From the Editor: What's Next?
Several months ago, the industry watched with great interest as Tina Brown—famed former Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor—launched the online news site The Daily Beast. Brown’s move to the online publishing world shocked many, and some questioned her ability to head a Web site and effectively reach an online audience. But in an interview on The Daily Beast, the print diva seemed to dismiss the idea that her new medium would pose a challenge for her: “I’m not completely sure how a printing press works, but that never stopped me.”
More recently, Myrna Blyth—former editor-in-chief of Ladies’ Home Journal and founding editor of More Magazine—joined new women’s lifestyle Web site BettyConfidential.com. (See the cover story on page 22.)
Many felt that the new online homes of these magazine luminaries signaled a momentous shift, a sign that we were actually rounding the curve into the digital future.
But the debate about print’s future still rages on. Some hold fast to the belief that print will continue to be the anchor for most content brands. Others believe that the future is digital, with a few print stalwarts hanging on.
If a magazine is to survive, many have said that it is essential to provide engaging, invaluable content. My immediate reaction to this would be “duh” except that the comment shamefully seems to be right on the mark. I am amazed at some of the magazines that survived for decades on advertorial B.S. But advertisers were plentiful and apparently not all that discerning, and all that mattered for the time being was that X-number of readers received a magazine, not that they read it.
But now, in the midst of a painful recession, the industry’s cracks are exposed and widening. So what’s next?
As Samir Husni, aka Mr. Magazine, commented for the cover story, “Going forward, we have to rethink our publishing model,” believing publishers can learn from the likes of Consumer Reports, which charges a healthy price for its valuable content, rather than giving it away for next to nothing, as many magazines do.
Blyth agrees that the push to deliver higher and higher rate bases by offering magazines to consumers for obscenely low prices has had a significant, negative impact on the industry. “We have taught the American public not to pay for magazines,” she says.
We also need to rethink the medium—and whether we’re maximizing each medium’s advantages. As Alex Brown suggests in her column (page 13), print’s tactile quality can and should be exploited to the fullest. And the Web’s immediacy and interactivity should be as well.
Still, change will continue to come. New ideas will surface, old ideas will fall by the wayside, as will many magazines. Some editors will abandon print, while others launch new print magazines. What will not change is that publishers will continue to seek to reach readers with relevant content—whether through customized print editions based on reader demographics or custom Internet sites that track visitors’ data and behavior, and serve relevant content based on that information. The key will be, as pointed out in this issue, focusing on the fact that we are content producers, regardless of medium.
But, as so many have said, that alone is not enough. You have to provide relevant content. And to do this, you have to know your reader, not just their titles and companies, or ages and income levels, but their needs, their challenges—and their preferences for how they want to receive content.
I don’t believe we face a print or non-print future, but a hybrid future, where some choose print and others choose another medium for their content. Magazines have been around for a couple hundred years, and books for several hundred more. They have survived the emergence of radio, television and audiobooks—and will survive the Internet. And unlike music formats—which have evolved from vinyl records to cassette tapes, compact discs and now MP3s—books and magazines have retained their “format” all this time.