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.”