I was asking a friend who sells advertising about her business.
“It’s hard to swim, or even to see, with this much blood in the water,” she said.
True enough. Magazine advertising was off in 2007 and 2008. Those were historically bad years. Magazine advertising got off to an even slower start in 2009. Quarter one numbers from the Publishers Information Bureau show magazine pages off 26 percent year to year from 08 to 09.

At the same time, publishers and organizations that publish media, like associations, are creating lots of new online assets that can carry advertising. The development of digital assets is part of any serious attempt to remain relevant to an audience.
But online advertising is down, too. The main report for publishers will come out in mid-June from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, conducted by PriceWaterhouse Coopers. Estimates are that revenues will have fallen off as much as 35 to 50 percent from 2008. Reports are that web advertising inventories have grown by as much as 10x or 20x in the last year alone, forcing prices down.
Where does that leave us?
Here are three lessons offered to me by Jim Elliott, founder and CEO of the James G. Elliott Company, one of the nation’s leading independent representative firms.
1. The dollars aren’t there, yet. When going from a print product to a digital product, ad revenues will not transfer over. At this point you are lucky to get nickels and dimes for digital media compared to the dollars you will gain in print. For associations, where often the magazine is the number one benefit of membership, cutting out print is dangerous.
2. It’s not an either/or proposition. You absolutely need both print and digital, and social media as well, to create compelling packages for your readers and members, as well as marketers. The media industry is clearly moving toward packaging of assets and selling them together for a price. Even a year ago, agencies weren’t even equipped to evaluate a package of print, digital and more. That’s changing.
3. Be market driven. A lot of people with little or no experience in media are developing theories about what is happening out there. Some of those common theories include: Print is dead. My audience wants digital media. All the money is going to online. For most organizations that publish, the internal research shows an interest in print and digital. Some show an overwhelming preference for print. To continue to develop revenue, don’t develop theories that can’t be backed up by fact, and by dollars.
Oh, yeah, one other lesson. The blood will clear up in the water, eventually. We publish magazines on behalf of clients with revenues up for this year over last year, some dramatically so. If you’d like to talk about the revenue side of your member communications, e-mail me at [email protected] and we can discuss.