Magazine's loss spurs thoughts on industry
Bankrupt. Thoroughbred Times went bankrupt. In September the venerable racing magazine got out of the publishing business, pulling the plug on employees, advertisers, subscribers, freelance contributors, readers, horses, history.
Though there remained a slim chance the business might emerge in a new form, the news registered with anyone in the Thoroughbred industry, but especially those in the Thoroughbred media. My first reaction: Thoroughbred Times couldn’t make it? What chance do the rest of us have?
Sorry. In today’s world, you couldn’t pick two more fragile industries in which to be. Horse racing and print media? Like steam engines and the telegraph, right?
Let’s hope not. Thoroughbred Times didn’t make it, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are destined to fail. Print publications can survive, thrive, if they play to their strengths:
• Schedule. Since newspapers and magazines ruled media, the world got itself in a great big hurry. Apps, tablets, smart phones, laptops, computers, online video, 24-hour news, texting changed everything. Instant, go-anywhere communication replaced the physical, tangible feeling of holding a magazine or newspaper in your hands and turning pages. But print publications can use that. Time is on their side. They can give readers something a Tweet can’t?–?detail, background, visuals, value. Print publications are different and need to act like it.
• Content. Print publications used to be THE place to go for every form of news?–?scores, game stories, election results, stock-market reports, mortgage rates, movie reviews. Not anymore. Everybody already knows what happened, but they don’t know the details, they don’t know the story. And unless somebody figures out a way to emotionally explain their life’s work in 140 characters, Twitter will never replace a well-written article. This is where print can win. Content. The content must be original, it must sing, it must reach people, it must flow, it must be a little bit different, it must have personality, maybe even a bit of an edge.
I once read an editorial review of a product that said something like: “You don’t know what’s going to be in it from one edition to the next.” That’s a good thing. Writers, editors and publishers ought to make that a goal. Needlepoint it, frame it, hang it on the wall.
• Format. A “print” publication may not always be produced with ink and paper. You can get it anywhere, in any form?–?in your hands, on your coffee table, on your iPad, on your laptop, on futuristic glasses you strap to your head for all I know – but the genre should never change. A magazine or newspaper can simply be a collection of formatted and designed articles, photos and other features. Technology will make it easier?–?easier!?–?to reach readers if publications do their part.
• Community. Without readers, advertisers, supporters, fans, champions the best content in the world might not find a home in a successful print publication. And the schedule won’t matter and neither will the format.
And now a few words about the magazine in your hands, or on your tablet/computer/phone.
Of the four factors above,
Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred banks most on its community. This is your publication. It’s got a past, roots, the power of decades of good work. People still tell me about articles they read in The Maryland Horse, predecessor to this magazine. People read this magazine because they’re part of the community, part of the industry. Ultimately, Thoroughbred Times went bankrupt because it couldn’t make enough money (whatever enough is) from its community (whatever that was). This magazine is not Thoroughbred Times, but it is a print publication about a changing industry in a changing time, and will lean on its community for support?–?readership, advertising, advocacy, contribution, feedback.
I invite you to take part. I took this post almost a year ago, hoping to further my career, improve the product, make an impact, continue a tradition, do good work. We’re getting there. We’ve tried to modernize, step up the content, improve the read, play to our strengths without losing the character of a venerable publication. We’ve got a long way to go and plenty of more ideas (a quality editorial product is never mastered), but we’ve proven a small staff with the right ideas can make a difference, make progress?–?and hopefully succeed where others haven’t.