Budget cuts push outlets to online efforts

Publishing executives are blaming both the financial crisis and a poor 2009 advertising forecast for job and content cuts.

A 10% cut in the workforce at Rodale, publisher of Men's Health, Prevention, and Runner's World. A reported 600 job cuts at Time Inc., owner of Time, Sports Illustrated, and Fortune. Reductions in the frequency of Condé Nast titles Portfolio and Men's Vogue, as well as a 5% budget cut across the parent company's magazines.

Publishing executives are blaming both the financial crisis and a poor 2009 advertising forecast for job and content cuts. For example, Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore noted in a memo obtained by Reuters that “industry conditions have been challenging due to the financial crisis, which has produced sharp decreases in advertising spending... This is expected to continue through most of 2009.” Meanwhile, Steven Pleshette Murphy, Rodale president and CEO, said in a statement that “the current pace of market change compels us to reallocate our resources swiftly and mange our costs down.”

However, these budget cuts will have a long-lasting effect on how these consumer publications deliver content to consumers, as the reductions hasten the process of media brands moving resources to their Internet operations, says Lloyd Trufelman, president and CEO of Trylon SMR.

“I'm not aware of a single major magazine, especially a trade magazine, that hasn't realized that its future is on the Web, and [publishers] are grappling with how to make that transition,” he says, adding that while many consumers were alarmed when Hearst decided to fold CosmoGIRL in October and continue in a Web-only presence, the publisher was acting in a forward-looking manner. “[The reaction] should have been the other way around, because [the Internet is] where the kids are and [Hearst] made a very smart magazine decision.”

Magazines, like other print media, are “under pressure to maintain the sort of margins that they had in the past,” adds Doug Underwood, communications professor at the University of Washington. “It makes for a very tight squeeze on these companies, and really it is happening across all platforms – and magazines are no different.”

Aside from reallocating resources to the Web, publications can increase the demand for their products by making them more indispensable to readers, whether through nontraditional methods such as learning aides or guides, or through improving their print content so that it stands as a must read. Congressional Quarterly has remained viable, Underwood adds, because it offers readers specialized content that is useful in the professional lives of those who work with the federal government.

“I think that you can see some magazines, like Congressional Quarterly, have made the transition successfully from print to online, and one thing they've done is to create a content base that is of such value to an audience that they are willing to pay for it,” he says. “With Congressional Quarterly, you are getting the personalized voting data, and specialized groups – organizations, businesses, special interest groups, and members of Congress – have a high degree of interest [in it] and they are willing to pay.”

Other media brands that have extended themselves into non-traditional outlets – which US News & World Report has done with its “bests” issues, covering higher education and medicine – generate additional funding, which in turn, can pay for editorial costs, Underwood points out.

“If it were me, I'd be thinking about what I can do. US News & World Report has made a lot of money with the college ranking system,” he says. “Folks have to be thinking in those terms, or perhaps what The Washington Post has done [in owning Kaplan Inc.] and get connected to semi-related activities that are going to generate more revenues to drive other editorial obligations.”

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