palladini-imageThe August issue of TransWorld Business features an insightful article written by Vans VP Of Marketing/ SIMA President Doug Palladini titled “Reports Of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated.” In the article Palladini, who is a former magazine publisher himself, explores the question of whether or not “print is dead.” He concludes that print is still alive—in some cases even well—but that the survival of niche publications hinges on four all-important factors. He calls it a four-step recovery plan.

The article has spurred an onslaught of inquires, comments, and debate from all corners of TransWorld Business‘ readership. Below are a few talking points from Palladini’s piece that seem to be drumming up the most conversation. If you’re not already a TransWorld Business Subscriber, then you can read a digital copy of the entire article right now along with the rest of the August issue. Or, make sure must-read articles like this are delivered to you each month with a TransWorld Business VIP Membership.

Reports Of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated: Why Action Sports Magazines Still Matter And What They Must Do To Survive

picture-168By Doug Palladini

I love magazines. I guess I always have. Back then it was running to the mailbox to see if my new issue of Action Now had arrived. Now, it's dropping 20s at every airport newsstand I see. It's that heavy cover stock gloss of The Skateboard Mag. The eight-color drops throughout Wired. It's the hours of knowledge and entertainment for $3.99. It's ripping out photos of Joe Strummer to tape on my office door. I can't do that on a Web site.

Yet techno-nerding has steadily encroached on my magazine time of late. It's the heart-palpating response to Apple's iPhone 3G's drop that forced me into a line at the mall along with the other junkies on release day. It's laughing along with my digital new friend Shaq's Tweets as he struggles to lose weight for his upcoming debut with the Cavs. And oh, the apps, hundreds and hundreds of apps. As a result, I've seen my quality magazine reading time drop consistently, replaced by the cheap info-porn always at my fingertips.

I'm apparently not the only one ruminating over this modern media conundrum. A man much smarter than I named Michael Hirschorn wrote a piece in the July/August 2009 issue of The Atlantic Monthly that perfectly synthesized how I was feeling about the plight of magazines and their mortal battle against technology. Entitled "The Newsweekly's Last Stand," Hirschorn sows a sordid tale of real-world publishing debauchery that leaves previously untouchable giants such as Newsweek and Time teetering on the brink of insolvency and, much worse, irrelevancy. Hirschorn cites as the antidote The Economist's business model, in which "quality wins out," not breaking news so much as distilling it, analyzing it, with revenues and circulation on the rise against the tide as a result.

By now you might be wondering why I, you, or anyone else should care. Selfishly, I invested almost twelve years of my young life into action-sports publishing and remain emotionally connected to the business. But take me out of it. Magazines have been at the cultural epicenter of action sports since before there was such a thing [ … ] While some may argue that the vultures are already circling, I would venture to suggest that the intrinsic, core value of action-sports magazines remains intact. All of us jaded industry types may no longer remember the pure stoke of the new TransWorld SKATEboarding or Snowboarder dropped on the kitchen counter, but it's still there. Anyone who thinks a cover shot is any less important to an athlete or brand than it was ten years ago just needs to ask. It's not. And to their credit, magazines have not gone Luddite on us. Most have invested in their Web presence and their understanding of emerging technology with dedicated staffing and other resources generating high-quality content.

Action-sports magazines can and should be a vital part of any brand marketing plan, required reading for any enthusiast, and living organs pumping blood into the future of each sport's cultural being. But the days of brands placing ads and waiting for the phone to ring are long gone. Blowing twenty subscription cards into every copy as your circulation growth plan is old. For 2010 and beyond, magazines need therapy. They need to lay themselves out on the counselor's couch and get in touch with their inner reasons for being.

They need a Four-Step Recovery Program …

1. Focus on quality:

Attention all action-sports publishing parent corporations: SAVING MONEY ON YOUR TITLES BY REDUCING PAPER STOCK WEIGHT IS SUICIDAL! […] If there is one benefit magazines have against tech's rising tide, it's the tactile, visual power of printed paper. If we're going to keep killing trees to print these things, I'd suggest we make every piece of paper count.

2. Focus on exclusive content and authoritative themes:

[…] Magazines need to reacquaint themselves with the bully pulpits they occupy and put the power of the pen to better use. Stick your neck out and take a few chances here and there. And, for God's sake, don't let another issue go out the door with a theme that exists only because it's what you did last year. It's what readers and advertisers find memorable that will fire subscriptions and media dollars.

3. Focus on subscribers:

Media retail is consolidating just as much as every other industry. Last year, 43 percent of the books sold in the U.S. went through, for example. […]  Specialty newsstands are getting smaller or going away. The cash cow that used to be the newsstand is gone. And I say good riddance. […] Let those willing to invest in a year's worth of issues know you care. […] Open a meaningful dialog with your subscribers. Ask them what they think once in a while.

4. Focus on complete brand partnerships, not ad sales:

In these crazy times, action-sports brands need marketing partners, not places to advertise. Places to advertise are a pox on marketing, a never-ending series of pitches none of us really listen to. But marketing partners are different. They actually know what we do for a living and how our company makes money. Marketing partners are …

To read this in its entirety, pick up the digital version of the August Issue of TransWorld Business, or sign up for  a TransWorld Business VIP Membership.