A Report from SXSW on The Future of Publishing

I have been writing and forecasting the future of the publishing industry since the latter part of the 20th century. One of my techniques for understanding and staying ahead is to attend as many lectures, seminars, trade shows, and networking events as is reasonable and possible. My goal in this process is to grapple with the global picture of our industry rather than maintain a smaller, siloed perspective. Seeing how the working parts interconnect is an invaluable exercise to any business or forecaster.

In March I attended South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX to see if I could find connections between emerging digital technology and the ever-changing world of magazine media consumption. During five full days at the technology, music, and film conference/festival, I attended a wide array of events, saw dozens of insightful speakers from all walks of modern and ultra-modern business life, and witnessed sessions on topics ranging from the promise of wearable biometric devices to “Computation and Its Impact on the Future.” Throughout, I kept my eye focused on the implications for the magazine media industry. Let me try to explain what I learned.

Based on my time at SXSW, I think the future of magazine media boils down to a few fundamental concepts. One of the simplest was demonstrated everywhere in Austin: The public’s habits are still in total and unpredictable flux. As the former ingrained rituals and time management skills of the public change, so too does its reading habits. As technology continues to explode with ever more multiple reading platforms, this also changes the consumer’s habits. The only path for magazine media businesses is to continue to shift with the reading public and to try to meet the challenge of maintaining reading attention. It is vital for magazine media companies big and small to continually question and re-evaluate their strategies for keeping their readership.

Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (Media-Ideas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.

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