Kintzer on Magazine Media: Tear it Down or Fix it Up?

Bonnie Kintzer has seen a thing or two in the magazine industry. The current President and CEO of Trusted Media Brands heads the publishing house that puts out Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home and other popular consumer titles. And she’s got a message for the industry on just how they messed up.

She compares the industry, and in particular her own company, to a house in need of work. It’s a fine line between “fixer upper” and “ready for the wrecking ball,” and she wonders how it got so far gone for some brands.

“Certainly, the era when we were creating magazines that put consumer audiences last in the business plan didn’t help us,” she writes in Folio. “It wasn’t that long ago that magazines were being launched to address the new market craze of the day. I’ve lost count of how many ‘tech’ or ‘finance’ or ‘fashion’ magazines were being launched or considered solely to serve marketers.

“Unfortunately,” Kintzer continues, “we put marketers ahead of consumers, which ultimately doesn’t serve either audience.”

This approach, combined with the disruption of the newsstand and a devaluing of subscriptions, was the perfect recipe for the walls to start crumbling.

She stresses that, much as some might like to, we aren’t going back to the good old days.

“We need to live in a content, consumer-first world, and we need to invest in new technologies that get that content to our brand-loyal audiences,” she writes. “It also means that the people creating this content have to be able to embrace new technologies as an opportunity to further deepen their brand’s relationship and conversation with their audiences, and not view it as a threat.”

As we’ve been hearing from so many other industry execs, it really does come down to trust and quality, and a focus on the reader experience.

“We are living in the experience economy, and consumers — especially millennials — are willing to pay for products or experiences that have value,” she insists.

Once again the talk turns to niche and special interest publications as the standard bearers for this kind of audience-first publishing movement.

“If our industry is going to survive and thrive, we can’t be afraid of what we might find by trying new ideas and ways of doing things. It’s a bit like pulling up an old carpet and discovering a beautiful hardwood floor that just needs a bit of polishing and staining,” she concludes.