Last week’s announcement that one of the longest running quilting magazines, Quilters Newsletter, will be shutting down in October hit the quilting world hard. Hundreds of comments poured in on blogs and Facebook from longtime QNM readers expressing sadness that this beloved publication that has been in print for 47 years was to be no more.
In an industry that is valued at $3.7 billion and populated by over a million dedicated quilters who spend an average of $2,442 annually on quilting supplies, how does a popular magazine like this go under?
Magazines generate revenue in two ways: subscriptions and advertisements. Because the subscription price for most magazines is deeply discounted, ads are the chief way that magazines make money, at least until now.
According to Jake Finch, the co-founder and publisher of Generation Q Magazine, companies within the quilting industry that have traditionally placed full-page ads in multiple magazines have decreased their magazine ad spending in recent years, causing many publications to become financially stressed.
“In our world it’s print advertising that pays the bills,” Finch wrote in a post about the closure of Quilters Newsletter on the Generation Q blog.
“Our industry’s largest companies (fabric, thread, sewing machines, etc…) have demonstrated a continued declining interest in print advertising for several years,” she continued. “QNM’s fatal blow is the same that most quilt magazines valiantly face today: the lack of support from our industry as a whole…The industry loves what we do, so they say…But none of this love fills our biggest need.”
Founder and CEO of Stitchcraft Marketing, Leanne Pressly, sees that trend, too. Pressly spent five years as an ad sales manager at Interweave where, during the economic downturn, she noticed advertisers “bailing en masse” from print and heading online instead. She left F+W to start a marketing agency to serve those advertisers’ needs as they go digital.
“Pretty much all my clients have reduced or completely cut out print ads in favor of other marketing strategies that produce better results,” Pressly says. “I think the biggest detriment to print advertising is the lack of tracking for ROI [Return On Investment]. So many of my clients want the direct trackability that digital provides. They’re also putting more money into content development – like blogging, newsletters or engagement campaigns (paying my company to manage a knitalong for example).”
According to Pressly the magazines that have been able to stay financially strong are those that “combine a print component with a digital engagement piece” though she warns that even then the pricing has to remain competitive.
As the marketing manager at Common Threads Quilting, a quilt shop in Waxahachie, Texas, Laura Nichols has experience placing both print and digital ads. In an effort to promote the shops’ Block of the Month program last year she purchased 12 months of advertising in American Patchwork & Quilting Magazine at a cost of roughly $15,000.
“During that year, only six people said that they found us through the magazine ad,” she says. “So that $15,000 got us 6 new customers. Whereas, I now have gone an entire year advertising on Facebook, and just in the last six months we have gotten over 400 new customers who had never been aware of us before. In that six months, I have spent $5,500. Big difference.”
Although Finch acknowledges that the effectiveness of print ads isn’t directly measurable, she insists that they do continue to have value. “Print is really more about brand recognition and getting the word out about new products,” she says.
Finch points out that many people keep their magazines for years and enjoy reading the ads. She also feels that magazines reach an older audience that’s less likely to spend time on social media.
Some magazines have found ways to combine print with online engagement and break free from advertising all together. Missouri Star’s Block Magazine is completely ad free and sells for $5.99 per issue. “There are no ads in it, not a single one,” the sales copy reads. “We take tutorials that Mom has done on the YouTube channel and write the patterns, then make the quilts out of new fabric and write stories and guides to go along with them. Lots of photos, ideas for projects, and patterns all written out, 10 of them, in every issue!” Reader Ellie Guhl said this about Block on the Missouri Star Facebook page recently, “I love this magazine! It’s more like a great book! No ads, fun stories, great photos, and the price. I let all my other subscriptions expire. This one is my all time favorite.”
UPPERCASE is another example of an innovator. Founder and publisher Janine Vangool priced the magazine so that it could be financially viable through subscription revenue alone. “Since the very beginning, my model was that UPPERCASE would be reader-supported through subscriptions,” says Vangool. At $15.25 per issue, subscriptions generate the majority of the magazine’s revenue.
For years Vangool also ran an ad program. “Naively, I believed (and still do, actually) that companies with a real understanding of their potential customers would see the value in supporting a magazine like UPPERCASE by purchasing ad space. To show the goodwill and support towards a community of makers and designers, by simply saying ‘yes, we love UPPERCASE and independent makers, too!’ But you can’t measure appreciation! There’s no way to immediately track this sort of investment in good will.”
Instead of continuing to try, last week Vangool announced that the magazine would no longer take advertising at all. By shedding her ad program, Vangool says she’ll have even more energy to devote to serving her readers.
“Since my focus is always on my relationships with readers first and foremost, I do have a wonderful community of support,” Vangool says. “Without advertising, I think that will grow even stronger and I’m confident that I can find more subscriptions to offset any lost revenue.” UPPERCASE has 31,900 Instagram followers, many of whom use the #UPPERCASEreader hashtag to show themselves enjoying the magazine, plus a popular newsletter and blog and a long record of successful crowdfunding projects
In her post Finch implores community to support their favorite magazines. “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,” she writes. “…Because if you ignore them, they will go away.”
Quilt shop marketer Nichols is certainly sympathetic to the needs of print magazines. “My husband works in the newspaper industry, and I know how print media is dying a slow, painful death. It affects me personally,” she says.
At the same time, she’s focused on investing in what she knows works. “As an independent business, I can’t spend a great deal of money for an advertisement that the majority of the readers are ignoring or finding annoying, just to support another business. I have to do what’s best for mine.”
I’m not surprised by the decline in print advertising. As an online retailer selling (mostly) apparel weight fabrics I’ve found my ROI on my single print ad experience to be pretty much zip.
As an avid sewist, I had dreamed for years of finally making the big time with my little online shop and having an ad in a well known, bimonthly, apparel sewing magazine – pretty much considered the authority on apparel sewing for decades.
Several years ago I took out a year long 1/4 page ad (six pubs). The ads cost me close to five figures and I could attribute precisely two (yup, two as in 2) sales to the ads over that year long period. While online support in terms of additional ads was available, the extra cost to my already stretched budget made this prohibitive. In terms of my “support” for this mag, it was simply unsustainable. I’ve not had a print ad since.
I have no experience with print ads in Quilters Newsletter but if their ads yielded even 20 times the ROI as my experience for half as much, it still would not have been viable.
The Block Magazine and UPPERCASE have an interesting idea in terms of zero ad support. The problem with zero ads will be for new online shops or new fabric lines to get “known.” Before owning a fabric store, I would troll the ads looking for new shops and new fabrics that I might not have found any other way. Folks that live in fabric deserts have little recourse to a local brick and mortar shop and must rely on online shops for quilting, home dec, and apparel fabrics.
Seamwork, an online only sewing mag put out by Colette Patterns, has “ads” consisting of featuring fabrics and shop mentions and online sponsorship opportunities. This works well since Seamwork does not have to search for fabrics for it’s patterns – shop owners simply send in swatches and the editors pick out the most appropriate. Readers get to see cherry picked fabrics matched to the patterns and have a source in case they cannot find locally.
And they can click right there to buy.
I’m part of the older audience
my aunt is close to 70
we both are on social media
the magazine no longer continue to have quilt projects that interest me
I buy fabric and supplies everywhere
online, at shows and in person at shops
I agree with Debbie. I am 62 and a member of two quilting guilds including my local modern quilt guild. I post on Instagram and follow quilt and fabric artists there. I buy fabric at shops, on-line and at quilt shows. Most quilting magazines are no longer relevant or up to date.
One of the things that was mentioned in the Quilting in America study was that the average “dedicated quilter” is 64 years old and spends 3.5 hours a week online learning about quilting.
this isnt in response to magazines, its about something else in your newsletter. i was wondering how everyone feels about your mentioning that missouri star quilt co. is now selling thread? it seems to me the company is becoming a sort of quilters amazon. squeezing out the little guy. i work in a quilt shop and not a day doesnt go by that we hear, oh i bought such and such at missouri star, or did you see their sale, etc. with the likes of missouri star and craftsy, i fear the small mom and pop quilt store will soon be a dinosaur along with print magazines. thoughts?
Well, I would argue that Missouri Star is a mom and pop store. It’s certainly family-owned and it’s done an admirable job of bringing new life into the town of Hamilton. Fat Quarter Shop is also a family owned business, run by a husband and wife. Craftsy is a very different sort of company with a different model. Venture capital puts pressure on a company to grow big and grow fast.
Are local quilt shops going to be able to survive? I certainly don’t know the answer to that. I think some will, but I do think many will close (and many already have). There are roughly 3,500 independent quilt shops in the U.S. right now. I think that number will be lower in five years, and even lower in 10, but not because people are less interested in quilting than they once were. The way we consume is just radically shifting.
Thank you for your thought-provoking posts on the future of print magazines. I so wonder the statistics on ROI for magazine advertisements compared to online advertisements. I’m also curious how readers feel about ads. Do they indeed enjoy them, or do they find them annoying? Also, what is the shelf life of a magazine? Do most readers toss them when the next issue arrives, or do they collect them like books? I suspect it depends on the quality of the content. Personally, I would keep Uppercase around given its depth of high-level content. I’d be less likely to subscribe to or keep advertisement-heavy magazines around given the quality of some blogs, online courses, and YouTube videos.
Thank you for your thought-provoking posts on the future of print magazines. I so wonder the statistics on ROI for magazine advertisements compared to online advertisements. I’m also curious how readers feel about ads. Do they indeed enjoy them, or do they find them annoying? Also, what is the shelf life of a magazine? Do most readers toss them when the next issue arrives, or do they collect them like books? I suspect it depends on the quality of the content. Personally, I would keep Uppercase around given its depth of high-level content. I’d be less likely to subscribe to or keep advertisement-heavy magazines around given the quality of some blogs, online courses, and YouTube videos. P.S. Is Jake from GenQ a woman? You referred to Finch as “she”, and I got a bit confused.
Yes, Jake is a woman 🙂
Ply (a magazine for spinners, founded by Jacey Boggs Faulkner) is another magazine that’s taking a different approach. They only have 15% advertising content, so they rely much more heavily on subscriptions. It’s a terrific magazine, with really great content and printed on high quality paper so that it feels more like a book. It’s the sort of magazine where I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of old issues.
I have UPPERCASE issues 3-8 on my bookshelf. The spines are gorgeous, the paper smells really good, and they are full of enduring inspiration. Throwing them away is not an option.
Eileen Keane says
I’m one of those that still likes the feel of a magazine in my hands. That being said, most magazines focus on “quick” and “fast” and “easy” quilting. Once someone has the basics down, they’re looking forward to challenges. We had a speaker at my guild last year who thinks the industry is dumbing down.
Disclaimer-I canceled my QNM subscription when they went from 10 issues a year to 6 for the same price.
I agree. I love actual magazines. I think we’re in a time of change, though, and some creative thinking is needed about what makes a magazine special and worth buying (or advertising in).
Pokey Bolton says
The one thing I might add is there is a third way for revenue generation for magazines–newsstand sales. We used to liken magazine revenue to a stool with three legs, all three vitally important: subs, ads, and newsstand sales. Back in the day, newsstands sometimes was the strongest for us, and the most reliable of the three. Clearly today it’s not nearly the case.
After I wrote this I realized I’d omitted newsstand sales. Thank you, Pokey.
Melissa Thompson Maher says
Apparently not all magazines are drying up and blowing away. Meredith Publishing–corporate parent of American Patchwork & Quilting–is reporting growth in both readership and ad sales, including a print advertising bump of 3 % and circulation revenues (subscription and newsstand) going up 5%.–both for its National Media Group, which includes Better Homes & Gardens.
Of course, this may seem far removed from the quilty sphere, but it’s evidence that print hasn’t flat-lined yet. There’s still a heartbeat.
Certainly we are all re-thinking what content we want/like and how we want to receive it. Few are talking about the timing of use of that info, however. Think of how hand-written letters relate to texts. If I want quick fast bites of stuff, I like e-newsletters or social media. If I want to absorb inspiration or I’m making something, I want paper in my hand.
Amy Marson says
Great article Abby. As we continue to see contraction in the marketplace making decisions about where to spend our ad dollars may get easier. As someone with a magazine background I still see the value in print advertising, and according to a survey done by HandiQuilter in 2016, more than 65% of quilters say their top source of information is still from quilting magazines. So, not sure which ones they are reading, but that may assure Jake that there are still a lot of lovers of the printed word about quilts on paper. Most of us do not know the reasons why QNM was shuttered, what I do know is our industry is in a period of great disruption and we have a ways to go before everything shakes out and we see what organizations remain standing. C&T is working incredibly hard to maintain the quality of our brand and remain relevant to our customers. I for one embrace change and find this time exciting and invigorating.
There are too many magazines in crafting and most of them are very poor quality. Many times I have gone shopping for a mag and come away empty handed. Thin magazines, and dull patterns and too many articles about bloggers (who I can read about on their blogs!).
Bloggers are also being harnessed for free advertising. A well known yarn company in the UK has a group of bloggers who are not paid and they basically flatter them, give them some yarn and send them off into the world of social media where they market the yarn like crazy and all for free. I brought up the situation with one of the bloggers and they are quite happy because they get to play with yarn and feel they are being honoured by the yarn company. It all just makes me sigh as they seem to be willingly exploited, they do at least need to be paid and the whole thing needs to be more transparent. In turn I feel exploited as you know the yarn showcased on a blog is not necessary best for a project but has to be pushed and exulted as they were given it for free and that is the deal. It makes social media increasingly dull and un-creative. Blogs have long been used as free advertising and marketing as well as bloggers being used to fill up space in magazines, again for free.
Advertising is incredibly expensive, why would companies spend money when they don’t need to? I don’t know figures but could imagine that magazine readers are not that high. I certainly notice many complaints about the quality of them and read about cancelled subscriptions all the time. New magazines seem to fold as the quality they start with cannot seemingly be sustained. It looks like there are not enough quality pattern writers to go round and the deal for them is often not great. A book is much better value for me as I find mags offer poor value for what is in them as they are very stale in content and largely irrelevant to me. If it is patterns I am after then getting what I want buying patterns directly makes more sense. I don’t want a magazine full of ads either, so this adds to their problem I suppose. If I want chat and useful info then again social media and a good book is my answer. Magazines and sometimes books as well, offer too much style over substance and that is not what I am wanting personally.
So I would say mags are failing to get the readership that might make advertising worthwhile and the advertisers are finding cheaper alternatives. I would tolerate ads if the magazines were more eminently useful and engaging to me. I have at times been exasperated by my inability to find something that suits me to purchase.
Sara you make a good point about the bloggers and advertising. Print ads, sidebar ads, popup ads are all increasingly ignored and the only place to get your products featured is right in the blog or article.
At first this seems like a dream come true for small crafty business, but, as you say the quality of the articles, especially in undisclosed compensation scenarios, might be poor.
One trend in advertising that seems to repeat itself is that when one venue effectively “closes” as in the case of pop-up blockers and blase’ attitude of readership, the advertisers go on to exploit something new. Right now the idea of built-in product promotion is fairly new but as this trend continues I can imagine that once again readers/customers become immune and the quality of the articles goes down; so down in fact that folks simply stop reading all but the most popular blogs.
Perhaps this is the golden age for small bloggers to get established because at some point “blog” may just get equated with “advertising” and actually be shunned as a matter of course, the same way we mute the televsion when the ads come on.
I want to just take a minute to point out that I have a blog without ads and without sponsored posts. I have a good deal of traffic and by choosing not to monetize in this way I leave a lot of money on the table each month. It took me about three hours to write the post above, which required interviewing multiple people. I’m happy with my choice to be ad free, but it’s not easy to build a business this way.
No kidding Abby, I enjoy your blog and personally, being a fabric retailer, I’ve thought to myself, “Hmm, I wish I could advertise here.” And your articles are always well researched and apropos.
My quilting friends and I let many, or all, of our magazine subscriptions lapse for two reasons: the dumbing down of content to repetitive, boring, super-easy patterns, and subscription problems. The final straw was usually the inability to get a subscription problem resolved. So, we finally gave up.
Most of these magazines outsourced their subscription “services” to outside outfits. If/when a disgruntled customer was able to actually get a response from a magazine employee, it was always, “Oh, we don’t have anything to do with the subscriptions; another company does that.” Either they didn’t understand that subscribers were being driven away by such poor or nonexistent service, didn’t care, or felt helpless to correct the problems.
It’s hard to have much sympathy for a business that refused to serve loyal customers, despite the customers’ efforts to remain customers.
From my experience I can say that in the past I loved to buy craft books, magazines etc. I bought them maybe not even to sew or make all things but I simply liked to look at new projects and find new ideas. Now I am not interested at all because almost everything is accessible online, on YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram etc. In comparison with Pinterest content almost every craft book or magazine looks very poor. And as for Missouri Star Company, I watched many of their tutorials on YouTube and I liked them very much but I didn’t even know that they have any magazine:). So I am not surprised that craft magazines loose their readers (and ads). I don’t think there is a future for them.
I like to support my LQS as well as shop online. Most LQS’s don’t stock an entire line of fabric except in pre-cuts, so sometimes it’s the only way to get the piece you want. Also, the selection is just vast. I live in Mississippi where there aren’t many quilt shops, and they tend to be smaller than I was used to during my 14 years in Texas. I also like both print magazines, especially the ones put out by Better Homes and Gardens, and online bloggers, shop videos and youtube tutorials on various techniques. Haven’t used Craftsy yes, but I’m sure that day will come. I’ve also been to Missouri Star and seen how one family has revitalized an entire town. I have taken classes from famous quilters in local shops and at Quilt Festival. My point is that I think there’s a place for all of it, if it’s quality. Depending on my mood, I might want a quick and easy quilt from Missouri Star, the ease of ordering a kit from Fat Quarter Shop, the challenge of a Jen Kingwell design, or a class and fabric at my LQS, along with the convenience they provide. And the ease of running to the quilt store in a quilting emergency can’t compare to waiting for fabric to come in when ordered. It’s all good. As far as advertising goes, what catches my eye most is what I see on Facebook. I can’t tell you how many quilt shop pages I follow because I see a posting of a quilt I like. It’s how I first heard of Missouri Star, which led to a special trip with a patient husband and a $500 shopping spree. It’s also how I heard of FQS, where I spend money each year, and whose customer service is great. But the best is to walk into your LQS, be greeted by name and have a personal interest shown in your latest project. We need to support them all. ???? Shout out to Cotton Blossom Fabric Shoppe in Madison, MS and The Fabric Dock in Wiggins, MS – great family owned shops with great fabric, and wonderful service!!!!!!!!