Is the Magazine Industry Still Too Scared of Social Media?

Social media and its impact on the magazine industry was the quiet corner of this months’ American Magazine Media Conference. And that’s pretty odd, according to Tony Silber writing in Forbes.

“There was just the slightest reference to the magazine industry’s fraught relationship with social media this week at the American Magazine Media Conference,” Silber writes. “Which was surprising, given the existential economic dynamics now facing many media companies, and that two of seven total sessions at the one-day conference were conversations with social-media executives.”

“AMMC—the annual event produced by the MPA for consumer-magazine publishers, was in Downtown Manhattan on Tuesday at the Henry Luce Auditorium,” Silber continues. “The inadvertent symbology is worth noting: Luce founded Time Inc., the greatest magazine company of all time, in 1923. But Time Inc. couldn’t adapt. It spent its last decade losing revenue and cutting staff, and officially ceased to exist last year, its famous brands absorbed into Meredith Corp.”

Social media, as we all know, had more than a little something to do with that. Meredith’s CEO Tom Harty made mention in the closing session that “[ad] spending maybe went too far digital. We’re premium publishers and represent brand safety. But at the same time, we have to look at what is really happening out there. Facebook is up 30% in advertising, and from a brand safety and PR perspective, they had the worst six months in their history.”

Silber points out the dichotomy: social media continued its massive growth, while anticipated revenue for media brands failed to materialize. And no one wants to talk about that – at least on the conference stage.

The two sessions that did focus on social media focused more on the feel-good stuff, rather than the dangers inherent in basing your audience discovery on a platform you don’t own.

“It was softer than a softball game, no controversial questions,” said one well-known attendee, Silber notes. “This is a strategy that is going to bite magazines in the rear, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram. Publishers don’t own either one, and when you don’t own the platform you’re at the mercy of the owner.”

Glamour editor-in-chief Samantha Barry was apparently a bit more willing to take on the elephant in the room, saying: “You cannot build your business around Facebook, which has an algorithm that’s constantly changing. “What I don’t want is to just throw money at a problem, that will just make you dependent on Facebook—a big tech company writing checks when it feels like it. That is not a comfortable place to be.”

Not a comfortable place? A bit of an understatement there. Facebook’s cover is blown, with mounting lawsuits on sketchy metrics and misleading hype. To say it’s “uncomfortable” for publishers to play in that sandbox is like saying it was a little cold in Chicago last week. It was 40 below, folks.

Ad execs, on the other hand, have pulled no punches, telling Facebook quite publicly that enough is enough. I wonder when the magazine industry as a whole will follow suit.