The winds of change are blowing at Aiki News. Did you ever wonder how this magazine could be profitable when page after page of text is followed by little advertising other than our own? The answer is, it isn’t. Aiki News, as a magazine, has not shown a profit since its inception 17 years ago, but has been subsidized through the sales of films, videotapes and, more recently, books. Why has this state of affairs been allowed to persist? I suppose the answer is unflinching optimism or perhaps stubbornness on my part. Certainly, good business sense would have dictated a shift in magazine policy towards an emphasis on advertising, lighter fare, and perhaps a dash of sensationalism. That’s why those martial arts publications which are successful—there are only a few—have covers with martial artists in colorful costumes with wild grimaces on their faces, striking exaggerated poses. When you look inside you find 40% to 60% of the pages consist of advertising. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong in this approach. After all, the purchase of a magazine is an individual choice. The content of those magazines you see on newsstands everywhere—and these are the survivors in their respective fields—is dictated by economics, pure and simple.
This is how it works in a nutshell. It costs perhaps two to three dollars to print a magazine of 100 pages or so in runs of several thousands. A magazine might have a cover price of $3.95, half or more of which goes to the distributor, leaving less than $2 per copy for the publisher. From this must be subtracted credit for magazines returned to the publisher by the distributor several months later—typically 30% to 70% of the total copies distributed. This leaves the publisher with less than a buck per copy against the cost of printing the magazine.
Of course, there is some income from subscriptions, but in most cases, the percentage of total magazine sales is small and subscriptions are usually heavily discounted to begin with. Also, the magazines still have to be labeled, packaged and mailed—further expense. Hence subscription revenues alone cannot turn the tide in the magazine publishing business. This leaves one significant income source—advertising, advertising and more advertising.
One of my favorite publications is PC Magazine for IBM compatible computers which has a circulation of over 1,000,000! It is published about 44 times a year with each issue something like 500 pages long. I would estimate that PC Magazine is about 70% advertising and these ads are an essential part of the attraction of the publication. Naturally, the personal computer market is one of the world’s largest.
What is the aikido market like? Well, in economic terms, it is minuscule, highly fragmented and spread out over 20 to 30 different cultures with little or no intercommunication among them. There are dozens of aikido organizations, most of which don’t talk to each other, and hundreds if not thousands of independent dojos. Products? Training wear and accessories, videotapes, and books. That’s about the extent of it. The aikido world is served by only two dedicated magazines to my knowledge—Aiki News and Aikido Today Magazine—and a few dozen generally short-lived newsletters with small circulations. This is the picture painted in broad strokes as I see it.
Let me share something else with you. I personally have harbored an illusion for many years. It was this. The reason that Aiki News remained small was that it didn’t have a broad enough appeal. It was too short, not fully professional in appearance, it was bilingual, too academic, etc. My plan was to make the magazine so good that aikidoists everywhere would simply have to buy it. Its content and scope would prove irresistible and the magazine would become indispensable to everyone’s training and understanding of the art. Well, within the last year or so, I believe the magazine has achieved a truly professional standard, and though by no means perfect, I have come to feel pretty proud of it according to my own sense of values. Our readers, a few hundred enthusiasts who share with us a fascination for and life-long commitment to the aiki arts, have supported us as a struggling magazine through thick and thin. Unfortunately, the improvement in circulation figures has been very small, and not enough to keep pace with the increased number of articles, photos and other enhancements to the magazine. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that my hypothesis was unrealistic and that the aikido market is simply too small to support a full-scale magazine devoted exclusively to the art.
(The full article is available for subscribers.)