Is Print Dead? … the State of the Airbrush Union

The key to keeping the longest running airbrush magazine in history alive is a constant reinventing of ourselves, guerilla marketing tactics, the shear will to survive, and, especially in these print-challenged times, luck.

July-August 2012 Issue
Airbrush Action Magazine
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About 17 years ago, the advent of computer graphics and art spelled the end of photo-retouching by hand, and all but decimated hand painted illustration, Airbrush Action’s flagship application.  Yes, for those who didn’t know us back then, we were primarily an illustrator’s magazine.  Our advertising universe was quite respectable, we boasted about 116 pages an issue, and Airbrush Action showed continual growth in its first 10 to 12 years.

Then followed the enormous attrition of art stores. When I entered the art industry in 1983, there were more than 5,000 art retailers. Today, there are about 500, if that! Many of these retailers just couldn’t rebound or react quickly enough to the personal computer boom.  It got so bad one year, in fact, that the difference between profit and loss for Airbrush Action was the rent.

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“I don’t think anyone can argue that, ultimately, we have done far more
good than harm in making one of the largest contributions to promoting
and helping to sustain the use of airbrush.”

—Cliff Stieglitz, Airbrush Action’s publisher

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We then redirected our focus to a new market: automotive custom painting, the last frontier of airbrushing as I saw it at the time.  To compensate for the substantial loss of ad support, I realized that I had to step up our ancillary efforts by expanding our video library, further grow the Airbrush Getaway workshop program (more courses, etc.), publish more books, and explore any other products that wouldn’t compete with our advertisers.

Then, by the early 2000s the internet devastated print publishing across the board, including major magazines and newspapers.  The New York Daily News, Time magazine, ad infinitum, are all in financial trouble. In fact, I just heard today that Newsweek may cease printing. The classified sections of newspapers are on the brink of extinction because of free posting, and effective, websites such as Craigslist.

Do I believe print is dead? Not yet. Our distribution remains strong and niche and mainstream magazines are still in demand. And as long as there are airports, bookstores, and special interests, there will be print. The big problem is that many advertisers believe that all their eggs should be in one basket, the internet. I certainly believe in the internet, and I most enthusiastically embrace new technologies. Airbrush Action certainly does its fair share of social media, PPC campaigns, and even launched its website in 1996, before most in this industry.

But, I firmly believe that many of the players in this sector (airbrush and paint manufacturers, and those who make art accessories, etc) are committing a big mistake ignoring the relevance and importance of print, and clearly missing an important and fresh parade of readers associated with each issue. Clearly.  As much as we’re involved in the internet, you may be surprised to know that most of our Airbrush Getaway registration, and other response that leads to revenue, comes from Airbrush Action! We have spent thousands on pay-per-click campaigns on the net with only modest returns, and print subscriptions continue to be the champ over iPad and Web digital versions of Airbrush Action.

Although most of the feedback we receive is very positive, there are those who take issue (no pun intended) with our house ads, and I fully empathize with them. But please understand that if Airbrush Action cannot rely on the support of its industry, it must use other means to survive. Folks, even in good times an airbrush magazine is more difficult to sustain than you could ever imagine.  In fact, two former competitors shared the same sentiment with me: “Cliff, I have a new respect for you, and would never attempt to publish an airbrush magazine again!  I don’t know how you do it.”  For those who may believe that publishing is glamorous, let me assure you that there’s absolutely no romance in the minefield of magazine ownership.

Unfortunately, I know I cannot please everyone all the time, yet I’m committed to my nearly 30-year passion to continue to publish Airbrush Action.  I don’t think anyone can argue that, ultimately, we have done far more good than harm in making one of the largest contributions to promoting and helping to sustain the use of airbrush. However, the tradeoff for readers and enthusiasts desiring Airbrush Action’s continuation is being a little more understanding of our very necessary fund-raising efforts.

Your generous support in the form of Airbrush Getaway registration, subscriptions, the purchase of our books and DVDs is greatly appreciated and vitally important.  I anxiously await your suggestions on how we can make Airbrush Action a better experience for you, so please feel free to e-mail me at ceo@airbrushaction.com.

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