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The Future Is Digital - But Not Entirely

Posted on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 2:08 PM

Recent industry event suggests that despite a technological revolution, the game's not over for print.

By Mary Shafer

"We don't have an editor that's not completely consumed with their digital presence," said Hearst Magazines President Cathie Black. She was addressing the Publishing Business Conference and Expo in New York in March. Black added, "We've created 25 websites and bought ten others."

However, Black refutes the widespread belief that digital technology spells the death of print magazines. She reflects that historically every new technology is always heralded with the premature (if not patently false) announcement that it has killed its technological predecessor.

Black drew an appreciative chuckle from the audience by observing that magazines and books are the original "mobile devices."

The imperative now for magazines is discovering how to best integrate all available technologies to maximize content and serve it to consumers in the way they want to get it.

"How do we move a reader through all kinds of content?" Black asks. Ultimately, she concludes, "We have to show enough innovation and creativity that we can charge for what we've got. We need to take resources out of underperforming areas and put them toward what's working."

Black points out that for some print editors, page count is up. She notes that, despite the recent economic downturn, some print magazines have achieved growth in terms of increased size, prices, and newsstand sales. "We've had a tough 18 months," she says. "Now, all of a sudden, it's like a huge sigh of relief. Our meetings are better. Our huge, multi-platform deals are better."

"We tend to be a legacy business. Cosmo sells 8-9 million copies on newsstands, and digital advertising revenue is still pennies on the dollar," says Black. Nevertheless, she adds, "We don't know where it'll go, but it's currently up by 20 percent."

"It's about figuring out what complex set of creative we can offer our customers," she explained, referring to advertisers who still very much want to reach the audiences of established consumer properties. "We've become a full-service ad agency," she admits.

However, Black is adamant that magazine publishers "do not want to be in the device business." She described a consortium called Next Issue Media, which guides magazines through digitization. On e-readers, Black says, "We're currently discussing how to serve the content. Magazine reading is an immersive experience." She adds that replicating that immersive experience in digital is a challenge.

Mary Shafer is the publisher of Word Forge Books and a freelance writer. Visit her website at www.MaryShafer.com.

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