Magazine Editors, Publishers Debate Where They Went Wrong on Web
At MPA Digital Conference, a discussion of where to go from here.
NEW YORKâThe most noteworthyâand, perhaps, troublingâmoment during the Magazine Publishers of Americaâs fifth annual digital conference, held here Tuesday, came when Slate editor Jacob Weisberg asked three panelists whether or not their print magazines would exist in 10 years, and what percentage of the audienceâs would.
âWeâll be in print,â said Geoff Reiss, general manager at Newsweekâs digital operation. âIâd say half or more will not.â
The rest of the discussions at the daylong event, dubbed Magazines 24/7, were more or less centered around several themes: where magazines have gone wrong on the Web; whether or not magazine publishers have reached a point where they can charge for access to content on the Web; how far magazines can blur the line between advertising and editorial and get away with it; and what the industry must do to surviveâboth print and onlineâin a bludgeoning economy.
âWe donât really have a choice,â said Gary Hoenig, ESPN Publishing general manager and editorial director, when asked if charging for Web content is a viable business option. âIf your content is not worth something to customers, as an industry, weâre in trouble.â
The key, Hoenig said, is to find the price pointâlike iTunes did with its 99-cents per song downloadsâand where consumers are used to paying for it. âIf I said ESPN was going to charge for scores, people would laugh,â he said. âOn their phones, for an extra dollar a month on their carrier, maybe they would.â
Hoenigâspeaking on a panel entitled âAre Paid Sites the New Black?ââsaid he could foresee a premium model akin to the parent networkâs deals with its cable affiliates working for ESPN.com, too. âThe model is there for us to follow,â he said. Hoenig said ESPN the Magazine is also going to experiment with digital editions, iPhone applications, and âsee what happens.â
Rodale executive vice president and group publisher MaryAnn Bekkedahl said the company is also experimenting with several premium content models online. She added: âPeople have been talking for a long time about how the consumer is in controlâI think itâs time we should take back control, and set the policies.â
Publishers Finally Putting Web Ahead of Print
Thereâs been a general resistance in the magazine industry to putting Web development ahead of print. And that, panelists here said, has to change.
âThereâs been a failure to grasp the idea that journalism should be delivered in a way your audience wants,â said Forbes editor Paul Maidment. Reversing the priority, he said, is essential to the industryâsâ survival.
Other executives admitted the failure of publishers to recognize the paradigm shiftâand do something about itâearlier.
âWeâve successfully completed the first step in a 12 Step program,â said Newsweekâs Reiss. âWeâve identified the problem.â
Representatives from advertising agencies, however, were less kind.
âThe sooner you guys can figure out how to drive what you are doing offline online,â said Mediacom managing partner Stacey Deziel, âthe quicker you can monetize that.â
Domenic Venuto, senior vice president, media and entertainment at Razorfish, agreed. âYour brandâs survival depends on how you can adapt in the next 12 to 24 months.â
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