The Future of the Magazine Industry

“Print is dead,” goes the maxim. Traditional media organizations are increasingly unable to keep up with leaner, trendier, online-only platforms that multiply in number each day. Although some may express pushback against this idea, pointing out the Washington Post and New York Times’ soaring number of subscriptions (CNN), the magazine industry acts as a prime example of the troubles faced by traditional print publications as they navigate an increasingly digital world.

PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts that magazine revenues will decline at a compound annual rate of -0.5%, from $68.43 billion in 2015 to $66.62 billion in 2020. In addition, magazine circulation revenue is predicted to fall more dramatically than that of newspapers as consumers prefer free digital content. Unfortunately for the industry, the move towards digital will not be enough to solve magazines’ financial challenges. According to PwC, digital revenue will still only comprise 30% of total revenue in 2020, compared to 16% in 2015, as readers eschew spending money on digital magazines, and advertisers pay less for digital ad space than print ad space. As anyone who has ever flipped through a magazine has noticed, over half of it is comprised of ads. Advertisement revenue remains the lifeblood of magazines, and cutting it short does no good to the magazine’s long-term outlook.

Decreasing revenues will force magazines to cut costs wherever possible. The era of glamor in the magazine world, filled with limitless charge accounts, celebrity editors, fabulous parties, and plenty of spare cash, best epitomized in everyone’s favorite chick flick, The Devil Wears Prada, may be coming to an end. Certainly, the role of the venerable and affluent editor-in-chief, standing as the very symbol of the magazine, is waning. The New York Times writes, “At a time of belt-tightening, celebrity editors, with their big salaries and expensive tastes, are increasingly passé. Budget-minded executives at publishers like Hearst and Condé Nast are looking more critically at requests for six-figure photo shoots and $5-a-word writers.” In September, Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter, who, through his twenty-five-year role at the helm of the glossy, had made it not only a glamorous style Bible famous for its post-Oscars party, but also established a strong anti-Trump political voice, announced he was stepping down. The Daily Beast reports that Carter’s exit is in part due to his strong disdain for the cost-saving and staff-cutting measures that parent company Condé Nast threatened to impose. In the span of only two weeks, the head editors of Time, Elle, and Glamour also announced that they were stepping down, and in fitting fashion, Condé Nast expressed discontent with Carter’s request for a lavish going-away party to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. His request was ultimately scaled down to an intimate dinner.

Whatever void magazines will occupy in the future media landscape, it is clear that it will be buoyed by an increasingly online presence. Already, this scenario was foreshadowed by another Condé Nast watershed moment: the November announcement that celebrated publication Teen Vogue will cease print operations and move to online-only. In 2014, University of Toronto researchers found that magazine publishers who emphasize their digital offerings were twice as likely to be profitable ( However, what is lost in the switch to digital-only? “There are very few cases of magazines going digital-only and managing to retain the lustre on their brand. Once you let paper go you're just another website. You're just more space junk floating around out there,” cautions publishing industry analyst David Hepworth.

Expert strategists suggest that more consolidation, content syndication, events or sponsored content, and partnerships will be important for magazines seeking to carve out a niche in an increasingly crowded media landscape (AGI Training). Whether entirely digital or not, magazines will have to move beyond the page in the attempt to remain relevant.