Flipping through the May issue of a trade pub for the content industry, I landed on the “executive changes” page. My reaction, after glancing at the first few was “that’s ancient news”. These were based upon press releases that went out two months earlier.
It made me give some thought to the role of magazines in today’s media framework. I understand the editorial and production cycles of a monthly magazine, but I think that it’s important that publishers adapt their editorial content to what is relevant for a monthly cycle. If you’re publishing monthly (or even weekly), your mission should be analysis and context, not news delivery.
With direct-to-consumer press releases, readers don’t depend upon monthly trade rags for news; instead, they want perspective and insights.
Many suggest that magazines are dying as a medium. I disagree. Magazines still have appeal, but the context in which they are read has changed. Their format makes them easy to slip into your briefcase for a train or plane ride. For certain consumer magazines, the ability to archive a collection has appeal. Magazines like the Economist or the New Yorker leverage their form to provide in-depth articles on a specific topic. (When’s the last time you read a 20-page article online?)
But many of today’s trade publications run the risk of becoming irrelevant, as a new generation of users turns to other sources for the information traditionally within the trade publication domain. In order to remain significant, trade pubs need to put the needs of their users first.
Those willing to rethink their role will realize that they have many strengths which they can leverage. The greatest strength is their community of readers and advertisers. For most magazines, their online presence is simply an extension of the offline edition, perhaps updated with greater frequency. Rather than simply duplicating the content of the print version, magazines should begin to take advantage of the many web 2.0 tools out there to develop their community, for example using wikis and blogs focused on special topics. New applications such as interactive podcaster Waxxi could be used for participatory events.
Returning to the “executive changes” section, magazines could take advantage of their breadth of coverage to show trends in the changes (who’s hiring and who’s losing talent) providing rankings or tables, rather than simply reprinting old press releases and labeling it news.
Trade publications have the brand, reach and subscriber base today to enable them to create strong communities which would, in turn, allow those brands to thrive for years to come. Those strong brands would continue to command top dollar from advertisers looking to reach that community. Those who insist on keeping to the editorial calendars of the past will find their impact and their brands diminishing.