Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Is there still a place for Catholic print magazines?

Over at the National Catholic Register, Tim Drake points out that the Catholic publishing world continues to grow smaller:

Come 2012, Catholic readers will have fewer print publications to choose from. Economic changes that have rocked the publishing world in general continue to whittle away at the Catholic publishing universe, resulting in additional shrinkage and consolidation.

As of January 2012, Ignatius Press will no longer be publishing Catholic World Report or Homiletic & Pastoral Review in print. Similar to the changes made to Crisis magazine, both publications will continue to be available online only.

Today, publisher Bayard Inc. announced that it will cease publishing Faith and Family magazine, which it acquired from the Legionaries of Christ earlier this year. Faith and Family was acquired by Bayard not long after EWTN acquired the National Catholic Register from the Legionaries of Christ. Instead of continuing to publish Faith and Family, Bayard is re-booting Catholic Digest, with editor Danielle Bean, as more of a faith and family periodical.

In other Catholic publishing news, Sophia Institute Press acquired the Catholic website Catholic Exchange in November. In 2008, Sophia became the publishing arm of Merrimack, NH-based Thomas More College, and later became the publishing arm of Atlanta’s Holy Spirit College.

It should be noted, of course, that Catholic magazines aren't disappearing entirely. Catholic World Report and Homiletic and Pastoral Review, two excellent publications that are content driven, timely, and focused on important world and theological matters will continue in an online format, as Tim Drake points out.

Is there still a place in the world for Catholic print magazines? Magazine publishers, like newspaper publishers, are starting to ask themselves the hard questions. Many of us saw and smiled at this video of a baby who thinks that a magazine is simply a broken iPad whose buttons and links are irrevocably broken:

but did we stop to think about the larger issue?

When I'm looking at a magazine--yes, even a Catholic one like Faith and Family (or perhaps especially a Catholic one) I'm aware of, and annoyed by, the commercialism. Not only are there ads frequently dispersed throughout the magazine, but there are also so-called "articles" which are simply lists of products to buy, complete with helpful price and store information in case your home is sorely lacking in these items. It's bad enough to encounter this in a secular magazine (which I usually only see in a doctor's or dentist's office), but it's somehow even more jarring to see these things in Catholic publications--sometimes juxtaposed, with no conscious irony, opposite reflections about poverty of spirit or calls to simplify our lives in accordance with the Gospel.

And yet like anyone who has ever been paid to write anything, I know that advertising is the lifeblood of the publishing business. The fact that websites can offer their content for free comes from the reality that it is the advertisers, not, by and large, the subscribers who pay for content. The old paid-subscription/paid-issue model which used to work both for magazines and newspapers is dying; having introduced consumers to the idea of content that is free (bordered by advertising space that is valuable), the publishing world finds it increasingly hard to sell the notion that you ought to be paying for ad-riddled content.

There's the crux of the matter, too. When I click on a popular blog or webzine site, I know that there will be ads. I also know that the content comes to me for free because there are ads, and so instead of being annoyed by the ads (provided they're not the invasive sort) or frustrated by some sort of hidden "shop-shop-shop!" context, I'm mildly grateful that the advertisers are making it possible for me, and others, to read an assortment of interesting writers on a variety of topics. I sometimes even click a link or two.

All of this makes it harder and harder for magazines to compete--which means they have to sell more and more ad space, and dedicate more and more of their glossy real estate to the process of selling you things. This has been a difficult enough task for secular publications, but how long can a Catholic magazine endure when it preaches "Blessed are the poor in spirit!" on, say, page 24, and then features a lovely selection of beatitude-inscribed kitchen towels on page 25 (buy now! All of your truly Catholic friends have these! Only $39.99!)?

There may still be a place in the world for Catholic print magazines. All print publications are having to adjust their models, their expectations, and their revenue projections, and Catholic publications are no exception. Still, it's hard for me to imagine how Catholic magazines will endure when the children who think magazines are just broken iPads grow up and become adult consumers.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had a subscription to Faith & Family a while back and it was definitely not worth the subscription fee to me. It had a pleasant layout, but it had very few articles and way too many ads and too much fluff and filler. And I got bored with seeing the so much of the same sing-song writing all of the time. It took me about three minutes to skim, not worth the price.

But back to the topic, will Catholic magazines fade out? Definitely, for a multitude of reasons.

~ Ann Marie

Indygo Wolf said...

Magazines and newspapers alike are run by money from costumers and money from companies that have bought space for advertisements.

Sadly, most people raid the newspapers for the coupons and grocery store flyers now, leaving the rest behind. This is normally done covertly; they just steal the part they want without paying for the paper.

Because most people read everything online now, paper magazines are printing less articles and buying more ads to make up the lost funding. What they do not understand is that less content equals less money.

Personally, I believe books, newspapers, magazines and all other formally printed products should be taken off the web and put back onto print. If the world is forced to step away from technology to find out what is going on people might actually see that it is hurting us more than helping us.

Anonymous said...

Interesting thinks to ponder.

Writing (or responding) to a blog can help consider validity of ideas, points of view, and developing, defining (and sometimes when incorporating new information might actually change an opinion), especially when frequenting forums which are open and intellectually stimulating.

As a cradle-Catholic, who'd ceased worship until the pedophilic tide turned, I've had much to question when my 'gut' tells me things are 'right' or 'wrong' reading and corresponding at sites professing input from a Catholic crowd.

For example, I regularly follow Erin's blog to look at the way how things have been and are evolving in the last 20 years since JPI when I was involved in campus Neuman Center activities at my college. Since the late 70s I had not encountered columns in a city newspaper announcing petitions for intercession with St. Jude, or disgruntled catechism students and their parents, or discussions of 'cults' and stark church designs, etc. (However, it's been interesting that there doesn't seem too much change in church choir participants!!)

I regularly keep up with a couple of other blogs acknowledging Catholic influence and host upbringing (and, not just by the religious professed!) noting effects of their Catholic beliefs on their opinions and actions.

Notably, several seem to offend a sensibility of Catholic social justice concerns in favor of an antediluvian bill of fare. And, those are the ones I regularly have to 'give up' for Lent!! (It's not 'good' for the blood pressure) Others I read (and correspond) describe other important aspects of church-goers.

My children, were not allowed access to the 'new technology' until well after the time they acquired basic skills of reading, writing, forming logical opinions and written expression, math, listening, developing a sense of music and art and physically healthy activities, which put them in a precarious state of precociousness; geeks among their peers during primary and elementary school-age years who might be more familiar with what was on the latest daily storyline than on ability to think objectively.

As for Catholic print, the local Catholic paper is quite hefty in content and Catholic ads, and remains a source of 15 minute up-to-date information. In my mind, magazines are periodicals, that are made up of tidbits of articles meant to influence, inform, or stimulate intellectualism, like newspapers. I keep all my Scientific American and donate them to local schools, but even slick trade journals go in the recycling, as well as Catholic publications that are ads. I do keep a file of newspaper clippings, however!!

JMB said...

When we tightened our belts a few years ago, the first thing I got rid of was magazine subscriptions. I still read newspapers, but magazines were relatively easy to give up. I don't mind having a magazine binge while waiting in the doctor's office or traveling, but for the most part, I get most of my content online nowadays.