These are heady days for the magazine industry’s two largest associations, Magazine Publishers of America and American Business Media. Membership for both MPA and ABM (which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2006) are booming. Both have enjoyed recent success on the legislative front (including the passage of postal reform) and both are anticipating dramatic increases in onsite participation at upcoming events, including the MPA Retail Conference and ABM Spring Meeting. But in this era of growth for these industry advocates, what do rank-and-file members feel is most important? Here’s a look at what members get, what they like best, and what they pay.
Both associations;as well as the many regional and specialized publishing associations;offer an array of services built around education, networking, lobbying and industry research such as ad tracking, and promotion. Both have marquee annual conferences and both have extensive professional development programs (MPA has near 100 planned for 2006 and ABM, which has expanded its educational offerings extensively in recent years, offers 24.)
Membership at ABM is now 290 companies. And CEO Gordon Hughes predicts it will surpass 300 by spring. The change in demographics is also significant, Hughes says. "The average age of attendees at our events has dropped by about 15 years," he says. "Look at our board of directors;there are more women and online folks." Last year, attendance at regional ABM events was about 2,000 and 45 percent of that number had never attended an ABM event before, says Hughes. "ABM does a great job of working with the various functions within publishing to keep people current and serve as an education source for new people entering the arena," says one member. "I think ABM has done an excellent job of staying current with the various areas and products that publishers produce, and is not just limited to magazines."
MPA is enjoying similar growth, with membership up to about 220 companies. "Over the last 15 months we’ve put on 34 new members, most from the independent magazine area," says president Nina Link. The association’s Independent Magazine Advisory Group was created three years ago.While members applaud the growth in smaller publishers, some say MPA still has a way to go before it loses the perception as a mouthpiece for the "Big Six" publishers. "The main benefit for me is the network of independent publishers developed through the IMAG," says one member. "However, they face a real challenge in creating programming that addresses the needs of both Time Inc. and my company." Another adds, "They could do a better job of showcasing smaller, niche titles at events such as the AMC, in marketing campaigns, and at the digital conference. The recent advertising/marketing campaign fell short."
Managing Industry Issues
Lobbying accounts for a good deal of their efforts;both associations spend close to $800,000 a year on lobbying. Since 2002, MPA has spent between $500,000 and $600,000 per year while ABM spent roughly $250,000 on lobbying efforts over the past year, up from about $175,000 over the past several years. (According to the association’s annual report, however, ABM spent $991,626 of its $5.4 million budget on Washington representation in 2005; Hughes says that includes lobbying as well as fees for ABM’s legal counsel.) "We don’t have a lot of money for lobbying, so coalition is the way we do it," says Hughes. "We were the lone voice for postal reform nine years ago. I think we’ve done yeoman-like work in that area."
"The postal lobby is one of the major benefits for publishers," agrees one ABM member. "Also, they serve as a terrific resource for information on every aspect of today’s publishing/media business."
The MPA receives similar kudos for its work in the postal area ("I think they’ve had significant influence on postal reform," says one member) and other issues;such as protecting the $1 billion in advertising consumer magazines get from the prescription drug category. "Our Washington agenda is huge," says Link. "We save the industry money, we promote the industry and we’re an advocate for everything concerning free speech."
On the promotion front, both associations run regular campaigns to reach out to advertisers, agencies, government and other influencers. ABM is about to launch a new campaign this spring, while MPA is entering the second year of a $40 million effort in which member magazines devote space to ads touting "magazine engagement" over other media. While the associations cite research that claims the campaigns work, some observers are skeptical. "The MPA is buying into an outdated formula of publishing antiquity," Bo Sacks wrote in his blog, dated Jan. 31. "The only buyers of advertising space that their message is going to reach are quickly nearing retirement age."
Both associations have dues structures based on member revenue. Typically, ABM dues consist of a charge of $1.196 per one thousand dollars of total b-to-b revenue and a listing fee of $460 per year for all of the b-to-b and specialty publications a company prints. International publication revenues and listing fees are discounted by 75 percent. Associate members, usually suppliers, are assessed a flat rate of $5,375 per year. Minimum and maximum dues are $3,500 and $173,344, respectively per year. MPA dues are invoiced quarterly and are based on gross revenues of the member company’s magazines. Minimum dues are $1,000 per year ($250 per quarter).
Some ABM members were critical of what they pay not only in annual dues but also to participate in ABM events. "The cost to attend events is way too expensive to be able to send many people or even attend one’s self," says one member. And one publisher says, "In comparison to every other trade association we support, their fee structure is significantly out of line. Their structure puts us in a very high bracket, and the added fees are astronomical. If we were a very small company, with a fee structure based on $10,000 or $20,000, there would be a cost-value equation such as using their legal services. But we already have those services."
Looking ahead, both associations are in the process of setting new priorities. ABM’s current two-year plan expires in June and the association is working to set a new agenda based on a survey of members and guidance from its strategic planning committee. MPA is pledging more work on possibly the biggest issue facing consumer magazines: Audience measurement. Members offered their view: "I think a new industry-wide ad-revenue metric needs to be developed;PIB doesn’t take into account revenue streams from other media, such as online and events," says one member. Adds another: "By far the biggest challenge is the question of audience metrics. How do we provide credible and useful numbers to advertisers?"