Primex 2009 was a subdued event, held during a rare Florida deep freeze at a time when the print-magazine industry is enduring perhaps its worst-ever deep freeze.

The event, which ran February 3-5 near Tampa, was highlighted by sessions on the current challenges in distribution, paper and manufacturing, as well as forward-looking discussions on e-paper and the carbon offsets market.

And although there were no sessions on ad portals at Primex, several discussions touched on their growing importance and several announcements on significant deals came around the same time, suggesting that portals are among the hottest areas of print production.

Primex attracted about 100 people, down about 15 percent, said David Steinhardt, CEO of IdeAlliance, the conference producer and industry association. “There were predictions from industry leaders that Primex 2009 would be overtaken by the depressed mood of the industry,” Steinhardt said. “Certainly this was not the case. The conference was constructive and energized with a ‘can do’ approach.”

But the keynote presentation, by Hearst Magazines executive vice president and general manager, John Loughlin, did not sugarcoat the state of the business. Even with the industry’s strengths, Loughlin said, the old pattern of growing sales and circulation, interrupted by economic downturns, may no longer hold.

“It’s different because we’re living in a fundamentally changed world, one where technology has become so powerful and inexpensive that consumers and advertisers now have almost unlimited, on-demand, always-on choice,” he said.

Low or No Growth, High Costs

Hearst, Loughlin said, is responding by building its business based on the following assumptions:

• Low or no growth. “While we hope ad and circ revenue will rebound, we’re working on the assumption that magazines are mature businesses and will see only low growth, or no growth over the mid-term horizon.”

• Enhanced production values. “Magazines need to leverage their ‘magazine-ness’—the design of their pages, the quality of their paper, and their physicality, their authority, the impact of their ideas.”

• The need to retain talent. “Keeping smart, talented people is critically important to the future. And adding new skills and perspectives from disciplines traditionally outside of print will become pre-requisites for evolution and growth.”

• High costs of paper and postal. “We assume for structural reasons that paper costs over time will stay relatively high and we’ll see constant increases in the cost of delivery.”

• Newsstand erosion. “The newsstand is an important channel for publishers, but it’s one that’s beset by seemingly intractable problems. Unit sales have been declining annually on a virtually uninterrupted negative slope since the 1970s and I see nothing on the horizon that suggests that course will reverse itself.”

• Migration to lower-cost digital. “If there is a bright spot, it is that we are finding a huge new universe of consumers willing to buy magazines and techniques that are much more cost-effective.”

• Evaluation of circ levels and ratebases. “Virtually all consumer publishers are constantly engaged in the evaluation and optimal circulation levels and rate bases.”

These assumptions are well and good, Loughlin said, but hope is not a strategy. So Hearst is focusing on five action items, including: streamlining and redefining the making of magazines; lowering the cost base; embracing both print and digital; changing the perception that magazines are “old media” in the process of fading away; and finally, being prepared for what comes next.

Ad-Portal Developments

Among the portal deals were an agreement between Meredith Corp. and SendMyAd to support all the Meredith magazines with the SendMyAd portal. Also, Quad said Conde Nast adopted its technology to support the publisher’s online ad portal, Condé Nast Transmit.

New Ecommerce and Paid Content Models
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