Magazine Editors, Publishers Debate Where They Went Wrong on Web
At MPA Digital Conference, a discussion of where to go from here.
NEW YORKâ€”The most noteworthyâ€”and, perhaps, troublingâ€”moment during the Magazine Publishers of Americaâ€™s 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 audienceâ€™s would.
â€śWeâ€™ll be in print,â€ť said Geoff Reiss, general manager at Newsweekâ€™s digital operation. â€śIâ€™d say half or more will not.â€ť
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 surviveâ€”both print and onlineâ€”in a bludgeoning economy.
â€śWe donâ€™t really have a choice,â€ť said Gary Hoenig, ESPN Publishing general manager and editorial director, when asked if charging for Web content is a viable business option. â€śIf your content is not worth something to customers, as an industry, weâ€™re in trouble.â€ť
The key, Hoenig said, is to find the price pointâ€”like iTunes did with its 99-cents per song downloadsâ€”and where consumers are used to paying for it. â€śIf I said ESPN was going to charge for scores, people would laugh,â€ť he said. â€śOn their phones, for an extra dollar a month on their carrier, maybe they would.â€ť
Hoenigâ€”speaking on a panel entitled â€śAre Paid Sites the New Black?â€ťâ€”said he could foresee a premium model akin to the parent networkâ€™s deals with its cable affiliates working for ESPN.com, too. â€śThe model is there for us to follow,â€ť he said. Hoenig said ESPN the Magazine is also going to experiment with digital editions, iPhone applications, and â€śsee what happens.â€ť
Rodale executive vice president and group publisher MaryAnn Bekkedahl said the company is also experimenting with several premium content models online. She added: â€śPeople have been talking for a long time about how the consumer is in controlâ€”I think itâ€™s time we should take back control, and set the policies.â€ť
Publishers Finally Putting Web Ahead of Print
Thereâ€™s been a general resistance in the magazine industry to putting Web development ahead of print. And that, panelists here said, has to change.
â€śThereâ€™s been a failure to grasp the idea that journalism should be delivered in a way your audience wants,â€ť said Forbes editor Paul Maidment. Reversing the priority, he said, is essential to the industryâ€™sâ€™ survival.
Other executives admitted the failure of publishers to recognize the paradigm shiftâ€”and do something about itâ€”earlier.
â€śWeâ€™ve successfully completed the first step in a 12 Step program,â€ť said Newsweekâ€™s Reiss. â€śWeâ€™ve identified the problem.â€ť
Representatives from advertising agencies, however, were less kind.
â€śThe sooner you guys can figure out how to drive what you are doing offline online,â€ť said Mediacom managing partner Stacey Deziel, â€śthe quicker you can monetize that.â€ť
Domenic Venuto, senior vice president, media and entertainment at Razorfish, agreed. â€śYour brandâ€™s survival depends on how you can adapt in the next 12 to 24 months.â€ť