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!)?