Print magazines: the analogue Long Tail

When Chris Anderson published his theory of the Long Tail – the potential of digital media to unlock the residual value of older or less-demanded products – it was largely taken as a new phenomenon.

But, and this is so blindingly obvious that I cannot imagine why it hasn't occurred to me before, print magazines have been mining the Long Tail for decades. For every Cosmopolitan there is a Beads and Beyond, for every Top Gear a Which Motorcaravan.

The Periodical Publishers Association (UK magazine industry body) estimates that there are between 8,000 and 9,000 different magazines published but claims to represent only a third of that number. ABC does a fine job of auditing the sales of a large number of magazines but it's not difficult to think of a title that does not appear in their circulation charts.

There are still huge numbers of very small circulation magazines published, some of which have survived for a long time on their (relative) handful of loyal readers. Some publishers make a handsome living with their collections of off-the-radar titles, often augmented with specialist retailing or shows/exhibitions.

What does this prove? Nothing, except that
  • print magazines are a very adaptable form
  • there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)