Paying Attention To The Changing World

It’s complicated, but it’s another sign of the whole theory I have that we’re seeing a rerun of the 1970’s, but with uglier women, worse drugs, and (hopefully) better porn.

Think about this for a moment-magazines.

We’re talking classic paper magazines, the ones you can still find in small amounts in every supermarket and Barnes and Noble out there. Glossy covers, pictures, that kind of thing.

Once upon a time, there were thousands and thousands of those things. Name a lifestyle choice and in the 1970s and early-to-mid 1980s, there were probably a dozen or so different magazines at least that covered that lifestyle choice. Any reasonably large town or small city had at least two or more shops that was full of magazines-and maybe sold some other stuff as well. Supermarkets, one side of an entire isle was magazines, at least. Just about every major hub for public transit had a newsstand of some kind.

And, I kid you not, it was not a question of IF there was a lifestyle choice magazine out there in that era. It was just a question of if the store would order it for you and you weren’t embarrassed to buy it. Esoteric (and hopefully legal) sexual fetish? Had magazines for those. Niche literature creation? Yep. Magazines put out by movie and TV companies as a lost-leader item to sell the current dreamy teen hearthtrob star to teenage girls? In several dozen different flavors. Conspiracy theories about how the lizard people were working with the Gnomes of Zurich, then look in the grubby corner for the mimeograph.

You had the magazine nerds and they were some of the most…interesting people out there. For a given value of “interesting” and sometimes even “people.”

But, as the product life cycle left “late majority” and maximum profits, we hit the “laggards” end…and magazines started to die. And the shops that sold them died with them. I can recall-in the ’90s and ’00s-nearly eight shops around the SF Bay Area that carried magazines of all sorts. One or two I went to every week and like comic book shops, had a pull list. They’d pull the magazines you wanted, and you would come and buy them, no fuss, no muss. And, I was fairly light, maybe a half dozen magazines. I could see people leaving with nearly thirty or forty magazines at one time, and this seemed to be a regular occurrence.

Then…the pull lists started to get lighter and lighter. Often without warning. The shops had to pull out racks for magazines to sell other things. Eventually, they started to close or had to move into smaller spaces. Sell other things (foreign magazines, chocolate, greeting cards, etc, etc, etc…) as well, to get customers in the door. Move away from their original purpose and try to make money other ways. Those eight shops? I checked and there’s only three of them left-and one of them is making all the signs from here that they’re looking to close out soon.

There’s a lot of things to blame. And, the Internet is one of them. So was the coming of digital cameras and digital desktop production systems. When you can replace a dozen staff people and six different pieces of layout hardware with two people, a Mac, and InDesign, there’s a definite change coming. One of my photography teachers was talking about when he was in the newsrooms when (Kodak?) came out with their first practical digital camera. He was telling people to start looking at different jobs and polishing their resumes. The newspaper laid off almost all of their photographers, and the journalists either had to do their own photos or hit a level of rank to get one of the few pool photographers in less than ten years.

None of these companies learned how to pivot. Not really. The few “magazines” that I can recall that did kept their mast-head, but used it to sell things online. I think that there is maybe only one or two of them that even publish anymore.

And, we’re seeing that in the legacy industries-most comic book stores don’t sell comic books anymore, or not as their primary method of making money. The two local comic book shops tend to also sell adult (not that kind of adult) toys, nerd items, gaming supplies, Magic:The Gathering cards and play space, that kind of thing. In fact, one of them has maybe only 15% of their floor space dedicated to comic books in general (both comics and trade paperbacks), and if the owner didn’t hate manga, I think his manga section would be bigger and better stocked.

Games Workshop is trying to pivot to the “wider general audience,” because they don’t make their money on the rules for their games. They make their money on the miniatures and the secondary IP products and the speed and quality of 3D printing hasn’t so much taken off as exploded. Which is probably why they hired people from Hasbro and similar companies, to try and make this pivot. So far, if the controversies about Warhammer+ are to be believed, they aren’t doing very well.

I feel like this has gone on for long enough, so I’m going to close it off here. We’re having a shakeup in legacy industries. Some are going to survive because they can pivot. Some of them are not going to make it. And often, it’s the industry you think that will survive the most that falls the hardest.

I’m not saying you should chase trends or try to twist your writing to hit the New Best Thing. So many companies have tried that and failed horribly (coughNew Cokecough). It does mean that you have to pay attention to the market and how market trends are going. Keep working on your current series, absolutely. But, what are people looking at now, in the “early adopter” phase of your market? And, do you know how to ride that trend somewhere? If not, how do you get from there to here?

Eyes open, it’s going be a crazy time for all of us.

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