodeled magazine or spins it off along with Time and Fortune. However, since Meredith executives focus more on lifestyle than hard news, SI might be a hint of what’s to come.
Hearst Communications Inc.’s diversified stable of 20 magazine titles in the U.S. and nearly 300 global editions and websites just got larger. The media giant announced it has acquired Rodale Inc.’s global health and wellness brands, which include 62 print editions and 57 websites worldwide. Titles now under the Hearst umbrella include Bicycling, Runner’s World, Women’s Health, Prevention, and their digital counterparts, among others. The consolidation points to big-name magazine publishers continuing to grow their brands to reach larger audiences both in print and online.
In a move that defies the trend of moving print to digital, Meredith announced it is creating a print Hungry Girl magazine to complement the brand’s digital offerings. Like its digital counterpart, which has nearly three million email subscribers and social media followers, the magazine focuses on light, healthy foods and recipes.
The launch continues the trend Meredith executives started in 2016 when the media company introduced Magnolia Journal in collaboration with the HGTV show “Fixer Upper” and another print title based on the plant-based diet brand “Forks Over Knives.”
These few examples of how the media landscape is changing represent continuing opportunities for both print and digital publishers. To thrive in these somewhat uncertain times, publishers need to increase distribution and maximize ad revenue while reducing expenses, and the Rolling Stone and SI examples show events and online content may be strong drivers this year. However, such growth can be tricky for publishers who try to scale up without having engaged audience groups to sustain their offerings.
Alongside these growing media companies, advancing technologies and new business models are making it increasingly easy for publishers to keep up if they know where to invest. And, as in the past, don’t look for the dust to settle down any time soon.
Contact your Sheridan representative or visit our contact page to ask how we can help you streamline your publishing processes, reduce costs, and keep up with changes in print and publishing strategies.