Last week, my 12-year old tore himself away from his Xbox in order to experience the delights of our London PR agency office life for a couple of hours. While he was with us he sorted out the magazine racks that form a wall along the edge of our meeting table. We have 6 such racks, each with 20 slots.
Four years ago these were overflowing with trade magazines. When this morning’s filing operation was over and all copies more than three months old were thrown out, three of the six racks were completely empty. This is in spite of the fact that we have widened the range of industry sectors the agency covers and increased the number of clients. It was a strong visual reminder of the fact that we have lost at least half of the print trade publications that we used to have. Gone are New Media Age, Revolution, Data Strategy, Microscope and Computer Weekly. Some live on online but others have disappeared completely. A few continue the struggle to remain in print but are increasingly hard to distinguish from marketing pamphlets.
On the other hand, some of the survivors are in rude health. Glossy and beautiful, Wired does not seem worried. The Economist continues its journey to world domination and The Grocer is still sending out a cheerfully chubby issue each week, though I have no idea of its profitability.
Will see the same changes reflected online? Of course the financial barriers to publishing online remain minimal for individuals, but it will be fascinating to see how the continued search for revenue streams pans out for publishing houses. As more publications put up pay walls, will free sites have to do more work qualifying their readers in order to keep advertisers happy?
Whatever happens, let’s hope that the quality of writing plays a large part. Too many good journalists are finding it hard to receive reasonable payment for their work, given the number of writers prepared to produce poor quality copy for next to nothing. If SEO text spammers go out of business, it won’t be a great loss.
In the meantime, we need to decide what to do about our empty shelves; it seems a shame to waste them. Perhaps we should move into publishing.
Xanthe is a co-founder and director of Fourth Day PR