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Cutting Your Publishing Costs without Firing People or Trashing Your Products

By Cheryl Woodard, Posted January 2009

Most publishers are facing hard times right now. According to a , the average print magazine has 17% fewer ad pages this January versus last year. And for some, the drop is much steeper. Wired's ad pages are down 47 percent from a year ago, Architectural Digest's pages fell 46 percent and Vogue and Lucky were both down about 44 percent. Like other businesses hurting from the recession, publishers are all looking for ways to trim expenses without reducing the quality of their products.

This is NOT the first recession, nor is it the worst (so far). Here are some ideas that worked for publishers in previous downturns.

Renegotiate Vendor Contracts

Now is a good time to lean on every large vendor, from your printer or Web hosts to your phone accounts and even your landlord. Be strategic: these vendors want to keep your business away from their competitors, and each is likely to make concessions right now. So ask them to review your relationship and suggest ways to trim the total bill.

Clean Up Your Customer Databases

In hard times, the trick is to focus on those people who are most dependent on your publication, and therefore most likely to stick with it under any circumstance. And every publisher's database fills up with names that aren't really in the core audience - those long shot sales prospects someone added to the mailing list years ago. Trimming the list of people who get comp copies, media kits, and other printed materials can save a lot, and it also forces your staff to focus on the best customers, rather than the deadbeats.

Offer Digital Options

Its easy to cut someone off the comp list if you can offer them a digital version as an alternative. The same goes for readers who are not willing to pay for a subscription, but might be willing to buy a cheaper, digital version.

Explore Cheaper Content Sources

Great content is the key to maintaining traffic at your website and renewals of your print publications. Read my article about cheap content sources. You can mix in some fresh voices and potentially reduce the overall content budget by lining up some of these alternative sources:
  • Book Excerpts - book authors are hurting these days, and eager to get quoted. Many will customize parts of their books, or even give you free permission to quote the book, in exchange for the publicity.
  • Reader-Generated Content - although many readers will submit worthless material, some of your readers and website visitors will offer up free gems.
  • Stock Content - in some niches, you can acquire stock content as readily as stock photos and illustrations.

Streamline Yourselves, Do More With Less

Challenge your staff to work more efficiently. And consider automating parts of the business that cause bottlenecks. But make good use of any time savings that result (or else you will have to lay off people). For example, if you install a new advertising sales customer contact system that saves time for the sales team, its fair to ask each person to handle more customers.


If you are struggling to decide what cuts will make sense for your publishing business and need specific advice, feel free to email me. I can offer quick, low-cost strategic business advice for book, magazine, and digital publishers. My services are described here.



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