This week, our tiny q-niverse reels with news of Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine’s shuttering. Owned by F+W Media, QNM was one of the longest-standing quilt-only publications in our country. Started in 1969 by Bonnie Lehman, this publication helped bring quilting back to relevance in our modern era, in a huge way.
Since the Lehman family sold the magazine years ago, it’s had several owners, all mid-size media conglomerates specializing in hobbyist magazines, Internet shows and other related properties. It’s also had its share of editorial staff shifts. It’s hard for any magazine to survive that much change in a short period of time.
But that’s not what caused the downfall of QNM. QNM’s fatal blow is the same that most quilt magazines valiantly face today: the lack of support from our industry as a whole.
Subscriptions are wonderful and needed for a magazine’s health. Subscriptions help establish readership, which helps ascertain circulation. But today’s subscribers are so accustomed to paying deep discounts for their subscriptions that any revenue coming from subscriptions is usually a wash in terms of cost, and in some cases, is an investment on the publisher’s part to increase readership. Newsstand distribution is similar, with the publisher realizing very little–if any–profit in newsstand.
In our world, it’s print advertising that pays the bills.
Our industry’s largest companies (fabric, thread, sewing machines, etc…) have demonstrated a continued declining interest in print advertising for several years. Sometimes it’s a case of smaller marketing budgets. Other times it’s about a different philosophy about how to get a producer’s products in front of the consumer. Social media avenues are dangling the carrot, promising tons of consumer loyalty for little cost. It’s enough to make most magazine people wake up sweating at 2 a.m. Whatever the reasons, the overall message from our main supporters is that they no longer see the value in how magazines deliver their messages to our shared consumers.
Let’s stop for a moment and look at what magazines do for our industry. And yes, we’ll make it personal and use Generation Q Magazine as the example. In the 100-pages we put out quarterly, we review books and fabric collections (Cuts and Scoops), test categories of our most beloved tools (Test Drive), highlight and explain new products (Gimmes), feature cool quilt shops, write about charity efforts (Piece Corps), interview well-known and up-and-coming designers, authors and quilters in several different ways, host giveaways and contests, provide patterns (Playdates and WeSew2) and tons of inspiration to keep us and our readers yearning to sew and quilt. In almost every piece of the content we provide, we support the efforts of another person or company serving our industry. From the large fabric companies whose beautiful fabrics are highlighted in our Playdates or Cuts to that new designer releasing his or her first book and the local quilt shop owner whose store completely delighted us, we are constantly gathering, disseminating and presenting information about the newest and best our q-niverse has to offer to our readers. We do this, not because we are paid by those companies to feature them (though there are some publications that operate under this premise, blurring the line between editorial and advertising in what we consider to be an “itchy” practice), but because it meets our readers’ needs and interests.
The industry loves what we do, so they say. They highlight our articles and issues on their blogs, in their sales materials and on Facebook. They hand us out in their booths for Quilt Market and retail shows. They happily and generously send us their products with no expectation of return. They are all over us, and our competition, for editorial inclusion (reviews, giveaways, patterns, featured products and designers). But none of this love fills our biggest need. In order for any magazine to exist today, it has to be able to pay its expenses, and trust us when we tell you that our printer will not accept a fat-quarter tower as payment for their invoices, no matter how many times we ask.
If we, as quilters, consumers and/or industry professionals, value the magazines that support our q-niverse in a way that blogs and social media can’t, then we MUST support our periodicals.
Print is extremely expensive. We can tell you honestly that we pay our printer and shipper more than we pay our staff at GenQ and there’s real pain every time we write those checks. While some of our readers are turning to digital magazines, most want print. Print is permanent. It’s longevity is what overshadows social media and blogs because a magazine’s pages serve as sign posts for consumers to revisit admired products. We know this and tailor our content to be mostly timeless, to justify having us on our readers’ shelves for years to come, so there’s quite a long bang for an advertiser’s buck with us, and most magazines. We look to our advertising partners to cover our basic operating costs. As an independent start-up, we run very lean here, and don’t need much to cover an issue. Yet we, like almost every other quilt publication we watch, face a growing struggle to get advertiser support.
Sure the argument can be made about supply and demand–that maybe the readers are not supporting us either and then why should our industry? All of the magazine industry info we’ve heard over the last five years asserts that hobby magazines are one of the only stable magazine niches to exist. Hobbyists (AKA quilters) want print magazines to keep and refer back to because our content is as much a visual form of media as it is about reading. Personally, demand for GenQ has remained steady.
For now, we’re hanging on. We’re committed to bringing our brand of stitchy fun, inspiration and information to our community through print. We are looking at how we do this, though.
Coincidentally, one of our fave independent magazines, Uppercase, announced this week in its eNewsletter that it would no longer take advertising. It’s already mostly subscriber-based, with a price tag reflecting this model. This transitions Janine Vangool’s solitary effort into a completely reader-supported enterprise. Prevention Magazine, the foundational publication of Rodale Inc., made this same move in June. It’s not because they want to shun advertisers, but by becoming reader-dependent they can remain editorially independent and operationally leaner. Whether they can also be profitable as readers take on the added burden of funding their chosen magazines remains to be seen. And we’re watching, carefully and with great interest.
In the meantime we’d like to remember some other stitchy magazines that worked hard to serve our creative appetite. They include Stitch, The Quilt Life, Quilty (we’re not sure if it’s back or not), Quilter’s Home, Fresh Quilts, Fabric Trends, Quilt Magazine and Simple Quilts. We’re sure we’re forgetting some, so please feel free to share those other publications you miss in the comments below. And if you’re a magazine consumer or an industry professional, please support your favorite magazines. Because if you ignore them, they will go away.
-Jake Finch is the co-founder and publisher of Generation Q Magazine. Along with her partner in crime, Melissa Thompson Maher, and their dedicated small staff of talent extraordinaire, and an amazing community of Q-bies, they seek to take over the world with stitching fun!
POST SCRIPT: It was suggested that we should have a link to our own advertising information here. While this article was written with a global concern for our industry, it was probably silly of us to not offer this information here. If you’re looking for information about advertising in our print, online or eNewsletter, please contact myself, firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Melissa Kanovsky, Ad Manager, at email@example.com. Thank you.