Prolific gun magazine publisher, Harris Publications, announced to its staff today that it is closing down effective April 29, 2016. This move will eliminate 16 different shooting and firearms related periodicals and annuals.
Among the magazines shuttered:
- Combat Handguns,
- Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement,
- Pocket Pistols,
- Survivor’s Edge,
- Tactical Weapons, and
- Special Weapons for Military & Police.
The publishing industry has radically changed in the years since the internet entered nearly every home in America. Harris Publications is not the first, nor the last, to close shop. It just happens to be one of the largest.
Although this impacts the gun enthusiast, Harris Publications produced more than 75 different periodicals covering diverse topics that ranged from the automotive industry to sports coverage to the latest in music and fashion. It is unfortunate to see this company go, as many people I know will be hit hard by the unexpected job loss.
Many readers know I have been a regular contributor to several Harris Publications gun magazines in recent years. The company always treated me fairly, and never placed any restrictions on how I reviewed a product. I am proud of my association with the company and with the men and women I had the honor of working with. I learned a lot from many of them.
I cannot speak to the specifics of why the company closed down. I can only share with you the reasons given in a letter that Stanley Harris, the company’s founder, sent out to employees:
As you know, the magazine publishing industry has been through turmoil in the face of the rapid ascendance of digital media, changing consumer content preferences, magazine wholesaler struggles and consolidation in the supply chain. We have tried mightily to persevere against these forces, but have been unable to overcome these challenges.
A snarky reader might say that the company closed because people stopped buying the magazines. While there is an element of truth to that, there is, perhaps, a better truth to be found in answering the question of “Why did people stop buying the magazines?”
There is no single correct answer for this question. Rather, there are a multitude of different reasons unique to each in the buying public.
Advertising & Trust
Many Americans have been polarized into two groups: the skeptical and the vapid. Gun owners tend to be more skeptical, and after years of seeing various publications cater to the advertiser with puff piece stories, they no longer saw the value in gun reviews or other reporting.
To be completely fair, I was never asked to provide a positive or otherwise “good review” of any firearm or ammunition I evaluated for Harris Publications. The Great Remington R51 Reporting Fiasco, with both offline and online publishers participating, was certainly a classic case of saying good things about a gun that did not deserve it.
However, on one occasion, I did have a gun prove to be completely unreliable. After checking with a law enforcement agency that had purchased the same gun and finding that it had also experienced the same problems, the article was canceled. I believe consumers would have been best served with an article about the gun that failed, but I had no control over what would be published.
My criticism is not leveled solely at firearms magazines. I have see the same kinds of bad journalism in other magazines. A good friend relayed several stories to me about how the photography industry was plagued by manufacturer purchased journalism several decades back.
Even if Harris was completely above board with every article published, the simple fact that they generated a large sum of money from advertisers suggested to the public that the content should be critically evaluated. This likely was a factor in keeping some readers from pulling a wallet from their pocket.
Would running a “bad review” increase readership? I don’t know, but maybe.
Online = Free, Fast
The online world is probably the single, biggest reason why the company is closing. Potential readers can hop online and find reviews and information for free.
Not only is the information free, it is also fast. For a magazine to report on new product announcements there is usually a 30-60 day delay until the article is published. For a review, that time can stretch on for months. With the instant nature of online reporting, information can be had immediately.
Consider the annual SHOT Show. I attend the annual show with a small group of other writers. We walk the floor, find new products and write about them within hours – sometimes minutes – of seeing them. For any gun enthusiast interested in hearing about new products, why pass that up and wait for a print magazine that will have fewer products listed anyway?
Of course, free content does not suggest the content is any better or more honest. Frankly, I know of quite a few bloggers and YouTubers that pimp themselves out to companies. In a straight money for review or product for review relationship, there are some popular content creators who are being less than honest about the nature of the reviews they provide.
That is one of the primary reasons that I do not accept advertising on the site, and I fully disclose any biases that impact my reviews. I want you, the reader, to have complete confidence in the information I provide.
The Future of Gun Publications
Harris Publications going out of business will send shock waves through the publishing industry. It was a major player. However, I don’t think it will be the last to fall.
Clearly, more and more people seek out gun information online. For the remaining gun publications, the online experience will become increasingly important to stay relevant. The problem is that most of them don’t have a clue how to connect online.
The online world is still a bit of the wild west and something closer to the libertarian market that the Founders envisioned. That means there is both good information and bad information to be found online. Readers have to critically evaluate which is which.