More than 400 magazine publishing and editorial executives plus a sprinkling of agency and advertiser executives gathered earlier this week in San Francisco for the annual American Magazine Conference. With an opening discussion with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a closing conversation with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the conference acknowledged the serious challenges facing the industry but emphasized solutions and growth opportunities.
Highlights, ironically, were a luncheon conversation with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and an afternoon visit to the Silicon Valley campus of Google, where publishers were embraced as partners by CEO Eric Schmidt. “Narrative sustains the [media] business,” said Schmidt, “…but the future of high quality journalism is a huge problem. A reasonable prediction is that there will be fewer voices. More money is needed to fund high quality work.” Schmidt rhetorically asked if “young audiences will want a more interactive experience in print.” Print, he suggested, “will be a smaller component of a much larger online business, serving an audience that consumes in a different way.”
Schmidt suggested that publishers work with Google on “joint projects focused around website dwell time. Google sends people to magazine sites but they spend limited time there.” There is a danger, Schmidt exclaimed, of the Internet “becoming a cesspool,” adding it is in need of high quality content of the type provided by magazines. “In a world of disinformation, which is the future,” he said, “brands are the solution. Brand affinity is hard wired and fundamental to the human condition – who you trust and who you don’t. People want real value, real information, real leadership and messages of hope.” Schmidt’s recommendations resonated not only as a business model but as an appropriate foundation for political campaigns.
In an interview in advance of the AMC, Meredith Publishing president Jack Griffin agreed “in tough times there will be a migration of investment dollars to strong brands and measureable activities. Meredith,” he pointed out, “has deliberately built sources of revenue and cash flow that are outside of the traditional advertising path.” Meredith EVP Andy Sareyan, joining a panel with American Express Publishing CEO Ed Kelly and IDG president Bob Carrigan, said 25 percent of Meredith Publishing’s revenues are generated by non-magazine activities.
Non-magazine revenues, Griffin pointed out, have grown at a double-digit rate notwithstanding the economy. “In tough times,” he said, “money flows to where the impact can be quantified.” Schmidt agreed: “Publishers need to take the brand experience into networks and turn it into something that drives sales. Driving immediate sales is the holy grail.” He believes static display advertising will be replaced by more engaging and more targeted multi-media experiences.
Jamie Byrne, YouTube’s head of client solutions and ad programs told the magazine publishers and editors that online video will be central to consumers’ lives, becoming a primary form of communications. The digital landscape, he explained, is becoming multi-media and great content will still be king. He proposed three ways for magazines to leverage YouTube:
- Extend and deepen relationships with audiences;
- Promote and extend the magazine brand digitally;
- Create new revenue streams using YouTube brand channels.
Byrne shared People magazine’s Emmy Awards Red Carpet/YouTube contest and Cosmopolitan’s Rock Star promotion, singling out Hearst Magazines for its innovative work with YouTube.
Esquire, which incorporated the first electronic/digital chip into the cover of its 75th Anniversary cover this month, is planning to expand the functionality of electronic enhancements in the magazine and is “hoping for the exponential factor,” commented publisher Kevin O’Malley in an interview in advance of the AMC. “It’s important to lead through innovation,” he said. “In a YouTube world of aimless wandering, what is efficiency if not an engaged audience? Consumers are bouncing from one medium to the next, and we ask what gets our audience to stop and get engaged. Media that engage and create an immersive environment will be an important metric.”
The AMC experience, as planned by the Magazine Publishers of America and American Society of Magazine Editors, provided attendees with an immersive experience, with several publishers outlining their most innovative initiative of the past year. Woman’s Day editor Jane Chesnutt outlined her magazine’s new program incorporating technology developed by SnapNow.com, enabling readers to snap cell phone photos of selected pages and send them to the magazine to receive a variety of special offers. Redbook editor Stacy Morrison explained how the publication is embracing and engaging readers through cause related initiatives.
TiVo CEO Tom Rogers encouraged magazine editors and publishers to look toward innovation and to embrace the changes taking place across the media spectrum. Through opportunities offered by companies such as TiVo, he suggested, magazines can reach television audiences and provide advertisers with multi-media marketing solutions.
Several AMC panels and presentations focused on alternative revenue streams, including digital, event and database marketing, research, cause related initiatives and innovation. Esquire’s O’Malley argued that “pundits have incorrectly framed the media landscape as print vs. digital. Why vs?, “ he asks. “We have to move deeper into the video business via the clever interpretation of our content.”
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