Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

A Miserable Three Months for the Magazine Business: Sales Down 20 Percent (At Least)

newstandIf you talked to any remotely candid publisher about magazine performance during the first three months of this year, the response would be a glower and an epithet. Here’s what that translates to in numbers: Ad revenue was down 20.2 percent, and ad pages were down 25.9 percent.

Those numbers come from the Publishers Information Bureau and they probably understate the case: The revenue numbers are based on publishers’ rate cards, which are usually a polite fiction to begin with. So when you look a the title-by-title numbers provided by the Magazine Publishers of America, assume that things are worse than they seem.

So that can’t be good for the two publications that logged the biggest drops I could see at first glance: U.S News and World Report, down 68.8 percent, and Condé Nast’s Portfolio, down 60.9 percent. But those titles have had struggles for quite a while. Not so stalwarts like People, which has been a reliable moneymaker for Time Warner’s (TWX) Time Inc. But that title saw a 13.7 percent drop, too.

What’s coming up? A few publishers have told me that their Q2 doesn’t look substantially worse, which qualifies as good news these days. What doesn’t: Some publishers also tell me that some of their Q2 ad pages reflect ad budgets that were committed many months ago, timed to product launches and other events that can’t be scrapped. So it’s hard to tell if we’re even level yet.

A better indicator: how many more publishers go back for another round of layoffs, as Forbes did last month.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work