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Magazines Have an Advertising Perception Problem, Not a Consumer Problem

Hearst’s Michael Clinton on the ‘Magazines, The Power of Print’ campaign.


Jason Fell By Jason Fell
03/04/2010 -12:41 PM






Some of the biggest players in consumer magazine publishing kicked up a lot of buzz earlier this week when they announced the launch of “Magazines, The Power of Print.” The seven-month campaign is expected to roll out with the May issues (April 5 for weeklies) of nearly 100 print magazines and their Web sites. The purpose? To remind readers, and especially advertisers, that the print magazine medium is still very much alive, and kicking.

Since posting our news story about the campaign, I’ve heard a number of valid questions asked about it. First off, why now? To some, this sounds like an attempt (a few say a desperate one) to cling to a shrinking medium.

That’s not so, says Hearst Corp. executive vice president and publishing director Michael Clinton. In addition to Hearst, the campagin was formed jointly by Time Inc., Condé Nast, Meredith Corp. and Wenner Media. “It is a misperception that print is a shrinking medium,” Clinton told me this morning. “It is a growing medium—audiences are growing, subscriptions are growing, etc. The magazine business, collectively, has said that we have this incredibly dynamic medium that consumers love and spend money on, and we need to tell that story in a bigger way.

“The magazine world doesn’t have a consumer problem,” he added, “it has an advertising perception problem, among some advertisers.”

It’s hard to argue with that. According to the Publishers Information Bureau, advertising pages were down 25.6 percent in 2009, marking the 10th reported quarterly decline out of 11 since PIB began reporting on a quarterly basis in mid-2007. Shockingly, a mere 18 titles posted ad page gains in 2009.

Another problem some people I spoke with had about the “Power of Print” campaign was its seeming negative take on online/digital. In one ad, featuring Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, the page exclaims: “Magazines embrace you. The Internet is fleeting.” Clinton says the word “fleeting” is being misinterpreted. The campaign, he said, isn’t taking a shot at digital while propping up print.

“We’ll continue to spend millions of dollars on Web sites, and mobile and e-readers. It’s important that our magazine content be everywhere,” said Clinton. “The purpose of this campaign is to punctuate the vibrancy of our print products while we continue to expand on other platforms.”

For instance, he said, retailers “continue to invest millions in e-commerce and Web, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t opening new stores or that physical stores aren’t important to them anymore. It’s the same with magazines. Some people have said that the print product has lost its luster with consumers. The exact opposite is true.

“At the end of the day,” Clinton continued, “we want to listen to where the consumer is. Everyone says the consumer is online, and they are, but they are also fully engaged in print magazines."

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