Mass-consumer magazines have a different reality when it comes to digital media, because unlike b-to-b and most other types of publications, they still rely overwhelmingly on their print products to drive tens of millions of dollars. But that hasn’t stopped many leaders of the big consumer-magazine companies from pushing online media, and Cathleen Black, CEO of Hearst Magazines is one of them. "Probably it’s like everyone else you’re talking to, and it’s not a new idea, but our big idea is certainly putting our digital efforts on steroids," she says.
What does that involve? A combination of planning for the future while at the same time dealing with the reality of here-and-now. The here-and-now is that the big money is in print. "The numbers that are trotted out are that 4 percent or 5 percent of [mass consumer-magazine revenue is digital], but we’re not there yet," Black says. On the other hand, the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar has 380 ad pages, she says;the biggest issue of the magazine in 140 years. Beyond that, ad agencies are sharply split by specialty;digital and print. "Right now digital still for us is the tail wagging the dog," Black says.
For the immediate future, Hearst maintains separate sales efforts for print and digital. "About 80 percent of the calls we make are about a multiplatform package," Black says. "Our people have to be trained to respond to the advertiser in a really smart marketing way. The challenge is getting paid for it."
Black recently convened 250 people for an all-day digital-media event, where, among other things, prominent media-buying executive David Verklin predicted that within a couple of years the divide between print and digital agencies would cease to exist. "We are training all of our salespeople so that they are able to speak intelligently about the digital capabilities of the magazine," Black says. "The client doesn’t care how you’re structured."
Black says she spends about 20 percent of her time on digital matters, but is also focused on international growth, topline growth through business development and startups, and internal cost-savings and efficiency. "We built a digital photo studio about a year ago," she notes. "There is no question we have lowered our production processes and costs over the last several years."
Hearst has created a new digital media group with five groups within it.
"The money we make on digital pales in comparison to our ad revenue."
"By year’s end, we anticipate selling more than 1 million subs online. We are exposing our magazines to huge new audiences."
"I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know how digital is going to be bought in the next few years."