Gay Talese’s Basement
Folio:, the self-styled “Magazine of Magazine Management,” is more than just an ordinary trade magazine in the conventional sense of the term; it’s at the forefront of the modern shift away from the outdated concept of the magazine as a physical compilation of information distributed at periodic intervals. Folio: (yes, the colon is part of its name) describes itself as “a multi-channel, multidimensional information source, using print, online and face-to-face delivery to bring actionable information to the publishing community.”
The print version of Folio:, available only by subscription, is but one component of a series of services. The suite includes Foliomag Online, M10 Alert e-newsletter, Online Content Channels, Folio: Superbook, Folio: Show and various creative, consulting and trade show services. The company’s annual trade show in New York has been an industry staple for the past 31 years.
Whatever the delivery format—hard copy or online—the core editorial content remains consistent and targeted at those already familiar with the magazine business. Editorial departments include Executive Perspective (interviews with publishing executives), CircXtra (a sporadic section offering articles about magazine circulation), and M&A Scorecard (analyzing media mergers and acquisitions). In addition, a Publishing Technology department addresses the question of how technology is changing the face of magazine publishing and how the industry is adapting (or failing to adapt). Each issue also includes several columnists.
The articles are for the most part consistent with the magazine’s stated goal of providing “actionable information to the publishing community.” The February 2006 issue featured a lead story reviewing the top M&A media deals of 2005. Shorter articles offered information about capitalizing on “Webinars” (online seminars) and working with the Audit Bureau of Circulations to add objectivity to magazine-sponsored subscriber studies. Longer pieces covered debt-based financing for magazine growth, a look at Wasserstein & Co.’s growing magazine portfolio and techniques for ensuring timely magazine publication.
It has to be said that there is something haphazard about the organization of the magazine. The irregular scheduling of departments such as CircXtra, for example, disrupts the magazine’s continuity. Moreover, occasional articles attributed simply to Folio: staff raise accountability concerns and questions about the reliability of the information. And many of the articles read a bit like products of a magazine-industry mutual-appreciation society. Adding to the confusion, the past two years have seen an expansion in the Folio: suite of products and a shift in the delivery format away from print and toward an online presentation.
Some of these problems may be attributable to a change in management. In August 2004, Red 7 Media LLC, founded by Kerry Smith, a former executive of the publishing powerhouse Primedia, assumed full responsibility for producing the magazine and managing the ancillary services (although Primedia has maintained an ownership stake). Nevertheless, there are signs that the change has helped to strengthen what had started to become a flagging brand name. All aspects of the Folio: enterprises cater to publishing professionals, but the target market also includes mergers-and-acquisitions bankers. The home page of the online edition, for example, includes a link to a website co-hosted by a financial firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions within the media industry. As early as 2003, when the magazine was still widely distributed in hardcopy format, the editors were running stories as relevant to the financial sector as to the magazine industry. This equal treatment of banking-relevant topics and pure magazine-industry topics makes Folio: read at times like a magazine suffering through an identity crisis.
On the whole, however, Folio: feels ahead of the curve both in its delivery methods and its choice of articles. In the January 2006 issue, Tony Silber, the magazine’s editor and publisher, wrote a piece examining the difficulties traditional magazine publishers face as the industry moves further away from print and closer to an exclusive Web presence (“The World’s Toughest Transition”). In the next issue, senior editor Bill Mickey wrote about the difficulties of merging print and digital subscription files.