BOCA RATON, Fla. — This year’s American Magazine Conference — aka summer camp for media executives — concluded Wednesday leaving some headaches, teary eyes and at least one nervous swimmer, but everyone was eager to come back next year and rally round the cause of glossy magazines again. After last year’s heatstroke-inducing powwow in remote Palm Springs, attendees applauded the relative accessibility of the Boca Raton Resort & Club (also known as Dick Cheney’s undisclosed location), which had many like David Granger and Ariel Foxman popping in for a mere 12 hours. They also praised conference chair Eileen Naughton, president of Time magazine, for scoring Bill Clinton as keynote speaker in only his second public appearance since his open-heart surgery. Some highlights:
- Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ talk on innovation, which put dollar signs in listeners’ eyes. “They have 10 percent of the book business,” said Jack Kliger, chief executive officer of Hachette Filipacchi Media. “If they could end up with 10 percent of the magazine business, that would be a boon for the industry.” And maybe a real competitor to Wal-Mart, which happens to have 10 to 15 percent of the magazine business.
- Water. Carolyn Bekkedahl, executive vice president of American Media, said she enjoyed getting up before sunrise one morning to go swimming under the stars. “When can you ever do that in New York City?”
But not everyone had such a tranquil dip. After swimming out past the breakers to try bodysurfing, Playboy editorial director Chris Napolitano found himself getting sucked out to sea by a powerful current and had to fight his way to shore. “They closed the beach right after I got out,” he said. And he thought he had to watch out for the rough currents in circulation.
- The soothing presence of actor Jim Belushi. No autograph-seekers molested Belushi (aka the poor man’s Bill Murray) as he watched game two of the World Series in the bar or enjoyed a cigar poolside. Why couldn’t Cheney be so sociable?
- Russell Simmons’ one-on-one with Roy Johnson of Sports Illustrated. Despite the hip-hop impresario’s mild race baiting and abundant F-bombs, he drew good reviews. “He’s just a regular street guy who’s turned himself into a mogul,” said Denise Favorule, publisher of Rodale’s women’s magazine group. “There was no overthink.”
- Whiz kid John Maeda. A professor at MIT’s ultra high tech Media Lab, Maeda’s talk — a bizarre stream of fast-food imagery and personal anecdotes — left some baffled and others in stitches. Maeda didn’t care. “At MIT, I have tenure, which means I don’t have to do anything anymore,” he said. “I could staple together four pieces of paper and just stare at it all day if I want to.”
- Action over talk. Every year, publishers gather to moan about the constant leakage of print dollars into TV. This year, the Magazine Publishers of America unveiled its answer: a $40 million campaign with creative by ad agency Fallon New York to convince the public that reading magazines is better than watching reality shows. “The industry is finally making a big statement,” said Hearst publishing director Michael Clinton.
- Cutting-edge insights. Bonnie Fuller, American Media’s editorial director, parachuted in to tell her fellow editors that a magazine’s cover must grab the reader’s attention in a matter of seconds. “And all this time we thought newsstands come equipped with Barcaloungers,” quipped Men’s Health editor David Zinczenko.
Of course, the conference had its lowlights as well….
- The soporific stylings of Postmaster General Jack Potter. OK, so it’s hard for anyone to follow Bill Clinton. But Potter had half the room snoring into their coffee cups. “They told me this session was going to be packed,” scoffed one attendee, surveying the half-empty auditorium. But hey, you make postal rates sound sexy.
- Speaking of the auditorium, there was the cryogenic level of air conditioning. “It couldn’t have been more frigid in there,” griped Playboy publisher Diane Silberstein.
- Tension at the MPA board meeting. Upset that not enough publishers were ponying up ad space to support the marketing campaign, an executive from the trade group allegedly broke into tears.
- For Jason Binn of Ocean Drive, the flock of people who left a day early, on Tuesday. Binn’s party happened to be scheduled for that night. It was subsequently canceled.
- Jon Secada. News that the Grammy-winning recording star would be performing at the Tuesday night dinner bash set lips buzzing with a single word: “Who?”