When Dr. Samir Husni spoke to the room at the recent ACT 7 Experience at the University of Mississippi’s Magazine Innovation Center, he was quick to point out one key bit of wisdom.
“The problem is not the ink on paper,” he said, according to Linda Ruth writing in Mr. Magazine. “The problem is what are we putting on the ink on paper. If we are still doing things the way we were pre-digital, we have a problem.”
The Magazine Innovation Center, which Husni founded and now directs, is part of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Their annual ACT conference brings together key names in the magazine media. This year’s panel included execs from Bauer Publishing, Meredith, PubWorx and Hello Media, among others.
The discussion got right to the heart of the matter, with Husni asking if print is still a valid medium. Across the board, the panel was adamant.
“For The Magnolia Journal, direct mail response was through the roof,” said Steve Crowe, VP/Consumer Marketing for Meredith. “Meredith has existing channels, and Magnolia was able to bring a channel of its own. From day one, response was amazing. It helps to start with a well-known brand, and a channel.”
Amazing is one word for it; the publisher just announced they’ll print one million copies of the upcoming issues of The Magnolia Journal to meet the huge demand. William Michalopoulos chimed in: “To say print is dead is ridiculous. Hearst is launching Airbnbmag, a digital property that wants a print presence.”
The industry certainly faces challenges, with the one-two punch of digital disruption and the recession changing just about everything we knew about the model for selling magazines. Distribution changes continue, and there has been much speculation on the future of the business, a key topic throughout much of the conference.
Jay Annis of Hello & Hola! Media sums up the current problem with distribution: “We deliver the magazine to the wholesaler, the wholesaler to the retailer, the merchandiser comes in and puts it up. We spend millions of hours, millions of dollars, creating content and getting it out, and leaving it in the hands of a high-turnover merchandiser to put the magazine out in the correct way into the pockets we’ve bought. It isn’t happening.
“The secondary distributors have a different, maybe a better model—all of their drivers also do the merchandising, and they are on commission, so they take an interest in how things are put out, how the rack is dressed,” Annis continues. “This could be part of the solution. People who have skin in the game will do a better job.”
Meredith’s Crowe agrees, saying “The publishers are so removed, so much of the whole process is outsourced.”
One attendee, industry consultant Joe Berger, sees the distribution issues and urges calm and sanity.
“What’s been going on in the newsstand distribution business since the massive consolidations of 1995 – 1997 is nothing other than change,” he explained in a recent post. “We often don’t like change but so what? It may be personal to us but to the people who implement change, it is not personal.”
But he reminds us that the newsstand is not the be-all and end-all to magazine publishers, who are now firmly diversified and rarely rely on the newsstand alone for sustenance. For his part, he walked away from ACT 7 encouraged by one important thing:
“After seeing these students, let me tell you, when it comes to the magazine business, everything’s gonna be all right. Just different. Very different.”