A quick publishing industry analysis using Porter’s five forces

October 11, 2011  |   Marketing   |     |   0 Comment

Spyglass Intelligence LLC has published A Competitive Assessment of the Top 12 Largest US Consumer Magazine Publishers, which you can purchase on Amazon.com.


Michael Porter’s Five Forces is a framework for analyzing the potential profitability of an industry. Over the last ten years, the magazine publishing business has ridden a roller coaster of profits and losses due to the push of information online, financial calamity and the advent of the iPad. But overall, will profits eventually be squeezed by better technology, intense competition or new entrants?

The threat of the entry of new competitors
How hard is it to set up a new magazine? In a great article about magazine startup tactics, Dan Wiesner talks about what he does to launch a new magazine. With an eight-month budget of $20,000, a subsequent 5-6 month budget of $60,000 and a final 24-36 months at $40,000, Wiesner aggregated a list of 50,000 names and ended with a circulation of 40,000. So in three years and a relatively small amount of money, a competitor can be up, running and profitable.

This means that, for smaller magazine publishers, the threat of entry is huge. But larger publishers with circulations in the millions will have less to worry about from a new entrant. Their worries lie more with existing competitors who want to move into their space.

The threat of substitute products or services
This big threat has materialized over the last 10 years. The internet has eroded subscriber loyalty and offers advertisers a cheap, trackable marketing channel. With the iPad, magazine publishers are able to offer better services to advertisers, but the pressure for results-based marketing will be huge, especially in the age of Google.

Magazine publishers will need to find ways to mitigate this threat and prove the effectiveness of print marketing. More interactive advertising on tablets will help, as will subscriber surveys focused on the effectiveness of print ads within a certain, branded context. Without good differentiation, ad dollars will continue to leak into the search-engine-marketing world and away from magazine publishers.

The mass-market reach of consumer magazines also helps to differentiate advertising. Online advertising can reach various micro-audiences with different keywords, but creating a mass consumer psychology around certain products requires something more. The number of competitors in the magazine space dampens this advantage, so it is imperative that publishers work hard to delineate their focus on content, context and audience.

The bargaining power of customers (buyers)
Subscribers have some bargaining power vis-à-vis magazine publishers as great deal of content is now located online for free. Because prices are low, and consumers still crave a total, branded experience from certain magazines, it will be more important for magazines to keep their core focus rather than becoming generalist providers of content.

Advertisers have more bargaining power, especially with the substitute of cheap, trackable online marketing. Again, the challenge is to convince advertisers that a fully-branded, contextual, mass-market experience for their prospects is a necessity as well. Any qualitative or quantitative research to back up these attributes will be invaluable.

The bargaining power of suppliers
Suppliers to the magazine publishing business have very little power. Printers and journalists all compete for the same business. However, some personalities can exert a greater influence over content, like Oprah Winfrey or Rachael Ray. Celebrity-focused publications will lack some of this advantage.

The intensity of competitive rivalry
Competition in the industry can be fierce, especially within growing segments like food and health. But any competition will differ among brand-positioning models. For example, a niche publisher with a strong core focus will face less intense competition than a broad consumer magazine without such focus.

Overall assessment
The magazine publishing business certainly faces some strong challenges in terms of substitution and competitive rivalry. But with a strategy focused on leveraging core strengths can help to mitigate weakness on both these fronts. Some large, multi-brand publishers will do this well, organizing their magazines around core messages and audiences. Some will do it poorly and less profitably.

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