I used to love reading Fortune magazine, back when I was a magazine guy trying (and failing) to build a business magazine empire. But while I still get the paper edition on my doorstep every two weeks, I’ve found the thing increasingly irritating. Why? Today, for no particular reason, it struck me. The content is gone, or more specifically, it’s buried under a blizzard of ads, and most irritatingly, “advertising features.” If this is the future of magazines, the future is bleak. From my experience in the business, these “features” are never welcomed by editors, they are pushed by sales people who are worried about making quota. Furthermore, the net per page on them is well below what traditional ads yield – like calla lilies choking a silt-shallowed lake, they are a sign of a permanent change in the landscape.
Of the 256 pages in last week’s Fortune (including the cover, but not including the ad-driven mini insert “bonus section”, which I didn’t bother to count (or read)), 108 or so were “normal ads” – full, half, or spread ads. But another 47 or so were advertorials – editorial material I really could care less about, written not by influential editors, but by marketing departments. If you add the two together – 108 plus 47 – you get 155. That leaves 101 pages for actual editorial. In other words, Fortune’s ad/edit ratio is 155/100, or roughly 40% edit to 60% ads. Of course, the magazine doesn’t look that crowded with ads, because a third of them are masquerading as editorial.
This stuff is nearly 50 pages – half again the amount as the real editorial. For every two pages of edit, I’m getting a page of marketing edit. Who reads this stuff? Why do people pay to run it? I looked back at a few recent issues of Fortune, and the same is true – it’s crammed with bad editorial.
Could you imagine if every third post in a blog was written not by the blog’s author, but by a marketing department?
Given this, it’s not a surprise to read David Carr’s recent piece in the Times and IHT about Time Inc. reeling. I love magazines, and all they stand for, but the economic model of print is getting tougher and tougher to justify.