Reducing your print mag’s frequency? Avoid the death spiral.

I’m hearing from a lot of people who are slashing the frequency of their print magazine: Four to three, three to two, two to (yikes) one.

Rising paper costs, trimmed budgets, and expanding workloads are among the many culprits for this change.

But if you still value print — and research shows that your alumni definitely do! — you’ve got to be especially thoughtful about the way you make those reductions. Because it turns out that a reduced frequency CAN work.

Two successful examples in the commercial magazine world are Harvard Business Review, which cut its frequency from 12 issues a year to 6, and New York Magazine, which went from weekly to every other week. Both magazines are thriving.

You don’t want a reduction to lead to a print magazine death spiral. I’m looking at you, Entertainment Weekly, which became Entertainment Weekly that came out monthly (!) and then became Entertainment Weekly that came out never.

When you cut frequency, resources, and page count, your magazine can easily become less valuable to your readers and to your institution.

So you cut again. You put the magazine on temporary hiatus. Then permanent hiatus.

And then, years later, you relaunch it at significant cost because it turns out alumni are pretty annoyed that you cut it in the first place.

If you want to make a reduced frequency work for your publication, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

1. Do an editorial overhaul

If you’ve had the same general content structure for years, you’ve likely got some bloat: departments that aren’t as effective as they used to be, or things that you’ve “always done” that made sense mostly because you had a bunch of pages to fill several times a year.

When you cut your magazine’s frequency, you’ve got to make sure every single word and image earns its way to the page.

2. Pour more resources into your cover

You’re got to be good enough to earn the coffee table, and for an even longer period of time: For four months instead of three. For six months instead of four. For TWELVE months instead of six. The front cover must be beautiful and immersive.

The back cover probably deserves a little more love, too.

3. Create a premium reader experience

Research shows that readers value physical objects 50 percent more valuable than digital versions of the same thing.

You can amp up that value even further by creating a beautiful, luxury object that people can keep in their lives for days, weeks, or longer: silky paper, perfect-bound spine, gorgeous photography and illustration, smart and surprising headlines, improved storytelling.

Your magazine should be the most premium expression of your team’s work.

It doesn’t have to be the first place a story appears! But it should be the best possible version of what your team can do, all bundled up in a compact, beautiful package.

4. Consider theme issues

First, before everyone gets mad at me, theme issues are not required! It’s part of my 57 alumni magazine rules.

But could a theme issue make your publication THREE TIMES times more valuable? Maybe!

Here’s one surprising example: In 2021, O, the Oprah Magazine switched from a monthly(ish) cadence to a quarterly cadence. In the interim they more than tripled the price, from $4.99 to $16.99 an issue.

Wow, right?

In many ways the magazine stayed roughly the same: a little bit longer, maybe. But to my eyes, the most visible change was creating a cover-worthy theme: The Beauty and Wisdom Issue. The Finding Joy Right Now issue. The Start Fresh issue.

A theme issue offers readers a meaningful (but complete-able) dive into a topic. Create an amazing theme and your readers will put it on the coffee table, pick it up, put it back, and pick it up again weeks later.

I have lots more to say about this topic, but suffice it to say: theme issues, when done well, have some serious staying power and value.

5. Look even further into the future

I recommend planning out at least three issues at a time — perhaps even four!

While it’s not uncommon for for editors to plan out a year of issues at a time, if you’ve got a couple issues a year, it may time to start thinking in terms of a few issues out, instead of a year out.

18-month plans can help you make sure you’re offering meaningful coverage to all of the areas that merit it.