A post over on the recently discovered, and excellent, LandscapeJuice highlights the decline of so many print magazines in the digital age. [Update: he's since followed it up with another post on the subject.] Although it concentrates on British trade magazines, the problem of reduced sales and reduced advertising is common to all of the gardening magazines, everywhere. None seem to have dealt with the situation well except for National Gardening in the US which simply abandoned print and went over to the web entirely. It seems to be doing very nicely (although as I write most of the images on its home page are missing!).
Many of those magazines aimed at home gardeners try to slash costs, saving money by increasing the pages of reader-generated words and pictures which, although useful in other ways, rarely bring the expertise, insight and quality that trained professional writers and photographers contribute. But they’re cheap. Some magazines merge, some just close.
In Britain the excellent BBC Easy Gardening closed last year after a 25% collapse in sales while the trade weeklies HorticultureWeek (for garden centers and growers of ornamentals) and The Grower (for fruit, veg and cut flower growers) have had to merge though their websites remain distinct.
For home gardeners, the weekly Garden News and monthly Garden Answers uncomfortably share a common website under the clunky name of GardeningMags.co.uk; sales of their print editions have been in long term decline. Their ‘Find out what’s in the next issue of Garden News and Garden Answers” link takes us to an almost empty page. I wrote about these two here after meeting their editors in January. Not much has changed. But their Managing Director recently said: “…our ambition is to explore and develop other, non-print opportunities within the Gardening genre” – which perhaps means a web upgrade.
The other UK weekly, Amateur Gardening, sells more but does not seem to take the web very seriously. There’s little content, it’s mainly a vehicle to sell subscriptions. And, when I looked just now, the “In this week’s issue” panel was completely empty! Gardens Illustrated too is mainly a promotional site while English Garden has more for readers and more interesting content but an empty About Us page and very few posts on its forums. This is basic stuff, folks.
The Gardens Monthly site continues to improve, with very active forums. and some content available only to subscribers to the magazine – but it’s headlined gardening.co.uk – a great URL but it’s not immediately apparent that the site has any connection with the magazine. At least their boss sees the importance of the web – and not just as a way of defending the ciurculations of print magazines. LINK
BBC Gardeners World recently relaunched its website and this is by some distance the best of the British magazine sites. It might well win Website of the Year next month (although this month’s “New Plant of the Month” has been around for years!). The superb Royal Horticultural Society website won last year – but this is far more than just the website of The Garden magazine.
So… mixed efforts and mixed results as the UK gardening magazines develop their online presence – or not as the case may be. Personally, while English Garden and Gardens Monthly both restrict some magazine content to subscribers, I’d like to see them all offer lots of extra material for subscribers, material that’s not in the magazine. That might just coax people to subscribe – and match BBC Gardeners World with over half its sales from subscriptions. But they all also have to think of themselves as web publishers, not just as magazines with websites.