Posted on June 10 2008
Yesterday I spoke with Tom Pero, editor of Fish & Fly magazine, who said that the current Tackle and Travel issue, almost in the hands of subscribers, will be the last for the publication under Turnstile Publishing. Turnstile, which owns the magazine, also shut down Master’s Athlete today and laid off 15 employees. This continues a series of shutdowns of periodicals by the company, which has been hurt by the decline in their golf magazine business following an editorial debacle last winter, when a cover of their flagship Golfweek magazine carried a hangman’s noose to illustrate a story on a comment made by a Golf TV announcer regarding Tiger Woods. Apparently large investments in in-house video capabilities also did not pay off. Turnstile and Pero are now working to find another publisher to take over the title and its circulation of approximately 20,000.
But it seems to me that the demise of Fish & Fly — which more than any other fly fishing periodical in recent years took editorial chances, with longer, more detailed articles, more photographs, and harder-hitting gear reviews — says more about the state of the fly fishing magazine business than it does about Tom Pero’s editorial leadership, which I think was inspired. We’ve all heard complaints about milquetoast journalism in fly fishing, and F&F wasn’t it. Pero chose to focus on in-depth content, and he believed that the readers and advertisers would pay for it. As it was, periodicals that spent more resources on becoming effective direct mail engines survived him. Even the fact that the latest issue of F&F is packed with advertising becomes a footnote when magazine publishers in general are experiencing lower subscription renewal rates, higher production and postal costs, and a shift in younger readers to the Internet.
What does that say about the future of fly fishing periodicals? I wonder. Maybe advertisers will be happy to have their choices narrowed on the print side of the business. But they lose out when an audience that is willing to pay for substance and a distinct voice is absorbed into the crowd. Personally I hope that other print publishers will take the example of Fish & Fly and improve on it by lowering their frequency and upping their production quality, but especially by spending more money on authors’ and photographers’ work. Pero’s publication is evidence enough that is not editorial costs that will sink the ship. Indeed, if the inside story on Turnstile’s failed attempt to move into video proves anything, it’s that magazines should do what they do best. Print needs to adapt: not to compete with the Web, but to complement it. Nothing delivers high-resolution like print, and nothing appeals more to the human desire to hold information in our hands — at least not yet.
Anyone desiring more information about Fish & Fly can contact Tom Pero at firstname.lastname@example.org.