Smart Money Releases its Final Print Issue
A few months ago, Smart Money, the personal finance magazine from the Wall Street Journal’s parent company, announced that they were ceasing print production and moving to a digital-only format. This month saw their last print issue.
I was a Smart Money subscriber a number of years ago, but the content became very watered down (particularly vs. Kiplinger), so I completely lost interest and unsubscribed.
I’ve remained a Kiplinger subscriber since around 2004 because they still produce really good personal finance and investment content. At $1 per issue, it’s well worth the investment, even though I could click 100 times and get it all online for free.
Beyond that, I’ve had a special connection with Kiplinger – they have previously rated 20somethingfinance.com as one of the 10 best personal finance blogs and the best personal finance blog for twenty-somethings. I’ve also written online guest columns for them.
I’m concerned about the future of the personal finance print magazine, and so are they.
The Print Business Model
In today’s print industry, there is a vicious repeated pattern of decline that looks something like this:
declining ad revenues -> declining content quality -> declining subscribership -> more declining ad revenues -> repeat -> death
Kiplinger is still around because they’ve put a roadblock on #2 by maintaining quality content. They’ve also built out a nice website, in Kiplinger.com.
But like any print industry executive today, Kiplinger’s Editor in Chief, Knight Kiplinger, is concerned,
“But advertisers—whose support is vital to all media—don’t seem to acknowledge the print audience of which you are part. They are abandoning magazines at a steady pace, apparently believing that they can reach you more effectively on Web sites, including ours. I think they are missing something. There’s a special bond between quality magazines and their readers. What do you think?”
It’s true – advertisers are abandoning print for digital. Can you blame them? A full page ad in a print magazine can cost from $40 – $80 cpm (cost per 1,000 impressions). Meanwhile, a banner ad on the web can cost $3 – 4 cpm (20X cheaper). Print has stubbornly stuck to their high prices. Is a print ad worth 20X the price of a digital ad? It’s hard to make that case when digital offers more transparency metrics like actual impressions, clicks, and actions taken after the click, while the direct impact of a (very expensive) print ad can be extremely difficult to measure. Blind faith is costly at $80 cpm, even if it comes in a sexy full page format.
The print industry’s profits have never been about subscription revenues – they rarely cover the cost of production and shipping. So when their other revenue source flees, print has a big problem. It starts that vicious cycle. About 18 months ago, I championed why I still unwaveringly subscribed to my local newspaper. Just a few months later, after quality content declined and they raised their subscription price for the third time in a year, I unsubscribed. The only advertiser dollars they had left at that point was from local auto dealers.
Like many who grew up with print, I still like holding a print publication in my hands. I get excited about pulling that magazine out of my mailbox every month. And I’d love to see Kiplinger continue its print publication.
So, Mr. Kiplinger, I do not hold an exact answer on how you can make that happen, but I would imagine it would need to include the following:
- first and foremost, maintain your journalistic quality
- embrace and invest fully in your online medium – the digital trend is not reversing, and readers can tell when online is an after-thought
- Make your print ad offering more competitive with digital
- encourage your digital and print staff to encourage and embrace the conversation online and enhance their digital footprint
- so long as ad revenue exceed costs, maintain print to help feed your online viewership and ad revenues
I, for one, hope you succeed. Who else do us personal finance bloggers have to look up to?
Print Magazine Discussion:
- Were you a Smart Money Subscriber? Are you sad to see it go?
- Do you subscribe to Kiplinger and Money? Why or why not?
- What’s your feedback for Kiplinger, moving forward?