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In an interesting article in Publishing Executive, Rex Hammock makes a distinction that I found myself lingering over — print isn’t dying, magazines aren’t dying, newspapers aren’t dying, but rather mass media is dying.

Citing statistics such as how magazine readership has increased 8% this century, Hammock notes that formats like magazines, newspapers, and the like aren’t themselves dying, but the business models supporting them are.

There are many salient points in his article which highlight the distinction he’s after. For example:

More magazines play a role in a non-publishing business model than in a publishing business model. Just think of all those alumni magazines, association magazines, corporate employee magazines. They exist to support a business model that has nothing to do with advertising and circulation revenue. The “magazine business” is not the same as “the magazine business model.”

Examples like that draw a sharp distinction between “print” and “the reasons to print.”

Now, you might argue that when we say “print is dying,” we’re just using shorthand for “the print business model is dying,” but I don’t think so. My observations are that people really have conflated print into the equation, as if the format itself is vanishing from the face of the Earth.

Yet what’s dying about the print model is most likely the mass media aspect that dominant print operations depended upon — the notion that one broadcast can satisfy the information needs of a common audience.

This has already affected television, with the propagation of cable and satellite channels and the diminution of the major networks and their news operations. They are no longer the social glue they once were.

STM publishers have always specialized in niche markets, so our print offerings are already niche. Perhaps this is why our print is enduring so well. Maybe the format isn’t what’s broken.

Yesterday, I extended a lesson from mass media into STM publishing. But perhaps borrowing lessons from mass media isn’t instructive for a publishing ecosystem that mastered “niche” years ago.

Were we just ahead of our time?

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


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