BOULDER, Colorado—Some of the magazine industry’s most independent-minded and resourceful publishers discussed and grappled with a mix of old-fashioned print-publishing blocking and tackling and cutting-edge challenges here this week at the Independent Magazine Advisory Group’s sixth annual meeting.

In a year when event attendance is off throughout the industry, this one, with a bit more than 100 people, enjoyed its best turnout ever, the Magazine Publishers of America’s CEO Nina Link said.

Conference chairman Andy Clurman, COO of Active Interest Media, set the stage in opening remarks, declaring that the event would be a “worry-free zone.”
Unfortunately, the worry-free vibe lasted only a few minutes—until the first session, focused on organizing a multimedia company. “Digital is not an option,” panelist Mike Edelhart, CEO of LiveDeal, said. “It’s a historic shift. Change or die. Defending what you know is only going to delay the inevitable. You have to attack your own business because the rising digital generation will.”

‘Celebrate In-House Terrorists’

Edelhart wasn’t finished. “You need to produce and celebrate in-house terrorists,” he said. “Revenue is valuable, but not as valuable as tech advantage or momentum,” he added. “If you are comfortable, if you feel like you know what you’re doing, you are in imminent danger. This is a moment to seize chaos.”

After a couple of valuable Publishing 101 sessions on cost containment and outsourcing, the conference got a more optimistic perspective on digital change from Bob Sacks, president of Precision Media Group. “The future is here, it’s just not widely distributed yet,” Sacks said. The challenge with digital media is that publishers have not had time to adjust to new platforms because they keep changing. “It may not stop,” Sacks said.

Sacks offered six key properties for what a magazine is. Tellingly, none included ink-on-paper.

“The question,” Sacks said, “is whether we should abandon a 600-year-old formula that we’ve perfected? But it’s not about screen versus page. What’s really important is the culture of ideas that magazines represent.”

“There is no known cure for addictive content, regardless of delivery method,” Sacks added. “If you think predicting the future is difficult, try ignoring it.”