Is New York Publishing On the Ropes?
An unexpected debate around Publishing Executive blogger Ron Matejko's recent post on the possible sale of Time Inc. concerned the location of Matejko's publishing concern, MVP Media. Some readers felt that, being located in Arizona, Matejko was not qualified to comment on the digital strategy of a New York publisher.
Whatever you think of the merits of this debate, it does point to a very real phenomenon—the cultural divide between New York publishers and their brethren elsewhere in the U.S. In a rapidly changing market that favors agile operators and out-of-the-box thinking, do long-ingrained habits and biases put the likes of Time Inc., Hearst and Conde Nast at a disadvantage?
Some recent developments suggest it might. An article in today's Wall Street Journal argues Des Moines, Iowa-based Meredith Publishing, reportedly in talks to combine its portfolio with most of Time Inc.'s magazines in a spun-off company, is better positioned to maintain healthy growth in the magazine sector. The culture gap between Meredith and Time Inc. was made apparent two years ago when Jack Griffin, brought over from Meredith to head Time Inc., was fired as CEO after only six months. (The official line was that management styles did not "mesh.") Meredith, driven by a "no-nonsense," "team-oriented" culture, has been more proactive than many of its peers in becoming a diversified media company and acquiring brands in its core markets, the Journal reports.
Looking beyond Meredith, it's worth noting that many feel the future of magazines is in niche markets—traditionally the bailiwick of heartland publishers like F+W Media, Ogden Publications, Inc. and Kalmbach Publishing, all of whom have seen healthy growth in recent years. In 2010, Kalmbach acquired New York-based Discover magazine, and by 2012 had successfully transferred all editorial and design operations from the Big Apple to Waukesha, Wis.
So, is New York publishing on the ropes? As many have pointed out in recent days, Time Inc. still makes an awful lot of money. Hearst has proven many times over that it understands the need to diversity operations, buying ad agencies, investing in digital platforms and acquiring stakes in media start-ups. The problem for consumer magazine publishers has been slowing growth, which displeases investors. Lay-offs and shuttered brands have been much in the news in recent years as the largest companies seek to set a new course, and sometimes it appears that younger, smaller, digital-native or special-interest-focused companies are running rings around the big boys.
Perhaps, as one Matejko reader suggests, large, legacy-print publishing concerns are fated to go the way of Polaroid. If so, I'll bet many of the media companies that rise from the ashes will still have their feet planted firmly in Manhattan.