Print is Dead? Not For This Growing Publication Niche

Submitted by: Joan MacKenzie 11/29/2011

Insights, analysis, practical advice, and smart-aleck comments related to the production and distribution of publications, such as magazines and catalogs, in the United States.

Here’s a factoid that defies the conventional wisdom about printed magazines being passé and the U.S. newsstand system having one foot in the grave: Sales of bookazines are up nearly 20% this year, according to industry consortium MagNet. 

“These results seem to contradict what the industry press has long decided, that digital is killing print,” MagNet, which reports on retail sales of magazines, wrote recently in its client newsletter. "Even in these tough economic times, consumers are willing to purchase high quality publications that provide subject matter that appeals to them, even at higher cover prices.”

Pique Their Interest, Take Their Money
The lesson: “If you produce high quality titles that peek [sic] consumers' interest, even with higher cover prices, you can make money selling them almost exclusively from the newsstand, even with limited advertising revenues.”

MagNet defines a “book-a-zine” as “an issue that was not part of a title's normal frequency schedule and has a cover price between $9.95 - $19.99.” It calculates 2010 sales at just over $400 million, with some individual books bringing in well over $1 million. First-half 2011 sales were $236 million, according to MagNet, putting the niche on track to reach $500 million for the full year

Dead Tree Edition’s definition of bookazines (AKA mooks, SIPs, one-shots, specials; See Invasion of the Bookazines, Featuring the Return of the Living Dead) is broader, encompassing any non-periodical that retailers display in their magazine sections for a limited period of time. That includes products sold for less than $9.95 and those published by non-periodical brands like PillsburyLife, and The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

The number of bookazine titles is increasing, apparently because the products are profitable for publishers, wholesalers, and retailers, according to MagNet. After all, the price points are much higher than for typical monthly or weekly issues, the products have a longer shelf life, and no blow-in card falls out of them saying, “You idiot. For what you just spent for this magazine, we would have gladly sold you a six-month subscription. (Allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.)”

More Share of Shelf?
MagNet doesn’t comment on whether mooks are gaining “share of shelf” on the newsstand, but with their growth and profitability it seems likely that the “invasion of the bookazines” is contributing to declining sales for regular magazine issues.

There’s also no commentary on what kind of content is selling well. Dead Tree Edition's unscientific analysis finds that many mooks play to at least one of print’s strengths – such as beautiful photography, collectability, recipes (ever spilled Alfredo sauce on an iPad?), or content that lends itself to being highlighted or Post-It Noted.

MagNet thinks publishers have not tapped the advertising potential of bookazines. The challenge, industry insiders tell me, is that bookazine sales are notoriously difficult to predict; print advertisers are used to a guaranteed ratebase. Perhaps the problem could be solved by selling bookazine ads like web ads – on a CPM basis, where the exact number of impressions (books sold) doesn’t have to be known or guaranteed up front.

Or maybe they could be sold like ads in apps: “This is cool. This is cutting edge. You gotta advertise in this. Audience metrics? Fuhgeddaboudit."