Wednesday, May 16, 2012

For LA Times Magazine, the future is not digital, it is oblivion; iPad edition has been dead since October

The Tribune Company strikes again. Yesterday it was learned that the company will be shutting down LA Times Magazine, the once weekly, then monthly, now nothingly Sunday magazine. MediaBistro's FishbowlLA reported the news, which comes as no surprise to those who downloaded the LA Times Magazine iPad app – it hasn't been updated since the October 2011 issue.
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“I think it’s fair to say there were revenue issues,” Nancie Clare, the magazine's editor, told Matthew Fleischer. “It’s still a tough economic climate, especially for print. I don’t think they got rid of us because they don’t like us.”

The Sunday magazine has been mismanaged for quite some time, having its frequency cut, the content shifted from under the control of advertising and then back to a small editorial team.

In March of 2011, the Tribune Company launched an iPad app for the magazine (see original post). The app was a stand-alone app (Apple did not launch its Newsstand until the fall of that year) and so never could benefit from automatic downloads. But by the time Apple launched its Newsstand, the app stopped being updated. The reason may be that the app edition was not a straight conversion of the print edition, in other words, it was not a replica edition. Because of this there was production work to be done. In the end, I guess, management (or the editor) decided it was not worth the effort.

Now, though, there is no digital alternative to fall back on and so the magazine's staff of seven* will be laid off. The June issue, which one guesses has already been put to bed, will be the final issue seen in print.



I was tempted to pick up the phone and call Nancie Clare to ask her about the closure of the magazine, but I will admit that doing postmortems is a bit too depressing for me. In my career in the newspaper industry I have never been involved in the closing of my title – in fact, with the exception of my time at Hearst Newspapers, my experiences have always been that our paper was thriving. Even so, believe it or not, none of the newspapers I worked at are still in existence. None.

What killed each and every one of those newspapers was not the Internet, not the economy, but mismanagement – gross mismanagement. But today the biggest excuse given for closing products such as LA Times Magazine is advertising - the lack of advertising. (See quote above.)

In the case of the Sunday magazine at the LA Times, the responsibility, it appears, for generating revenue fell to a person in the national advertising department, and the hope that the retail staff would help out. One can see immediately that this will result in failure. There is no analysis necessary – if you have one person in charge of generating revenue for a product with a circulation of 400K you better hope that person has supernatural powers.
LA Times Magazine
media kit

In the journalism world there is a saying that any news product that doesn't have its own dedicated editorial staff will suck. Well, I worked all my newspaper career on the ad side, and I can tell you that any product that has no dedicated ad team will die.

The alternative to a dedicated ad team is someone who can wield a stick and force the ad team, in general, to sell the product. A team leader, an ad director, who can go on local calls, talk to local businesses, evangelize for the product. Maybe this magazine had that, but it doesn't look like it.

At the LA Herald Examiner, a Hearst Newspaper, we also once had a Sunday magazine, like many papers of the time. I thought at one time that working for the product would be a great move. But before that could happen the ad team was broken up and incorporated into the retail and national ad staffs. Not surprisingly, the magazine was soon shut down.

The media kit for LA Times Magazine says that advertisers should call their ad rep or the one person listed as representing the magazine. That means that, at least in theory, the local staff could sell into the magazine. They clearly didn't do that.

It is fashionable today for journalists that think they are oh-so modern by promoting paid content strategies and talking about the end of a reliance on advertising revenue. This thinking is producing results: journalists are losing their jobs.

* The LA Times site lists nine staffers at the magazine, not counting the ad person listed in the media kit. The FishbowlLA story mentions that the staff is seven.

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