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The costly print advertisements that kept magazines and newspapers alive were migrating to the web, where they earned only pennies on the dollar. To publishers, it felt as if a hurricane was flattening their business. But as the storm has cleared, a new publishing landscape has emerged.

What was once a fairly uniform business—identify a group of people united by some shared identity or passion, write stories for them to read and sell advertising next to the stories—has split into several different kinds.

Hard news is perhaps the hardest to make profitable. It is increasingly instant, constant and commoditised as with oil or rice, consumers do not care where it came from.

With rare exceptions, making money in news means publishing either the cheap kind that attracts a very large audience, and making money from ads, or the expensive kind that is critical to a small audience, and making money from subscriptions. Both are cut-throat businesses; in rich countries, many papers are closing.

But among magazines there is a new sense of optimism. In North America, where the recession bit deepest see chart , more new magazines were launched than closed in for the second year in a row.

In Brazil, for example, the Abril Group has made Minha Casa, a home-improvement magazine, the leader of its kind in two years thanks to a careful focus on new homeowners. Once, digital ads would have been scant comfort. On the web they are typically worth a small fraction of what they were in print. They have been around for only two years and most magazine subscriptions on them for less than a year; the MPA suggested measurement standards for advertising on tablets only in April.

Yet already there are signs that advertisers are accepting higher rates on tablets than on the web, because magazines on tablets are more like magazines in print: engrossing, well-designed experiences instead of forests of text and links. Publishers are still experimenting with formats: some are little different from their print versions, while others are more interactive, perhaps too much so. But the wiser publishers are finding ways to rely less on advertising.

They are looking to make more not only from subscriptions but also from other sources. What else a magazine can do besides sell copies depends on its audience and subject matter. Many are turning themselves from mere carriers of ads into marketing-services companies, giving their advertisers a range of new ways to reach readers.

There are also more esoteric business models. Monocle, a global magazine for the insufferably stylish, claims that the online radio channel it launched last autumn has been profitable from the start, since normal commercial radio stations never deliver the kinds of listeners its high-end advertisers want.

The Atavist, an American iPad magazine that publishes one long piece of narrative journalism each month, says it makes money largely because it licenses its iPad publishing software to other people.

Loyalty is lucrative The ability of magazines to inspire fierce loyalty among readers means there are also lots of small-time, quirky successes. XXI, a French quarterly of long-form reportage, is profitable despite carrying no ads, not putting its text online and being sold only in bookshops; it seems to capitalise on French intellectual traditions and the concentration in Paris of voracious readers.

As long as there are coffee tables, people will want things to put on them. This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline "Non-news is good news".


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