A long time ago, when print still ruled the roost and online advertising brought in a pretty small proportion of a publisher’s revenue, Napier started looking at the page counts of magazines. With the current economic downturn and the move to online I thought it would be worth sharing some of the findings of this ongoing research.
We didn’t have time to track the total page count of every magazine, so created our own magazine page stock market – the Napier Page Index (NPI). This index includes 18 electronics magazines published across Europe, and we simply track the page count per issue of those magazines, with the page count of January 2001 providing an index base of 100. This was set when times were still pretty good: the last recession didn’t really hit page counts until January 2002. If a magazine closes, we replace it with the nearest equivalent.
Given the general feeling of gloom perhaps surprisingly the page count index is still at 53 – only 47% down on 2001 and only 22% down on March 2004. Of course there have been some closures and some titles have cut frequency, but I think this is a surprisingly good result. Having said that half the pages means [roughly] half the print revenue: with the increase in printing and postage costs, this is a very significant fall in income.
Perhaps surprisingly design books have performed the worst, now delivering less than half the number of pages they were eight years ago. News-orientated titles don’t do much better, and some of these have cut frequency significantly. The most surprising result was that product books are delivering more pages per issue than 2001: I can only think that this is influenced by a smaller sample size and the fact that they face little competition from other product books.
Not surprisingly the pan-European titles have suffered the least damage, presumably as smaller budgets drive advertisers to pull out of local-language titles. Germany has seen the biggest fall in page counts, dropping a scary 61%, and no longer has the highest average page count – an accolade that now goes to Italy. This has to be due to the overcrowded market: there are more titles in Germany than any other country.
Overall, however, I was surprised that the page counts of magazines hasn’t collapsed further – most people seem to believe that page counts are one third or one quarter of what they were in 2001. Despite the advent of the Internet, page counts are only 25 to 30% down on 2002 – the last downturn in the electronics market.
Clearly in the long term magazines must do something different to survive. We’ve seen EE Times use digital distribution for a significant proportion of the circulation and other magazines – such as Electronics appear to be doing the same. If digital versions can woo back advertisers who made cuts in the recession then magazines have a future, although I’m sure that this will require more accountability, tracking and measurable ROI: all things that digital magazines have the potential to provide.
For more information on the research, send me an email.