Chris Schwarz's Blog

Popular Woodworking Magazine by the Numbers

I dislike writing about the magazine business because it’s not useful for our readers, who expect us to write about woodworking instead of engaging in navel-gazing.

But because we have received a lot of questions and mail about the merger of Popular Woodworking and Woodworking Magazine, I’m going to make an exception, lift up my shirt and take a quick peek.

First: Thanks for your letters , both positive and negative , about the new magazine. We read them all and respond to every one that we can. In my e-mail inbox, the sentiment about the new magazine is about 2-to-1 in favor of the changes. The criticisms have mostly been about the addition of advertising and the amount of woodworking information we are now delivering. So let’s take a look there.

The April 2010 Popular Woodworking Magazine is a 68-page issue with 19 pages that are advertisements. That’s 49 pages of “meat,” for lack of a better wood. Let’s check the “meat index” of an issue of Woodworking Magazine. There are 36 pages in each issue with only one page of advertising (the “Extras” page on page 35). That’s 35 pages of meat.

What about Popular Woodworking before the merger? The February 2010 issue was 76 pages with 17 pages of advertisements. That’s 59 pages of stories. (Note that we have averaged about 60 pages of meat in each issue during the last couple years.)

It looks like Popular Woodworking Magazine is smaller than Popular Woodworking but larger than Woodworking Magazine. Right?

It’s not that simple.

The design of the new magazine is quite different. The paper is larger than what we used with Popular Woodworking, and we have less white space. We also have constrained the size of the photographs at the beginning of each article , no more full-page spreads. And we have tightened up the columnists. “Arts & Mysteries,” “Flexner on Finishing” and “Design Matters” are all two pages each instead of three. We tightened things up with old-fashioned editing, by the way. Instead of removing information, we removed unnecessary words that weren’t doing their jobs.

So counting pages isn’t a good indicator. Why don’t we count the words instead?

Personally, I think counting words is silly. No one will argue that Golden Corral is better than The French Laundry because the Golden Corral gives you more calories. But it is one indicator. Here are the numbers:

1. During the last year, Popular Woodworking has averaged 33,642 words of editorial coverage in each issue.

2. Woodworking Magazine has averaged 24,850 words of editorial per issue.

3. The April 2010 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine has 34,254 words of editorial coverage , about the same as you would get in an issue of Popular Woodworking during the last couple years.

Second Complaint: Those tinyurls
At the end of each article in the magazine is a box that points you to online stories and web sites that are related to the article so you can dive deeper into a topic that interests you. In this issue we used “tinyurls,” a long-standing Internet redirect service, so you don’t have as many characters to type.

A fair number of readers don’t like tinyurls. We don’t particularly like them, either. But they are a stopgap until we get a new web site in place this summer. We won’t use tinyurls going forward, and if you want to find any of the links listed in the print issue you can go to this page: popularwoodworking.com/apr10 (we’re building out this page right now. Links are being added as I type).

Third Complaint: When Does My Subscription Run Out?
Some customers have been confused by the merger, especially if they had subscriptions to both publications. If you want to confirm the number of issues remaining in your subscription, check the line on the mailing label above your name; the last issue in your subscription is printed there. If you’d like to clear up a problem, send a message with your name and mailing address where you receive your subscription to Debbie Paolello, our subscription specialist: debbie.paolello@fwmedia.com.

But Why Did You Do It?
The other big question from readers is “Why?” While I tried to address this in my column in the April 2010 issue, I’ll add some more details for you.

Many of my colleagues in the magazine business think we’re all swirling around the toilet bowl to our watery grave. I’m not that grim, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that a lot of my friends in media are out of work.

We know that big changes are coming. And instead of waiting to have it roll over us, we decided to sprint in front of this boulder. While both our magazines were profitable and stable, they consumed all our staff’s time and energy to produce 11 yearly issues (those of you who get e-mails from us during nights and weekends can attest to this).

We decided that we had to put more energy into growing our quickly growing online business. And we knew there was no hope of expanding our staff in this time of dwindling corporate resources.

So that’s what drove the decision to merge the two magazines. And it’s the honest truth. Any speculation you might read on the message boards is simply not grounded in our world, which is based on raw number-crunching, decades of media experience and a desire to stay employed in the best job in the world , getting to write and edit a woodworking magazine.

It is indeed a dream job. But it’s a dream that has to live in the real world.

– Christopher Schwarz

30 thoughts on “Popular Woodworking Magazine by the Numbers

  1. Randy

    I don’t like your first "new" issue. I always have liked Populare Woodworking Magazine and didn’t like Woodworking Magazine. I think the preference is was mainly due to the fact the I’m not really much of a hand woodworker and Popular WW was more oriented to machine woodworking. The first new issue appeared more oriented to the Woodworking Magazine style and content. If this continues, I most likely won’t continue my subscription and spend the money elsewhere. Sorry, but it just doesn’t suit my likes so far.

  2. Capt Barnacle

    I don’t understand why people get up and arms over ads. Are they that weak that they can’t say no to when someone wants to sell them something? Is a router bit ad an insult to their purity view of woodworking? I guess that’s what you guys have to put up with when 80% of your business comes from grumpy old men.

    P.S. Anyone counting the pages of meat in a magazine needs to get a life.

  3. Cindy Zembryki

    Am just finishing up the "new" woodworking amgazine and I like it a lot. I subscribe to several woodworking magazines, all for different reasons. Some have the best diagrams and pics of projects. Some have the best workshop projects and news. Some have a very broad range of how to info, from auto to plumbing, and lots in between. What you offer in the "new" mag is more of the "thinking about" and "why" of the "how to’s". I feel I get to know more about the people who write the article and do the project rather than only the project itself (thought that certainly has its place).
    It is like talking with (or listening to)a fellow woodworker who knows a whole lot more than I do and is willing to share.
    I have the sense that your magazine is more for folks who also love the wood of the woodworking, as well as the wonderful things it can become.
    Keep up the good work. And be proud that you are getting ahead of that boulder Chris talked about.
    Cindyz

  4. Robert D Finley

    I started in the magazine and newspaper business when everything was set by Linotype or by hand. Then along came offset and now digital and the internet. Lots of changes coming, but no one is sure just how it all is going to shake out or for how long.
    Stick with it and ride the wave. I will keep my subscription unless woodwork all becomes plastic. Working with my hands, creating useful items or works of art is the only creative outlet that I can totaly control what I do and how I do it.
    Keep up the good battle.

  5. megan

    Dave R –
    Thanks for the heads up on the "auto-responder" after you renewed (and thanks, too, for renewing!). I’ve let our web manager know about that, so I hope we get it updated quickly.
    Cheers,
    megan

  6. Tom O'Brien

    I like the new format. The content seems to be a rich blend of what was in both magazines before the merger.

    As long as I get to continue reading the fine, expressive prose of Christopher Schwarz, I’m pleased.

    I know of no other magazine whose pages ring with the occasional well-placed "boy howdy".

  7. Dave

    No one likes change but if you don’t change you get stale a old after some time.
    I think the new issue is very informative. I am looking forward to the next.

    Just a word about ads. Not sure why a lot of people is so against them. I always like reading about new tools or what deals may be on that month. I don’t think my $19.97 a year is going to keep everyone employed at Pop-Wood so they need help from vendors.

  8. Dave Crawford

    I just wanted to say that my first reaction when I saw the new magazine the other day was that over the years Popular woodworking just keeps getting better and better. As I read the magazine I became more and more impressed.
    Keep up the good work!
    Dave

  9. Kevin Kilpatrick

    Hi

    I am not sure about the merger, I am anxiously waiting to see the new magazine. The funny thing is I currently subscribe to Woodworking Magazine and I think it is the best woodworking magazine subscription I get and I was going to start subscribing to Popular Woodworking, because I always buy it then you announced you were combining the two. I was not sure if I should be happy or disappointed, I guess time will tell.

    Thanks looking forward to the new magazine and I hope it works out.

    Kevin

  10. Dave R

    Chris, this is interesting. It is nice to have the straight scoop. So I just re-subscribed a few minutes ago to Popular Woodworking and after confirming, I was immediately presented wit a page telling me to, "Complete Your Woodworking library with a Subscription to Woodworking Magazine!" I don’t suppose that page is needed any more then?

    Cheers,

    Dave

  11. John Finley

    Wow, I’m kinda sad about the whole thing. While I understand your intentions and goals, and the nature of our ailing economy, seeing the end of the woodworking icon "Popular Woodworking", that I have enjoyed for so many years, is indeed a sad thing. From what I have seen of your new Woodworking Magazine, it seems to be fashioned more after Fine Woodworking than Popular Woodworking. That’s paramount to going white collar over us blue collar folks . . so to speak. The format is no doubt more efficient, but the warm & bright pages of the old Popular Woodworking are giving way to the more dictionary style of a prospectus. It seems the fun & friendly pages have fallen to the no frills efficiency, common in the current atmosphere ruled by accountants and digits, rather than the hearts & minds of true woodworkers. In my humble and personal opinion, that could prove to be the biggest mistake yet. While I will probably not be a reader anymore, because I still think of woodworking as art not defined by efficiency, but I sincerely do hope you folks do well in your new address. Good luck to you all!!

    John Finley

  12. Jerome Bias

    The new format look wonderful except I miss the head shots of the contributors. No one got to see how much light bounces off of my bald head. 🙂

    Thanks for all the work that you guys do. Great Magazine.

    Jerome Bias

  13. David Martino

    Magazine business shmagazine business – personally, you did me a favor. I’ve been getting and enjoying Woodworking for a few years, sometimes wanted the articles in Popular Woodworking, but have too many subscriptions already. Problem solved, it didn’t cost (much) more, and the new mag comes more often. Thanks! FWIW I think your various publications and sites are committing the best writing on tools and woodworking out there – hands down. Keep up the good work.

  14. Bill Melidones

    Chris,

    Thanks for not ignoring the 500lb gorilla in the room until both magazines went belly up, kind of like the folks at Woodwork did.

    The new magazine is a great product and I can’t think of anying to add to it. Folks need to understand that advertisements are a fact of life unless they want to pay $25 per issue instead of per year.

    Keep up the good work,

    Bill

  15. james

    yup, the only constant in business is change, ignore that reality and ones biz is not likely to be around.

    I think you are correct that online is the future. GOOD LUCK on your merged venture, MAKE IT HAPPEN!

  16. Eric R

    I must live in the back water of the magazine delivery route, as I have yet get my copy of the new product.
    But you guys haven’t dissapointed me yet, and I don’t suspect this will change things.
    We’ll see.

    I like your honest explanation on what drove the change.
    You are people we can trust, and that is saying something in this world.

  17. Roger Davis

    I was thinking about counting pages, etc., but I’m glad you beat me to it. A long-time subscriber to PopWood, I had only recently subscribed to Woodworking and cannot say I was pleased with the change. Having seen the new issue, I don’t hate it. On the definitely up side, any outfit smart enough to hire Kari Hultman is probably going to keep my support in the future!

  18. Josh B

    I think I liked Woodworking a little better than the merged magazine but I like the new merged format a lot better than the original PWW, and it comes almost twice as often as Woodworking, so overall I’m very pleased with the change. I’ll be sending in my renewal card and check in a couple days.

    I actually really like the layout and formatting in the new magazine, and the tighter editing shows in the articles. It’s much easier to read in the new layout as well. This may be a coincidence but in this issue pretty much every article has been of interest to me, I’m in the process of reading it cover to cover, something I never really did with PWW. From my point of view I’m coming out ahead if the inaugural issue is anything to go by.

    I was also very glad to see that you kept the "I can do that" column. That bench may find it’s way into my back yard this summer 🙂

    Cheers,

    Josh

  19. John Borgwardt

    You rock. You have to have the best group going. If I had 1/3 the energy you put forth in this effort I would be the richest man ever. John

  20. Hank Knight

    Chris,

    After all the commentary on the internet about the new magazine, I was anxious to get my hands on it. My copy arrived in the mail last Thursday. I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised. Keep up the good work and try not to let the negative commentary get to you. I know you have a magazine to run, but, from my perspective, you’re running it very well.

    Hank

  21. Ethan

    Chris,

    Glancing through this first issue, I counted one, two, three, four, five, six articles that had to do with woodworking but weren’t step-by-step projects telling you the one and only way to make a high boy with a fully outfitted shop.

    And I loved it.

    To me, woodworking is so much more than doing step A, then step B, then step C and so on. It makes it more personable to me to read about how Thomas Day made his mark and to imagine working with some of that tight-grained mahogany from Belize (you guys didn’t send Kari down there to take those pictures, did you?). I appreciated the articles on basic design properties and table construction because they give us the knowledge base necessary in order to successfully try something new.

    And I gotta tell you, from a completely unbiased point of view, that Tricks of the Trade section is top notch! 😉

    I look forward to the next issue!

    Regards,

  22. David B.

    I can’t say that I like the merger, but hey, you do what you gotta do. I liked and subscribed to both magazines separately. While Popular Woodworking was the meat and potatoes, Woodworking Magazine was always my desert. Just hand tools and wood, no ads for this months greatest router lift. No distractions, just raw woodworking. While I’m sure the content is still there, its just not the same. What will this economy steal from us next?

  23. Jamie Ray

    Chris,

    I personally LOVE the new magazine. It’s better than the first 30 issues of Fine Woodworking. That’s the best compliment I can give. Your magazine has filled a space in the woodworking world that needed to be filled: a serious, journal type magazine that has appeal to amateurs and pros alike. Keep up the great work, the others will come around.

    Jamie

  24. Matt Cianci

    Thanks for your frank and honest words Chris. I got my new issue on saturday and I say Bravo!

    Keep up the good work and stay strong!

  25. Dave Griessmann

    Chris,

    I think alot of the issues came from the fact no one likes change. I’m sure after a couple of issues and everyone is comfortable to the new format (and has their subscription questions flushed out) you’ll see a huge change in attitudes.

    When I first skimmed the new format I have to admit I wasn’t sold. But after reading the content I found myself looking forward to the next issue!

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