Ministry of Controversy

Bloggers to take up the slack?

Domino

That’s what Ivette/The Germanatrix suggests will happen as more print garden writers are laid off. The magazine Domino is folding (I had heard this), and thus, Ivette’s garden blog for them will also be no more. Ivette’s news came to us via Pam/Digging. We’ll miss Ivette’s fun blog; I hope she finds a home for her online writing real soon—and lets us know about it.

I’ve not really said much about these newspaper and magazine lay-offs so far; perhaps they are a bit close to home for me, as I edit one magazine and oversee a couple others as my fulltime job. I have no special insight here, but it seems to be a perfect storm for the print world, especially newspapers. Their circulation was already declining, and most of them are caught in an unfortunate paradox of having to put more resources toward their websites—which increasingly are the way readers experience their daily paper—though online advertising doesn’t even begin to justify this investment (in by far the majority of cases). And now, of course, ad revenues are shrinking for other reasons. Our newspaper in Buffalo is owned by one of the richest men in the world, but they’re still laying off.

As for magazines, this is a case of ad revenue declining. Companies are really afraid to spend money and that’s what keeps a magazine alive, sadly, not circulation. Your circulation could be in 6 figures, but without ads, forget it. Magazines are very expensive—though they remain popular with readers, unlike the print versions of newspapers. Ivette also mentioned that Martha Stewart Living laid off one of their top garden writers, Susan Heeger. I don’t know whether this was part of an overall downsizing or a targeted lay-off. I can say that garden-related businesses are slow to advertise in our market, no matter how much great garden coverage we run, and no matter how much our readers like it. I believe they have a more slender profit margin than the home-related side of the home/garden equation. (But I disagree that every category of editorial must have its corresponding ad support. Advertisers should buy for the look/feel/fit of the magazine as a whole, and the two worlds should be kept separate.)

The fact is that everyone is laying off. I feel bad for the garden writers who are losing their jobs, but they are not alone, and it’s not going to get better real soon. Sure, blogs can pick up the slack; we already are. But we better not expect to make much of a profit doing it! Not now anyway.

On that note, while checking Pam’s link, I also read her terrific post about blogging about garden companies for pay (without bothering to let your readers know). Check it out. I wondered about the connection; as garden companies decline to spend their money in print, are they going to be looking for more cheap PR from us?

Posted by on January 29, 2009 at 4:50 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
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22 responses to “Bloggers to take up the slack?”

  1. Kathy says:

    It’s more than cheap PR. It’s about search engine optimization (SEO). If you have a good Page Rank and you link to a business, it makes that business easier to find in search engine results, so they are more likely to have business sent their way. (This is an oversimplified explanation.) The link is often more important than what you actually say about them!

  2. The closing of Cottage Living especially pains me. They were her last summer to interview and photograph six or more subjects on Garden Walk Buffalo, including a great feature on Urban Roots, our cooperatively-owned urban garden center. The articles will never see the light of day.

    For me, blogs already fill the void of garden magazines, with the added benefit of being able to ask questions to the writer.

    Seems as though it would be a smart strategy for gardening advertisers to take greater advantage of blogs. Companies like the ones in your column to the right are taking advantage of this medium that can deliver extremely targeted messages to extremely targeted audiences.

    Trouble is, there are more gardeners out there that do not read blogs than there are gardeners that do.

  3. John says:

    Gardening is a wonderful hobby but a hard business. Few people involved in it are making a ton of money. It looks lucrative, but it isn’t. Publishing is the same. People will complain about the cost of a glossy magazine with no knowledge of the amount of work that went into getting it produced and delivered to their door. Somewhere in the development of modern publications things got off track, they ‘just barely’ give the reader what they want. Someday, someone will come up with a totally new business model, a fresh new way of engaging and entertaining people and money will be made and readers will be happy. This year I intend to start up an online publication and it will overtly display the financial stats so that no one will be confused. Readers will know that when I say I’m raking it in, I’m talking about fallen leaves.

  4. JWLW says:

    There is nothing like relaxing and reading a good magazine article. I read several Garden related magazines and have noticed that the better one’s are linking the magazine to a web site that provides additional information and access to past articles. They in fact have become Blog’s.
    The better one’s seem to be maintaining the magazine and the blog effectively.

  5. Michele says:

    Domino stank. I had to laugh this morning at the New York Times obit, where people were straining to describe what made the magazine so “special.” So they had a garden blogger. Why didn’t they give Ivette actual space within the magazine? A little green might have alleviated the gloom of all those brown rooms Domino featured so endlessly.

    It’s true that magazine readership, unlike newspaper readership, is holding steady. But I often feel, when I pick up a shelter magazine, that they are doing their best to drive me away. Never any surprises. Everything at a fourth-grade reading level. Not even any interesting photography.

    I miss the late, great House & Garden.

  6. I also miss the late great House & Garden even if it was already resurrected once before. I don’t subscribe to anything any more, I just buy whichever copy of whatever magazine interests me and seems worth the cover price.

    All too often, shelter publications ignore the outside – focusing on perfect rooms, perfect furnishings, and perfect lives. Gardens are way too messy for their slick pages. Even our own Garden Design magazine looks less and less like a magazine about gardens. It is more and more about outdoor environments that include gardens (and other things) and maybe that is pointing us all in a new direction.

  7. Dave says:

    An “online publication”, his ‘new business model’? I wonder what John has in mind… While I read and enjoy lots of (and maintain one of my own) garden blogs, I sure think there is space in the virtual world for a better crafted, fuller and many-voiced e-zine kinda thing. More than a crutch for printed magazine, rather like a specialized slate.com. I personaly have no problem with it being corporate – as with news sources one reader always has to use judgement. And I wonder if the first printed magazines, you know back in the days, struggled to get the ads revenues like they do today?

  8. I have been in the Lawn & Garden industry for many years and this is a unique industry as profits are tied, to a great extent, to the weather of particular weekends and the calendar especially in areas which have definite seasons. They are slow to advertise because the dollars are just not there to justify the expense for most of the independent garden centers. The bigger garden centers can and do advertise. The fact that many don’t advertise may also be because it is more difficult to justify advertising where the success rate is hard to track. It is important to support the local, independent garden center if you want to have choices in the future. Many younger gardeners consider their local garden center to be one of the box stores. That puts the power of plant and hard good choices in the hands of corporations which have little commitment to anything but profits.

  9. It’s always struck me how cheap American publications were in comparison to European publications. Of course, you got what you paid for, which was not only a lot of ads but also a lot of product endorsements. Magazines like Yoga Journal, for example, are full of advice for clothes, beauty products (!), and other stuff.
    Would people pay more money if there were more content and less spin? And will the spin invade the blog world, as in the current post on the Digging blog?
    I wish I knew the answers. Luckily, this being Gardenrant, I can just rant along…;->

  10. Michelle D. says:

    I am saddened by the news that Ivette Soler will be losing her job with Domino along with her compatriot of friends and co-workers.

    But I look forward to her regrouping and starting her own blog.

    She has a unique voice and perspective that is fresh, observant in areas that are often missed, intelligent, creative and wickedly funny.

    I wish her the best of luck in her new garden blogging adventure.

  11. No answers here just a question: Why are we not hearing about European newspapers and magazines folding? I do not get the impression that that is happening elsewhere.

    As an older reader, I found domino shallow, jumbled and of little interest. I, too, miss House and Garden which had superb photos, and excellent garden writing by Tom Christopher, Katherine Whiteside and Dominique Browning. It could be over the top but better that than boring.

    The NYTimes had an interesting op ed yesterday suggesting that newspapers be endowed like universities because of their critical role (based on the famous Jefferson quote) in democracy. A fascinating read.

    Something that is never mentioned is the secondary economic role local papers play in their communities. The paper I used to work for — The Capital Times in Madison WI — last year gave away $2 million in grants to local non-profits; everybody from the Girl Scouts to the botanic garden to the UW. The potential loss of that publication will see the end of more than a newspaper.

  12. jodi says:

    This seems to be endemic in the publishing world, for sure. I’ve often wondered, however (and have never read Domino) how anyone could make a living being a garden writer for one newspaper or magazine, unless they were on staff and did other things.

    As a freelancer, I write for a whack of publications, not always about gardening (gasp), but I do have three regular gigs, three frequent but not every issue gigs, and assorted other things going on. Plus other types of writing. And I teach occasional writing workshops, and give talks at nurseries and clubs etc. That way if one slows down, I’m not left at sea.

    Pam’s post at Digging was awesome. As I said there, if I review a product, plant, or book, it’s because I’ve either purchased it myself or it’s been sent to me to trial. The nurseries that I promote in blog posts and articles, I do so because I spend a great deal of my disposable income with them and trust their products, their knowledge, etc. I’ve been approached, as many of us have, by some of these flighty sounding businesses who want to put adverts or ‘reviews’ on my blog in exchange for a few dollars. Nope, nope and nope. If I haven’t tried something, it’s not going on under my name. My integrity as a writer means more to me than a few dollars a month.

    It’s different with google ads; they’re random and sort of tied to the topics of the blog posts, but not necessarily. Sometimes they’re hilariously off-topic. And I have yet to see any income from them, nor do I worry, though I do try to remember to click through a few ads on other people’s blogs.

  13. I too am saddened to see all the magazines and newspapers fold. I write a garden column that is locally syndicated in 4 Los Angeles newspapers. The publisher of those papers is struggling but currently holding their own. The largest paper has shrunk in size due to the lack of ads. When they are out of room for any given issue, the first thing they drop is the gardening section. It is frustrating, (but luckily I get paid no matter how many of the 4 papers run my article). The editors feel that “food” columns are more important than the gardening and they are probably correct. They have less problems filling the food section with restaurant ads than they do filling the garden section with nursery ads. And probably more people “eat” than garden anyway.

    The Los Angeles Times had a big layoff about a month ago. They drastically cut their home section and their real estate coverage. There is a rumbling among staff that another layoff is coming very soon. Scary.

    I have always been a magazine reader and until recently, I never thought I would prefer to read the Internet over a magazine in my hand. But I have to agree with the others that the magazines are missing the boat most of the time. Most articles are no longer interesting. I get much more compelling content from blogs. So, now I only subscribe to a few of the magazines.

    As for blogs — lets face it. Most of the people who read our blogs are Bloggers! The general public has not caught on yet. However, I think this will change as more magazines and newspapers fold. I think we are right at the beginning of a huge transition here. I just don’t see how any of the money will follow…

  14. jenn says:

    Horticulture put out a really sad issue this month. They seem to be letting their readers write the articles. Which works in short doses, with proper vetting.

    They also fudged their layout to fill the pages… It looks like the entire mag was given to a grade school to design.

    Sigh. I used to LOVE their mag.

    The times, they are a’changin’

  15. It is sad to see what’s happening to the whole economy. Non-essentials are suffering.

    Blog readers don’t seem to want the ads (read the comments on Pam’s blog) — so, perhaps advertising in print has fallen off because the garden industry isn’t seeing a good return on their ad money? Ads fail, publications fail. Something has to pay the bills besides subscriptions.

    Bloggers are making only pennies with ads and aren’t charging for subscriptions. How long will blogging last?

    Cameron

  16. greg draiss says:

    blogging will last as long as there are people looking to see their words in print and the occasional comment from a reader.

    More reason to shop local………….

    The TROLL

  17. Nikki Smith says:

    Definitely a bummer to me because I’ve been using Domino as my inspiration at Washington Home & Garden magazine.

  18. Ivette’s blog was entertaining and educational, as well as really funny, and I’m sorry that she lost her spot at Domino. However, I’m sure she’ll have a new blog up and running soon, and I’ll be a regular reader.

    Elizabeth, thanks for the shout-out about my post on under-the-table compensation for bloggers. I’m enjoying all the thoughtful comments here as well as those on my site.

  19. dominomag says:

    Hi Ranters!

    Ivette here, and imagine my shock, seeing my eyeballs looking back at me when I checked The Rant tonight!
    Wow … this is such an emotional time! I was informed that I had to get all of my material of of typepad before tomorrow, because they will shutdown the website over the weekend. Conde Nast owns my archive, and it is only through the extreme kindness of one of the ex-employees that I MIGHT get a fully formatted version of two years worth of blogging.
    Those of you who blog for magazines, be very careful when you sign contracts!
    If there are any magazines left, that is…

    Thank you, wonderful Ranters, for your kind words and your good thoughts. I am not easily silenced! I will be back with my own site, and I’m thrilled to continue as part of this vibrant blogging community. I’ll let you all know when I’m up and running…

    And Michele – you made me laugh! Actually, they DID let me write in the glossy pgs of Domino – once. About heirloom tomatoes. When I got the magazine, not ONE of my words made it through the editing process. I was very lucky to be on the Domino website, where I could do as I pleased – and where I got to meet everyone!

    I’ll meet you all FOR REAL in Chicago!

    Much love,
    Ivette Soler
    The Germinatrix

  20. HI Ivette,
    I sense a great future for you. You are a talented writer and everyone loves you. Time to blog for yourself. We will be there to support you!

    Thanks Rant for the updates.

    Shirley

  21. Sigh. I wrote about this too the other day, and got quite a few comments. I don’t know any answers, but Elizabeth, you answered some of my questions about circulation and ad revenue. Again, sigh.~~Dee

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