C-Suite Soundbites From AMMC: Views of the Magazine Biz From On High
Each year at the American Magazine Media Conference, the last panel of the event is typically a conversation among the CEOs of the publishing industry’s goliaths. This type of panel has its upside and its downside.
Of course you get to hear how the biggest consumer publishers see the industry and macro trends affecting it. On the other hand, you have to be ready to put on some uber-rose-colored glasses. Hearing them talk, one might think the industry doesn’t have its troubles, enduring seemingly never-ending contraction (as evidenced by recent layoffs at Condé, Time, Meredith), or that employees at Time Inc. aren’t anxious as their fate swings in the balance with each murmur about impending acquisitions.
Still there were some salient points made that indicate where the industry as a whole and the big dogs are headed. Below I did my best to cut out the filler and distill the most interesting soundbites from the conversation.
MPA president Linda Thomas Brooks did an admirable keeping the conversation substantial. Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I missed David Carr playing the role of expert interrogator.
Note: The responses below are paraphrased unless set off in quotation marks.
Speakers on the panel included:
- Rich Battista, President & CEO, Time Inc.
- David Carey, President, Hearst Magazines
- Stephen M. Lacy, Chairman & CEO, Meredith Corporation
- Maria Rodale, Chairman & CEO, Rodale Inc.
- Robert A. Sauerberg Jr., President & CEO Condé Nast
- Linda Thomas Brooks, President & CEO, MPA
The State of Magazine Media
Carey: The cooperation in the industry has increased as bigger competition has emerged (hint: Google, Facebook), which is a promising evolution.
Lacy: Meredith is having more conversations with marketers around the desire “to do things that work.” The fundamental question they’re asking about content is, “Does it cause the consumer to take action and interact with our brand?”
Rodale: Moving Prevention to an ad-free model was the right thing to do, but no plans to do the same with other pubs.
Carey: There is a lot of respect for the print magazine form. We see a 60% renewal after initial subscribe, which is a very high consumer renewal rate. We get higher CPMs for print-first pubs versus digital-first pubs. However, we don’t think we’ll be able to gate our digital content and charge for it.
Lacy: Meredith is moving away from direct mail, which is good for the bottom line and for reaching new audiences (because millennials don’t go to the mailbox.)
Digital, Data & Mobile
Battista: Food & Wine, Real Simple, and smaller pubs do really well in digital and video.
Lacy: 50% of traffic for All Recipes is on mobile -- and 40% of that time is spent at the grocery store deciding what mayonnaise to buy for a recipe. Connecting the consumer and the brand during that moment is a big opportunity for Meredith.
Sauerberg: The industry is poised to take advantage of the data it can gather on audiences and their behavior. Has spent the last four years building real time data platform. “I want to know everything about the most influential consumer are doing with our content.” With that, Condé can connect to advertisers and build new products.
Rodale: Data is a big opportunity. Before digital it was the editor that was the uber-curator, but it was greatly based on guessing. Now with analytics, you can know for sure what is resonating with audiences and “it’s a gift for creative people.”
Thomas Brooks: Data is great but you can’t necessarily figure out what’s next. That’s why you have editors. Those people on your teams have figured out how to lead audiences rather than relying only on A/B testing and algorithms.
Alternative Revenue Streams Have a Stabilizing Effect
Lacy: Meredith sold $2 million in Home & Garden products every year. That makes us a little less dependent on advertising.
Carey: Partnerships are a big part of Hearst’s business. (The Airbnb print magazine for one.) More than half Hearst’s revenues come from shared revenues.
The Trump Effect
Sauerberg: The Trump presidency is actually having a positive effect on the industry. Right after the election, subscriptions went up 150% and that rolled into January. Titles like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker are up 200% to 600%. Traffic is up 160% is up and engagement is up. Expect a similar lift for the entire industry.
Linda: Should look for ways to bring the editorial processes out into the light, and emphasize the
Carey: I think consumers do intuit that there is a lot of work that goes into putting together a magazine.
Denis Wilson was previously content director for Target Marketing, Publishing Executive, and Book Business, as well as the FUSE Media and BRAND United summits. In this role, he analyzed and reported on the fundamental changes affecting the media and marketing industries and aimed to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.