What is a magazine today? Is it a brand? Is it one element of a multiplatform media company? Or is it a vestige of a struggling print industry that will soon be replaced by digital and social media content?
These were just some of the questions posed at the American Magazine Media Conference, which was held at The Grand Hyatt in New York early this week.
Conference chairman Joe Ripp, who serves as Time Inc. chairman and chief executive officer, noted the magazine industry is a “business in transition” and that “there is no silver bullet” or quick fix to recuperate revenue lost from the waning print advertising.
But Ken Auletta, staff writer for The New Yorker, tried to suss out an answer from the man of the moment, Evan Spiegel, Snapchat cofounder and ceo.
Over the past year, Snapchat has emerged as the shiny new toy for publishers looking to reach Millennials and Gen Z users.
“What would you do as editor or publisher to transform or make the business more viable to reach some of the younger users of your app?” asked Auletta before pointing out that Snapchat grabs roughly seven billion views a day.
“We would hope that you would work with us. That would be great,” said Spiegel, who backtracked instead to address the genesis of his social media company. Snapchat started as a messaging app that gave users the ability to send multimedia texts that would disappear after 24 hours. The firm developed the capability of publishing with the addition of its Discovery platform, where media firms and users share stories.
“We use our stories to basically create a video magazine,” he said, noting that the next iteration is an exploration of “shows” by publishers, which gives users access to VIP events hosted by media brands. Condé Nast is the latest big client.
Auletta pressed his original question but this time asked what publishers are getting wrong.
“The biggest challenge we’ve come up against when working with folks is that oftentimes people want to change their brand so it appeals to whatever they think a Millennial is,” Spiegel said. Pointing to The Wall Street Journal, which was recently added to Discovery, Spiegel said Millennials are often coming to media brands for their reputation, not necessarily for viral content.
At a panel on the “21st Century Media Agency,” Ryan Berger, founder and creative director of The Berger Shop, mused that it is “ironic” that advertisers are trying to reach Millennials, but the people “making the decisions aren’t Millennials.”
Berger noted that most brands go directly to creators, which are now housed in magazine companies in the form of brand studios. Although he runs a creative agency, he explained that the goal today for any advertiser is to form an “authentic” partnership with media companies because Millennials are sticklers for authenticity after all.
Hearst Magazines president and publishing director Michael Clinton echoed that, noting that digital media companies may grab Millennial attention today but his titles have a stronghold that is lasting.
“The secret sauce in magazines is that we move with the generations,” Clinton said, contending that his company is “positioned for the future.”
Native advertising has emerged as a revenue generator for Hearst and rivals Meredith, Time Inc. and Condé Nast, all of which look to evolve their businesses to meet the demand of the digital reader.
Dirk Standen, editor in chief of 23 Stories, Condé Nast’s native unit, admitted that editors at the company work on branded content in order to give advertisers the “editorial excellence” of his company.
“You’re really pushing the envelope,” said Bloomberg Businessweek editor Ellen Pollock, who remarked that magazine publishers in general were “getting away with” marring the “church” and “state” lines more than news operations.
The suggestion didn’t seem to bother anyone at the two-day conference. In fact, Erik Moreno, executive vice president of business development at Time Inc., touted his lack of traditional media experience and offered that he has “never made a magazine.” He underscored the importance of meeting the needs of “clients” and tapping the experience of editors to pump out sponsored content.
Condé Nast president and ceo Bob Sauerberg expanded on his company’s views of native, offering: “We were late to the marketplace with this….We just want to do it better than everyone. We have our editors involved….They are better at it. They are really experts at it. Our perspective is that we are looking for the best ideas, the creative teams that can actually drive the results for our advertisers. That’s our goal.”
CNN’s Brian Stelter, who moderated the panel, turned to Ripp on the question of native.
“We will never ever, ever violate the trust of the consumers,” said Ripp, who noted he “retired the notion of separation of ‘church and state.’ But at the same time, advertisers are trying to sort through how do I get my message across?”
Ripp said native advertising “plays to” Time Inc.’s strengths and that the company should get a piece of the $18 billion native advertising industry.
Stelter also asked about disruption, a broad topic that touched on technology and continued right-sizing as publishers become more digital.
David Carey, president of Hearst Magazines, admitted that while technology has made the newsstand business “tough,” his firm has learned how to “drive subscriptions” through the Web to stem much of the fallout. He also highlighted Hearst’s strategic digital investments in Vice, Complex, Refinery29 and its joint-venture partnership on Sweet, its Snapchat channel.
Stelter alluded to the steep layoffs at traditional media companies, which are in the throes of evolving their digital businesses.
Sauerberg said his employees should “lean forward into the change,” before addressing the question of whether there will be more media consolidation in the near-term.
“I think it’s a natural outcome,” Sauerberg said, referring to further consolidation. “It’s not something we’re interested in. Our goal is to be the best premium company — the best, not the biggest.”