[This is part of our special extended team coverage of the American Magazine Conference, the annual gathering of publishers and editors, held October 16-19.]
LAS CROABAS, Puerto Rico – The call for new magazine metrics to put the industry on an equal playing field with other media wasn’t new, but the open acknowledgement that product placement is a reality to the future of the consumer magazine industry was a twist for the 2005 American Magazine Conference, held Oct. 16-19 in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.
New Magazine Publishers of America chairman and Hachette Filipacchi president and CEO Jack Kliger said the future of the magazine industry hinges on two points: marketing the product and proving the effectiveness of magazine advertising. To that end, Kliger blasted current magazine metrics as antiquated and out of step with other media. "Circulation-based metrics are irrelevant to proving advertising effectiveness," Kliger said to an audience of about 400. ﾑThere is too much focus on rate base rather than distribution. Every other medium deals with audience, we deal with circulation. Why should a magazine advertiser care if a magazine is paid or non-paid?"
Fresh off the flap over retailer Target being the sole sponsor of an issue of The New Yorker, and just before the airing of an episode of 60 Minutes that will be sponsored by a single advertiser, much of the conference content focused on product placement in magazines, highlighted by the American Society of Magazine Editors
using the event as a platform to release a new set of editorial guidelines. "At the top, people know where the lines are," said Newsweek editor and ASME president Mark Whitaker, "but in the trenches, they don’t."
"There is no way you can continue to function as a magazine and ignore the changes that have come to other media in the way advertisers and the content side have become joined," said conference chair and Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith. "The magazine business will be obsolete unless we acknowledge change. That doesn’t mean we have to do what [other media] are doing. But to simply stand on ceremony and not make any changes would be self-defeating. I’ll always land on the side of maintaining integrity but what’s the point of maintaining integrity if the industry goes away?"
Debating New Content Channels
Elsewhere, publishers acknowledged the need to master new content distribution channels now while debating just which of those channels to place early bets on. Technology Review publisher and editor-in-chief Jason Pontin said publishers have to look beyond their own industry for successful models. "Don’t look to publishing for how to do it online," he said. "Magazine editorial is an imposed experience, while the Web is a community experience. People want a social experience and you need to be looking at social sites such as delicious.com.
But while Pontin also said the soon-to-be re-launched Technology Review is making it a point to be immediately readable on handheld devices, Forbes.com CEO and president Jim Spanfeller cautioned against premature focus on unproven technology. "The jury is still out [on handhelds]," said Spanfeller. "It’s a different medium. We’ve gone from 100 pages glued together to formatting for a 15-inch screen to now trying to put content on a three-inch screen. How do you format that?"
While much of the AMC conference is dedicated to applauding the industry, there is usually one speaker who takes the industry to task. This year it was former Esquire art director George Lois, who had three covers make ASME’s just released top 40 magazine covers of the last 40 years list, and who blasted the industry
for moving away from daring, creative focus to a safe corporate agenda. "The ubiquity of the celebrity profile in popular magazines since the [Esquire editor Harold Hayes] era continues to be fawning psychobabble based on yet another adoring, boring kiss-ass magazine cover that sits unsold at the newsstands."