AMC Day 2: Reality Sets In Around Print Challenges
â€śPrint will eventually go away," one speaker said.
SAN FRANCISCOâ€”Despite the pains Mary Berner, the MPAâ€™s new CEO, took to defend magazines' place in the content hierarchy, speakers on day two of the American Magazine Conference (AMC) offered a grim future for print.
One of the first speakers of the dayâ€”Ben Horowitz, technology entrepreneur and co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitzâ€”suggested that print will likely vanish completely as todayâ€™s younger consumers become the dominant generation.
â€śBabies born now will never read anything in print,â€ť he told the audience of publishing executives. â€śAt the same time, people in their 40s and 50s will never stop reading print.â€ť
â€śFace the reality that print will eventually go away," he added.
Horowitz, who was being interviewed by Norman Pearlstine, chief content officer for Bloomberg LP and chairman of Bloomberg Businessweek, said that older audiences are passing away and people born in 2012 and beyond, will never be print enthusiasts, essentially cementing the end of an era.
â€śThere is going to be a new business for us,â€ť said Horowitz. â€śAnytime you change businesses, or go into the innovation business, the horrifying thing about it is you think youâ€™re right but you donâ€™t really knowâ€”you may well fail.â€ť
Due to the extreme rate of change, Horowitz said, there is a great deal of room for innovation, something the media industry is just beginning to grapple with, since, he says, there hasnâ€™t been a large change in print media since the introduction of the printing press.
â€śThe business evolved at a much slower rate than other content businesses that have been affected by technology,â€ť he said. â€śItâ€™s not that fewer people are reading, but the structure of the business is not going to be the same.â€ť
The morningâ€™s second speaker, Dr. Jeffery Cole, research professor and director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern Californiaâ€™s Annenberg School, presented a similar scenarioâ€”print, he predicts, will eventually go away.
Dr. Cole estimates that some magazinesâ€”likely fashion titlesâ€”will always remain in print, as will those with strong design principles. However, he added, the majority of others will see their printed roots begin to completely break down by the end of the decade.
â€śAbout 30 years ago, we saw that teenagers didnâ€™t read newspapers until they got into their 20s and 30s,â€ť he said. â€śToday teenagers donâ€™t read newspapers and the evidence is clear they never will. Teenagers today around the world are more interested in news than any teenage generation in the last 60 years. Theyâ€™re just not going to newspapers, but online to get their information.â€ť
While different, Dr. Cole used this example to highlight the fact that newspapers have not made the transition to digital quickly enough, and every time one of their readers passes away someone else is not replacing them. For magazines, the â€śimminent collapseâ€ť of the U.S. Postal Service, social and online media, and a change in consumption habits is hurting printâ€™s ultimate survivalâ€”a key point that Dr. Cole said needs to be plainly accepted.
Additionally, Dr. Cole predicts a key distribution point for magazines will also deteriorate.
â€śBorders is now gone, the Australian Dymocks is in serious trouble, and for Barnes & Noble, if they survive, it will not be as a book store but as a tablet company with their NOOK,â€ť he said. â€śThatâ€™s how quickly it changes.â€ť
Aside from Dr. Coleâ€™s and Horowitzâ€™s tough love, other AMC speakers highlighted the many aspects of the digital shift. Phil Wiser, chief technology officer for the Hearst Corporation (pictured far left), for example, said that last year was the first time that the amount of time online equaled or exceeded the amount of time spent on television.
â€śItâ€™s been a morning of reality and facing a few things,â€ť said Wiser to the audience. â€śWe can capture consumer attention with a different model and a different propositionâ€”changing the game in terms of the consumer offering can get their attention and get them to engage in ways they had not previously.â€ť
Wiser added that there is good news from Hearstâ€”the company has over 700,000 paid digital subscribers and 80 percent are brand new customers. Engagement on these digital editions is also high, with a 70 percent open rate, climbing as high as 90 percent for some titles.
â€śThereâ€™s an opportunity here in getting consumers to think differently and capturing their attention,â€ť said Wiser. â€śWeâ€™re seeing now that engagement on a daily basis is changing from the way it used to beâ€”we need to be there everyday, in their faces and getting their attention.â€ť
Wiser added that when consumers are at a checkout line in front of a newsstand they are not looking at brands but at their smartphonesâ€”another reason why publications need to engage to capture a readerâ€™s attention. Panelist David Zinczenko, editor-in-chief of Menâ€™s Health and Women's Health, said thatâ€™s why his brand has rolled out full versions of its publication onto mobile phones.
â€śOur primary arena used to be the newsstand, now itâ€™s a media multiplex with many different screens,â€ť he said. â€śWe have to figure out what is optimal for each channel.â€ť
Multi-screen publishing, and perhaps a shying away from a traditional print focus, the dayâ€™s speakers emphasized, will be vital to the future.
â€śFor Google, digital publishing has a number of different contexts,â€ť Scott Dougall, Googleâ€™s director of digital publishing, told the audience.
Google Play, he said, started as an app store but the experience has become more customized and broken out by tabs. Unlike Appleâ€™s App Store, Google Playâ€™s store is segmented by music, books, magazines, movies & TV and Android apps. In this way, magazines are not competing with gaming apps or films, but just with other titles.
Dougall added that in order to be successful, no matter the platform, magazine publishers need to look for a digital solution for their products, but avoid becoming technology companies themselves.
â€śI think the best kind of challenges are the challenges when the facts are on our side,â€ť said Berner, still optimistic in closing remarks. â€śMagazine media audiences are engaging with us more and more, and weâ€™re able to deliver them our content through more and more platforms, which is a good thing. Yet, we have an economic disconnect between the size of our audience, the depth of their engagement, and the perceived value that advertisers are currently placing on magazine media, especially print. The MPA will be laser focused to do everything possible to eliminate what is really a gap that is pushed by a perception of reality. We will be relentless, focused and loud about pushing forward our collective agenda.â€ť