At the Yale Publishing Conference, which took place last month in New Haven, CT, big names in magazine publishing were in attendance, both as students and teachers.
The session began with Richard Foster, senior faculty fellow at Yale School of Management and managing partner with the Millbrook Management Group, LLC. He philosophized about the term “creative destruction”, focusing its various implications in correlation to the publishing world.
Subsequent sessions led by Michael Clinton, president and marketing/publishing director of Hearst; president of Dwell Media Michela O’Connor Abrams; and Glamour editor-in-chief Cynthia Leive ran the gamut of print, digital and staffing challenges.
But the biggest theme, prevalent in how speakers addressed the crowd and the audience pressed the presenters for immediate solutions to admittedly complex problems (the transition to digital, etc.), was not listed in the printed program.
It was fear.
And that may be the largest issue the publishing industry is facing today: fear of the present, fear of the future, fear of the audience and, perhaps the most crippling, fear of change.
While not as easily palpable in the speakers (who each provided case study after case study of success within their companies), both lecturers and audience members rippled with it. Age jokes were dropped at a noticeable rate (O’Connor Abrams quipped she and only one other staffer are over 30) and tales of staff let go because of unwillingness to convert to the digital age (and assist in the bevy of products unrelated to actual print issues) were some of the most poignant of the day. The message was clear: get onboard or get out, because there are plenty of others to take your seat at the publishing table—many of them young enough to still be crashing with Mom and Dad.
This, along with the residue of the receding economic downturn and ominous phrases like “Print is dead” and “The Web is dead,” seem to be the publishing world’s equivalent of apocalypse.
As Yale fellow Foster pointed out, the corporate structure is steeped in the failure to let go, a step he labels “trading”—exchanging the old habits and products for new methods that may succeed. In the literary world, this act is deemed “killing your babies.”
Just let Go
So while this may seem the simplest of acts, the magazine publishing industry should begin the move forward by letting go of its fear. Print will most likely not die out (we were recently shocked to hear one consultant who specializes in social media tell us that he’s focusing on live events going forward because there “isn’t enough real growth online”), the whippersnappers crowded in the next cubicle are not going to overthrow the hierarchy (unless, of course, they need to, in which case we should then all be grateful) and audiences have not outsmarted or outgrown the need for original, researched, well-delivered content. They know what they want, and now have the communication channels to express it.