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Tony Silber

What is a Magazine?

Tony Silber Consumer - 05/19/2009-11:50 AM

At the Independent Magazine Advisory Group’s sixth annual meeting in Boulder, Colorado this week, Bob Sacks, president of Precision Media Group, offered six key properties for what a magazine is.

Tellingly, his were platform-neutral:

1.    It’s metered. It’s paginated. It has a beginning, middle and end.
2.    It’s edited, or curated.
3.    It’s designed.
4.    It’s date-stamped.
5.    It’s permanent. Once created, it can’t be changed.
6.    It’s periodic. It has a calendar or rhythm. It has a series of issues.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The original dek in this story included the phrase "none ink-on-paper"; while not technically incorrect, "platform-neutral" is closer to what Mr. Sacks' was describing here.]

Tony Silber

FOLIO: is Alive and Kicking

Tony Silber Editorial - 05/05/2009-15:34 PM

The Digidaydaily e-newsletter today included a story asking the question whether the sun is setting on Forbes, Fortune and Businessweek. The newsletter's subject line and first sentence intended to make a reference to the high-profile shutdown of Portfolio last week.

Unfortunately, the newsletter left out four important letters in the name of the Condé Nast business magazine: "Port."

Which led some of our loyal readers to ask us what's up. We e-mailed the newsletter journalist and asked her to correct her story, which she did.
And not to worry, FOLIO: magazine is alive and well.

Tony Silber

My Experience with Twitter So Far

Tony Silber emedia and Technology - 03/27/2009-10:08 AM

In December I signed up for Twitter. I'd been meaning to do it for a while, but hadn't, because a) I'm not really an early adopter and b) I wasn't sure where another social network fit into my schedule, which already has Facebook, Flickr and mediaPRO.

But I believe in Rex Hammock's philosophy of experimenting in new forms of media, so it had been on my list of things I needed to do. And I get all the potential value, from both the marketing and journalistic perspectives, among others.

The catalyst was a lunch I had with Michael Biggerstaff and Marcus Grimm at Nxtbook Media. They were really into Twitter at the time, and said it was a quicker form of communication than blogging, and that you're more likely to update because the "tweets" have to be quick hits.

So I signed up and built a network.

Some of the people I follow are really good. Dan McCarthy (@danielmccarthy), Jeff Klein (@jeffreysklein), Kurt Andersen (@kbandersen), who does a great job of adding personal but business-relevant touches), Rachel Sklar (@rachelsklar), and Rex (@r) himself come to mind.  So do Ted Bahr (@tedbahr), Eric Gervase (@egervase) and Red 7's own Loree Stark (@loreestark). Harry McCracken (@harrymccracken), Scott Karp (@scottkarp) and Dylan Stableford (@stableford) are good. Gawker (@gawker) does a great job.

FOLIO: ( and Audience Development ( both signed up recently.

Someone asked me last week why I Twitter, and why FOLIO: and Audience Development Twitter, and I said I thought the value was thought leadership, not traffic. If you build a network of influential people, and put out brief and thoughtful tweets (not always linking to something), there's real value.

I have just under 100 followers and I follow about the same amount of people.

And here's the way I feel about Twitter right now:

  • The noise level is out of control. It's not a conversation, it's a cacophony. It's like a cocktail party from hell, where everyone is shouting at the same time, and someone also jacked up Led Zeppelin in the other room.
  • If social media is a conversation, it's barely there on Twitter. People overwhelmingly tweet at each other. Apparently, conversation is rarely needed or desired. Twitter is, ironically, a one-way communication vehicle in a medium that is supposed to be social.
  • People who put up five, six, 10 tweets in a few minutes, all with links to the event they're at, or worse, to their promotional stuff, are annoying. I probably couldn't say what exactly Twitter is supposed to do, but I can tell you, from my perspective, that's not it.
  • Twitter does a spotty job technically. Every few days, a bunch of people report they lost all the tweets they posted that day.
  • Twitter does a poor job controlling spamming and bogus accounts. If you're active at all, you get hit with "follow" requests that are spurious, completely unrelated, sketchy, and you have to check out the profile to tell what the hell they are.

All these complaints aside, I check Twitter several times a day and tweet every day, and as I mentioned, some of the people in my network really get it and bring insight, perspective and inspiration.

Tony Silber

Producing a Magazine Industry Event in a Maelstrom

Tony Silber B2B - 03/19/2009-11:53 AM

I just returned from the FOLIO: Growth Summit in Chicago. We conducted the event in a media-industry maelstrom—events all around us are being cancelled, downsized and postponed. You can’t overstate how hard hit the media industry is right now.

As I walked through the sessions and receptions, both old friends and new ones told me—one after the next—how they’ve had to lay off staff, how they’ve frozen salaries, how they’ve implemented unpaid time off, how they’ve got 2009 issues tracking at 50 percent of last year.

But the publishing executives at FGS weren’t only there to talk about those cost-containment measures. They were there because they want to attack this economic calamity and make something of it. They want to be pro-active, not reactive. They want to be on the offensive and not just hunker down and close their eyes and hope the storm blows over. (The companies and executives who do that are far less likely to survive the next 12 months.)

FGS was for innovators. It was attended by people pushing new forms of paid content, new forms of marketing on behalf of their clients. They’re working with lead generation, lead nurturing and social media.

They want to stay one step ahead, not behind.

And that applies to the suppliers too. The companies that exhibited at FGS are no doubt feeling the same pressure that publishers are. Their customers aren’t buying as much and their revenues are down.

But they, too, want to stay ahead of the crisis. And so they attended. And because they did, they got access to forward-looking companies that are really engaged in seeking solutions—often the solutions that our exhibitors offered.

Yes, the attendance was down, but this FGS felt like a home run. The faculty was tremendous—the presentations were rich and on target, with plenty of valuable takeaways. The keynoters—Jim Malkin, Bob Carrigan and  Brad Fayfield—offered great wisdom and insight. I could write blog posts for the next few weeks just on their presentations.

FGS 2009 was invigorating. It felt like our best publishing summit so far.

Tony Silber

Will College Kids Still Want to Work in Magazines When They Grow Up?

Tony Silber Editorial - 03/02/2009-10:16 AM

In this post ("Is Hollywood's Love Affair with Journalism Over?") I posed this question: Will young people gravitate to a business defined by bankruptcy and decline?

I was talking about magazines and newspapers, although, one could argue, it could've been the media industry in general.

Late last week I asked several of the leading voices I know in this area what they thought. Here are their responses:

Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni
J-School chair, University of Mississippi

We have become a very bloated industry. Now it is time to pay the piper. That being said, the opportunities for work in the media are still limitless if you can report, write, edit and have a sense of judgment. We (as mature adults) still get excited about the technology and the gimmicks, but young people don't. It is a way of life for them. There is still a need for people to create good content. This year alone we have, at our relatively small university, 248 applicants in journalism. It is the second highest major after biology. We have a total of more than 500 majors divided into 320 in liberal arts and 180 in business. While entry-level jobs at major companies are getting harder to find by the minute, the smaller operations and mid-size publications are still hiring. It will be fun to see how many people get hired by companies outside the 100 leading companies! I know that the light at the end of the tunnel may be the train coming for now, but I do believe there really is light at the end of the tunnel.

Jeff Klein
Former CEO, 101communications,
Faculty, University of Southern California

My sense is that enrollments and applications are up at grad schools, which may say more about the lack of jobs generally than the field itself. At USC, they are focusing on entrepreneurial journalism. They’re teaching that each writer needs to think about building his or her own personal brand. I think there will always be demand for the skillset of a good journalist. It may not be in journalism. It’s hard to predict because the economy is so bad right now. It’s hard to envision what the recovery looks like.

Paul Conley
Blogger and consultant

I would never recommend journalism for a career. But that was true 20 years ago too. On the other hand, if someone really and truly feels that they want to be a journalist, then I would never try to convince them otherwise. To me, journalism is a calling. I don’t mean that in the “big” way that so many folks do. I think if you’re called somehow to change the world, then there are far better ways to do that than to work in journalism. However, if someone feels compelled somehow to be part of this industry, then I say more power to them. With that said, let me offer a word of caution here: I’ve done a lot of work with a lot of students at a lot of schools. And I tend to see the same things over and over again. In particular, I run into people who are in journalism because they have been “pushed” or “led” to the profession because of something in their personality or appearance. These folks often lack the drive and the “love” that they'll need to make it in the business. But journalism has been presented to them as something that they “should” do or that they “would be good at.” And the folks making those recommendations often don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. (And as the industry changes, the percentage of teachers and advisers that don’t have a clue about what it takes to make it in the industry grows larger.) Still, I run into a lot of college students who are very excited about this new world. But I also run into quite a few who are oblivious to the changes and what it means for their careers.

Harry McCracken
Former editor, PC World
Founder, Technologizer

I think there's endless opportunity for journalism and journalists as long as everybody involved understands that it's going to be an utterly different world than the one we knew. Yes, there will be fewer jobs at big media companies. But for the first time ever, a young person (or an old one!) with some bright ideas and energy can build a brand and serve readers and make a living without having to ask the permission of anyone with a big bankroll and access to printing presses. How cool is that? How many amazing media properties will emerge from that sea change? As for university enrollments—really good question, and not one I have answers to. If FOLIO: did a story on it, I'd read it!

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Tony Silber

Is Hollywood’s Love Affair with Journalism Over?

Tony Silber Sales and Marketing - 02/27/2009-17:07 PM

Will young people gravitate to a business defined by bankruptcy, decline—and, likely, fewer films about it?

Movies over time have usually depicted the magazine and newspaper industries with a touch of glamour, power or idealism. For some recent examples, think “In Good Company,” “13 Going on 30” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” Then there’s the greatest movie of all time, “Citizen Kane,” and the movie that launched 10,000 careers, “All the President’s Men.”

Yes, there’s the occasional “Absence of Malice,” about journalistic abuse of power, or “American Beauty,” where the troubled Kevin Spacey character is a trade magazine editor. But generally these industries and the journalism profession get positive treatment.

And that reflects the popular culture.  The professions that make up our business have historically been appealing.

And Hollywood’s love affair with journalism has for decades helped feed talented people into the business. Smart, ambitious editors and salespeople wanted to be the top editor at Newsweek, or the New Yorker, or Ad Age. They wanted to be the writer in “Almost Famous,” or even like Mr. Big in “Sex and the City.”

But is it true now?

In the last 10 days alone, this page has covered the plummeting profit margins of publicly traded magazine companies. It has covered the staggering decline in fourth-quarter ad sales in b-to-b media. It has covered the cancellation or dramatic downsizing of two events, including the crown jewel of the glitzy, mass-consumer part of the business, the American Magazine Conference.

On the newspaper side, the Rocky Mountain News went out of business today after 150 years of publishing. Newspapers in Philadelphia filed for bankruptcy. A paper in Seattle is teetering.

Newspapers everywhere are not just troubled, but nearing oblivion.

So what’s the appeal of this business for the high school kid just heading into college? Who the hell wants to get into an industry perceived as in decline? And if we can’t attract talented people, what are the implications of that?

My take? The image of a profession in pop culture has a huge effect on whether young people choose to pursue a career in it. That means print media is in trouble.

Maybe they’ll make a movie about it.

[image: IMDB]

Tony Silber

MPA Loses Some High-Profile Members—What About ABM?

Tony Silber B2B - 02/26/2009-15:49 PM

The news that the Magazine Publishers of America cancelled the American Magazine Conference, its signature event, and lost three high-profile members in the same week, got me wondering if other associations—specifically, American Business Media—are feeling the same kind of pressure from their members.

I asked several b-to-b CEOs, as well as ABM CEO Gordon Hughes, what they’re hearing. Are big-name b-to-b companies dropping out of ABM? What would happen if Penton Media or Nielsen Business Media or Reed withdrew? Or Advanstar? Or Hanley Wood?

Are dues becoming a luxury these days?

For the most part, I heard continued support for ABM, although there was some criticism that dues are higher than the MPA’s. Also, one executive applauded MPA’s staff downsizing last fall, contrasting it with a perceived lack of downsizing at ABM.

Hughes said his association saw the economic downturn coming. “We saw it in August,” he said. “Actually, we saw it in 2000, when we changed our name.”

Starting in October, he said, ABM executives called every member and associate member to make sure that the association’s strategic plan was on point (the plan calls for a more global perspective and a focus on digital media, among other things) and to remind members of the value of the association.

“For example, we provide free legal service to our members,” Hughes said, citing the example of a publisher that got stiffed on a $21,000 conference contract. “All of the things we’re crafting are far more granular. ABM is not taking a cookie-cutter approach to services.”

Hughes said the association membership has declined 10 percent to about 310 members and associate members, from 343 last summer. Most of the companies that dropped out were associate members, he said.  

So what about that question of dues? Says one CEO: “I’m not sure why ABM’s dues are higher than MPA’s. They both seem to do about the same things for their constituencies.  I also think there is lot of talk from both member groups about the value vis-à-vis the cost, particularly during this very tough economy.”

Says another: “There’s a disconnect in the value of the organization and the dues structure of ABM.  I don’t think in these times when revenues are down and our own customers are looking for price cuts that ABM should be immune to market forces.”

Hughes says the association is sensitive to its members’ plight. “The main change we did this year was if you have a cash-flow problem, we will bill monthly instead of twice per year,” he said. He added that the association is telling members it will base dues on the January-to-June 2009 period, in effect providing a discount because revenue for most members is expected to be significantly lower. “We are adjusting to the facts of life,” Hughes said.

The current dues level is $1.20 per $1,000 in revenue per year.

I asked Hughes whether ABM would be open to negotiating dues with its members. His response: “We’re there for them in the good times, we damn well better be there for them now.”

Tony Silber

This Media Industry Downturn: The Same or Worse? And Why?

Tony Silber M and A and Finance - 02/24/2009-18:15 PM

Over a three-year period from 2001 to 2003, b-to-b media lost about 35 percent of its revenue, according to the Business Information Network.

During that period, it was common around the industry for conference speakers and writers to describe it as the “worst media-industry downturn since the Great Depression.”

After awhile, we all took that as a given, though no one I know ever went back and actually analyzed the extent of that downturn compared with earlier ones.

I also remember the 1991 downturn. That was tough, even for someone who was a junior editor at the time. There were the usual rounds of painful layoffs. I remember one day when at least six editors I worked with made the terrible walk to the corner office one by one, undoubtedly knowing their certain fate. And that ‘90s recession lasted a long time. It wasn’t until 1995 when things were really humming again in the magazine world.

I was talking to a CEO this morning and we touched on the stunning twin news flashes from today: VSS is predicting the first two-year decline in ad spending in 75 years, and fourth quarter 2008 BIN numbers were off by more than 13 percent. He predicted that the first quarter numbers will certainly be worse.

(By the way, why the heck can’t those BIN numbers be more up-to-date? The Publishers Information Bureau gets its numbers out much faster, and most b-to-b publishers have already closed our final numbers for Q1 by now. Reporting Q4 on February 24 seems just a tad late.)

We both acknowledged how bad it is for the industry right now. I said it feels like the worst I’ve been through, and he agreed, but then he said: “We always say that.”

So my question is this: Is this recession worse? And if it is, why?

Tony Silber

Are You Using an Ad Portal? And If Not, Why Not?

Tony Silber Design and Production - 02/23/2009-16:51 PM

In an era where every penny of incremental revenue counts—and the time to find it—it surprises me that only 22 percent of respondents to a FOLIO: survey last year said they use ad portals.

It's doubly surprising because often printers provide portals to their customers, making the process almost completely decision-free.

Ad portals automate the process of shipping both editorial and advertising files to the printer. They rely on a Web interface that tracks when a file is received by the printer, and they allow magazine production staffs to approve pages after a review of the page online.

With virtual proofing becoming the norm—and color-management no longer a major concern because of digital processes—ad portals represent a logical progression.

So why are so many companies still doing things either the old way—uploading files via FTP—or the really old way: shipping files via FedEx?

Think about it: Wouldn't you want a real-time process where you can sell an ad in the morning, get it from the advertiser in the afternoon, upload it and before 5 p.m. have the software tell you instantaneously whether the ad meets the printer's production requirements?

Given that e-media sales require a lot more project management and hand-holding than print, isn't it valuable to automate the print advertising process in any way possible?

Well, it may be that both small and large publishers are catching on to the value of portals. Just last week, Meredith Corp. signed on with a portal provider. And earlier this month, both Condé Nast and regional magazine Connecticut Cottages & Gardens said they, too, are now using portals.

Tony Silber

Why Free Content Isn't a Sustainable Business

Tony Silber Editorial - 02/20/2009-14:06 PM

Fifteen years ago I bought the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today every day. Now I just read them online. I subscribed to a slew of magazines, like The New Yorker, Newsweek, American Heritage, National Geographic. Now I read them and many others online.

Why not? It's free. And I'm just not one of those people who needs to have the experience of a magazine or newspaper in print. I like content, not form.

And because my behavior is like that of tens of millions of other people, the media industry is in turmoil. You can't overstate it: The newspaper industry's days are numbered. And many magazines won't be able to survive the new world of free online content.

Consequently, journalism itself is endangered. Because even if journalists themselves are generally underpaid, running a news business committed to quality coverage, to comprehensive work, to investigation and to a skeptical, disinterested product is expensive.

That's why all the Web ‘visionaries' who say content needs to be free are wrong. It's clear that the business model of charging for your print product and posting all your content online for free makes no sense. It won't sustain. Every journalist should be concerned.

I read Walter Isaacson's report on "How to Save Your Newspaper" and I read Steve Brill's plan for micropayments. Isaacson makes an analogy to EZ Pass and Brill cites how iTunes has changed the economics of the music industry. As a non-visionary, I can't see how today's online media world—with its ubiquitous cross-linking, its one-person blogs enjoying equal footing with the huge newspaper sites, its content aggregation sites—would work if paid access were the norm. Maybe it wouldn't.

But it's fascinating how rigid the conventional wisdom has become. "Walled gardens," are old-school. Isaacson and Brill are fighting the fight of 1997. And Slate's Jack Shafer says most magazine and newspaper content isn't strong enough to charge for.

But the more I think about it, the more I conclude the Web sites that rely for their traffic on the reporting of others are parasites. They rely on a host body for sustenance and, in doing so, they harm the host. To the point, as in the case of the newspaper industry, that the host dies.

The coming conventional wisdom will be that some mechanism for paid content is necessary for the survival of journalism. But it won't become conventional until enough media companies die.

Tony Silber

In Crisis, M&A Firms to the Rescue

Tony Silber M and A and Finance - 02/18/2009-14:18 PM

The deal climate is terrible. FOLIO: has tracked fewer than a dozen transactions in the last couple of months, and most of them were very small.

Worse, of that small number of deals, at least three were distress sales—that is, where the bank essentially takes over the business.

No wonder the deal brokerages are looking to repurpose their expertise. Berkery Noyes and DeSilva + Phillips, two of the four major M&A firms serving this market (the Jordan, Edmiston Group and AdMedia Partners being the other two) have added restructuring practices recently.

Both were frank. “Typically, a magazine publisher wants a third-party who is knowledgeable about the magazine industry to provide recommendations for strategies necessary when a recession occurs,” D+P managing partner Reed Phillips said. “We added this service because a number of clients have been requesting it.”

Berkery Noyes said that its services will include developing business models to “reflect the realities of the current economic and financial marketplace,” as well as deal with balance sheets that are “over-leveraged by today’s standards.”

I’ve always thought the M&A environment is a direct reflection on the health of the industry. If people are buying, they’re bullish. If people are selling, they’ve done well and want to convert equity to wealth.

Neither of those motivations is present right now.

These M&A firms—all of them, not just D+P and Berkery, Noyes—have some of the most talented and experienced people in the business—people smart about operating magazine companies and finances and org structures.

Which leads to the kind of gallows humor I heard after one of the announcements of these restructuring practices. I heard one executive say: “If you’re going out of business, they’ll help you get there faster.” 

Tony Silber

Beware Those Who Say New Media Model Has Fully Emerged

Tony Silber M and A and Finance - 02/17/2009-11:09 AM

I read Simon Dumenco's column yesterday (via Bob Sacks' newsletter). Simon writes for Ad Age and used to write for FOLIO:. He's a valuable observer of the media scene.

The column is the best he's written. He hit the nail on the head in so many ways:

  • The fact that this feels much worse than 1991 and 2001.
  • The fact that, as Nick Denton says, it's extinction time.
  • The notion that this really might be the end of MSM as we know it.
  • The arrogance of the Huffington Posts of the world that think they can create meaningful journalism for free—by treating their writers with contempt.
  • The staleness of the 12-year-old debate on micropayments.
  • And, really, the sense of no one having the answers.

It's something I tried to touch on here.

The shape of the media landscape after this period ends—and it will, eventually—is really not apparent now. Instead, we have all kinds of prognosticators thrashing around like a panicked stampeding herd. It's those who don't panic, who adjust costs early, who attempt to innovate, that have the best chance of survival.

The new media model has not fully emerged. It might be right in front of us, but no one recognizes it yet. Who would have thought, five or six years ago, that when presented with the option of downloading a song for free on a file-sharing service versus paying $1 for it on iTunes, over time, people would see iTunes as the preferred method?

A side note: I tried to post a comment to Dumenco's column on the Ad Age Web site, but, quite frankly, it's an annoying process. You need to register to post a comment-and registering means providing all kinds of information, like your street address, your company name, your industry, your job title (twice), etc.—what an incredible disincentive to engage with Ad

Whoever dreamed up that idiotic policy on comments ought to be lampooned in one of Simon's columns.