Notes on the American Magazine Media Conference
It was a glass-half-full kind of event and in the end, they didn't rename it the AMMC for nothing.
There was a moment in the closing session at the American Magazine Media Conference in New York yesterday when the moderator, media columnist Michael Wolff, thought he had caught the CEOs on his panel, "What's the Next View From the Top." He was making a point about the decline of print magazines, having earlier challenged Meredith CEO Stephen Lacy about what exactly it means to have a "content strategy," implicitly suggesting Lacy was engaging in meaningless buzzwords. Wolff said when he was at Adweek, he went on a "listening tour" of ad agencies, and asked the agency people who handled print ad creative. And it was either "the last guy to join, or the guy getting ready to retire" who handled print creative.
Isn't that a problem? Wolff asked. That agencies don't have people anymore who can do print?
The panelists hesitated. Wolff paused.
Then Hearst Magazines President David Carey spoke up: "We [the panel’s collective] created over 100,000 ads in 2014. Someone is creating those pages."
Yes, Wolff replied, but five years ago how many more print ad pages did you have?
And so it went, a print (and digital) media skeptic challenging a panel of major magazine media company CEOs about the future of their distressed business. The CEOs included Joe Ripp of Time Inc., Maria Rodale, and Bob Sauerberg of Condé Nast, along with Carey and Lacy.
The event, held a the Marriott Marquis in New York, was filled with dichotomy. Teen Vogue Editor in Chief Amy Astley, in a session on "What Are the Next Fashion Statements," said that 100 percent of her brand's credibility comes from the print magazine. Then she spent a lot of the rest of the session describing all the cool things going on in video, online and social media.
Ripp, asked about the importance of social media, said he can't understand why people want to share so much of their lives. "I'm not the demographic," he said. And when someone said, "I want to see your tweet," he added, "You'll be waiting a long time."
Interestingly, the takeaway on social media from the top CEOs was that it is largely a distribution and engagement platform, but distinctly ancillary.
It was a glass-half-full kind of event. Wolff asked why all the focus these days is on video for these print-magazine companies. There is a reason NBC does what it does, and Time Inc. does what it does, and there was a reason, Wolff said, why he chose print media and not broadcast media when he was starting out. But magazine companies tell great stories, and those are often visual, Ripp responded. "You can send a Time Magazine reporter out on a story, and have a camera follow them around, and have good video."
In the end, they didn't rename it the AMMC for nothing. I was using the term "magazine media" back around 1999 (but that's a story for another day). There are many new channels and many new opportunities. Print is declining and other media is ascending. Audiences are strong, content is strong, and major magazine companies have a lot of advantages. One very smart observer, however, noted after the CEO panel that "four of the five companies on the stage are distressed."
In the true glass-half-full spirit, one of the CEOs said, "There's still a lot of money to be made in print." But there was an unspoken "but" in that sentence.