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Finding Your Way Amid Huge Magazine Industry Change

Posted on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 at 12:33 PM

Five strategies that can help your publication adapt successfully.

By William Dunkerley

The magazine market is changing faster than many magazines are adapting.

That's the sad state of affairs that is challenging publications in all segments of our industry. For a long time producing issue after issue has been a replicative process. Yes, each issue is unique in its assortment of articles and ads, but the organization structures and work patterns have been relatively rigid.

In the past that may have been good management. But for many it has become a rut that works against success and survival.

A Different Choice

Felicity Thomas, editor of EPM, a British pharma magazine, editorialized: "Shaking things up: We witness changes to industry and the magazine." Her publication is facing the impact of Brexit on the UK pharma industry and is preparing internally for the challenge.

Throughout the publishing industry the changes are even more pervasive than Brexit. There's programmatic ad buying, the clamor for native advertising, and an ever-changing array of reading devices. Online is impacting retail and distribution channels. And according to Forbes magazine, since 1998 "human attention spans have dropped by over half, despite a five-fold increase in average daily information intake."

That's all a lot for any publisher to contend with, especially one still operating in a replicative frame of mind.

What to Do?

New approaches are needed to promote survival. Here are five strategies you can adopt now to reorient your operations for today's challenges:


Keep your hand on the pulse of the market. Constantly.

Advertisers are exploring new ways of advertising. Readers are exploring new ways of reading. It's really important to closely follow emerging trends. However, that does not necessarily mean just going with the flow.

Readers and advertisers are facing uncertainties just as publishers are. Their instincts and inclinations may not be the best for the long run. That's why you need to do careful analysis so you can apply the best wisdom on how to deal with market evolution.


Make business planning an ongoing process, not an annual event.

One publisher told me of her planning and budgeting practice. Starting each fall she and her staff begin the process. By year-end it's all committed to text and numbers, and in the ensuing year staff is rewarded to the extent that projections are met. There's no incentive to beat the projections. In fact, it's deincentivized because the expectation for the next year will just become more demanding.

That's no way to run a publication in today's fluid environment. Some argue that advance planning like that is needed to anticipate the need for human and capital resources. That consideration must be tempered, however, by the pressing need for agility in response to external changes. Planning needs to be never-ending.


Abandon rigid organizational structures and inflexible workflow patterns in favor of flexibility.

Well-established practices and structures offer comfort and consistency. That's helpful, though, only when you're dealing with a relatively static environment. Now is the time for approaches that are compliant with emergent demands rather than usual patterns. Let real-time experiences be a stronger guide than tradition. Allow teams to be formed and disbanded as circumstances warrant. Reward employees for adaptability.


Provide sensitive, active support to staff as they are thrust into unfamiliar routines.

Always be aware that the kind of changes discussed here will be perceived as a threat to many staffers. Those who feel proficient in doing things a certain way may become insecure about leaving their comfort zone. That can result in some untoward results. It can even lead some to try sabotaging new initiatives.

An important step in avoiding that kind of trouble is to take the time to build a shared vision of your goals and the efficacy of new approaches. Involve more people in decision-making. Try to build an organizational culture that embraces change and approaches new challenges with vigor.


Make optimization an ongoing activity.

One obvious limitation of employing new approaches is that they have not stood the test of time. That means you must be vigilant in monitoring results and tweak things to boost performance. Striving for significant improvement and increased efficiency is an essential part of an agile approach. Establish monitoring that is both quantifying and qualitative. Share that information widely so that the need to optimize can be appreciated throughout the organization.

I realize that these strategies may take some courage to implement. And change is always fraught with the possibility of failure. In today's publishing milieu, however, inaction is perhaps the greater threat.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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