Closer Together Covers?

The audiophile in the plaid shirt and gray Dockers had his hand up. Moderator Jonathan Scull handed him the roving microphone, and the Stereophile writers on the podium at HI-FI '99's Sunday afternoon "Ask the Editors" session shifted in their chairs. "This one's for John Atkinson," came the windup. The other writers relaxed; I started to sweat. Then the pitch: "How come Stereophile issues are so small these days?"

And as you can see from the letters in this issue discussing the 124-page July Stereophile, it is indeed true that the magazine's covers are closer together this year. But so are all the audio magazines' covers.

As I mentioned in July's "As We See It," the US high-end audio industry has been having an uncertain time of it since the Far Eastern financial crisis. That crisis was triggered by, of all things, the devaluation of the Thai baht in July 1997, which temporarily reduced the size of the industry's global customer base. Couple that with the current shift of the audio market toward home-theater sales, competition for leisure time and discretionary spending from the Internet and other activities, the audio industry's possible over-reliance on the baby-boom generation for customers, and the market confusion regarding new audio formats, and it should come as no surprise that specialty audio magazines, all of which derive a significant proportion of their income from advertising revenue (footnote 1), can't help but be affected by the financial temperature of the audio industry.

Stereophile may currently be publishing smaller issues each month, but both Fi and The Tracking Angle closed their doors in 1999; The Abso!ute Sound went out of business in early 1998 (though it has since been revived as a bimonthly with an injection of capital from new owners); The Audio Adventure renamed itself Play in the summer of 1997, then disappeared; and while Listener, Ultimate Audio, The Audiophile Voice, and The Sensible Sound are still publishing quarterly or bimonthly, they are doing so with limited advertising support. (That other purported quarterly, The Audio Critic, has managed to publish only five issues in the past six years.)

Even the other major monthly US players in our arena, Audio and Stereo Review, have downsized. Audio, for example, as well as publishing magazines with an average size of 96 pages in 1999 (compared with Stereophile's 180 pages), has reduced its publishing frequency from monthly to 10 issues per year. Stereo Review merged with Video magazine in February to form Sound & Vision, which also publishes 10 issues a year, and now devotes a significant proportion of its content to video, home theater, and "convergence" multimedia products.

Since Stereophile went from digest to full-size format in January 1994, its issues have comprised a mix of 50% editorial pages and 50% advertising pages. In the boom days of the mid-'90s, this led to us publish monster issues of up to 356 pages! However, with the reduced amount of advertising we currently feature, preserving this ratio means that our issues have been smaller than our owner, Emap Petersen, would like or feels appropriate to publish.

Footnote 1: A report on NPR's Morning Edition on July 8, 1999 stated that over 75% of US newspaper revenues come from advertising, and over 50% of magazine revenues.