Can Maghound Spark a Sagging Magazine Industry?
Now in his second stint with Time Inc. Consumer Marketing, Dave Ventresca has seen his share of booms and busts since the rise of the Internet. Now president of Maghound Enterprises, a Time Inc. subsidiary and the group behind this week's launch of the online service for magazine subscriptions, Ventresca has worked for Internet startups (Uproar.com) and juggernauts (AOL). But since leaving Time Inc. in 1999, he's noticed most media channels tilting toward the consumer in their approach. The rise of services like NetFlix, TiVO and Apple's iTunes have empowered the consumer, and yet Ventresca believes the magazine industry has been slow to produce such an innovation.
Enter Maghound. The magazine industry's answer to cable television, one-at-a-time song downloads and other media innovations that have transformed the consumer experience in recent years. Ventresca spoke with Publishing Executive Inbox about the genesis of the four-year-long project, his aspirations for the new service, and its significance to the industry.
Inbox: When was the idea for Maghound initially proposed, and how did it get underway?
Dave Ventresca: An industry consultant … Chip Block … had the idea along with Steve Sax, who's now publisher of Real Simple. The two of them did the initial brainstorming, and it expanded from there. They pitched it to Brian Wolfe, the senior vice president of consumer marketing for Time Inc. Brian seemed to like the idea and wanted to see what consumers had to say about it. At that point, we started to do some focus groups, which went well. Then we did an online, quantitative survey testing a variety of different variables, testing price points, etc. That's really when the program started to build some momentum.
Inbox: How much of a driver was the success of online services like iTunes and Netflix in the decision to launch this service?
Ventresca: That's a good point. We looked at a lot of other media channels -- music, cable television, books, DVDs -- all of these other media channels had these innovative and transformative new services that empowered the consumer. They offer the consumer greater flexibility, choice, control, personalization. … These services empower the consumer in ways that we didn't see happening in magazines. Suddenly, the ways that we traditionally sell magazines started to feel a little antiquated. We still sell annual fixed-term subscriptions like we have for decades. We still sell individual, single copies at retail like we have for decades. And so we felt that there wasn't really any transformative innovation in the magazine category like there had been in other categories. So that was the motivation. Maghound is our attempt to bring magazines on par [with these other media categories].