MAGAZINE MEDIA’S PLANET KRYPTON: Editors and their bosses did their fair share of hand wringing Tuesday at American Magazine Media’s 360 Conference at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan over the state of the magazine business. Facing print declines, traditional publishers addressed how their titles are venturing into the digital space and adding new revenue-generating ventures such as content studios.
“Really the elephant in the room is, we are all afraid of what will happen with magazines next,” W editor in chief Stefano Tonchi blurted out during his panel on fashion media.
W, which is part of Condé Nast, is under a new mandate to have its editors work on native advertising copy with the launch of 23 Stories, the firm’s branded content division. Traditionally, the blurring of the lines between editorial and advertising has been taboo, as editors are expected to feature stories based on objectivity, not ad dollars.
“Native advertising is such a topic these days. We’ve had meetings and meetings,” Tonchi said, explaining that while magazines have a clear relationship with advertising, there are “different degrees of compromise.” (Incidentally, Condé Nast last month awarded Tonchi and W publisher Lucy Kriz its collaborative leadership award for their “perfect cadence” in working together.)
The editor, along with Elle editor in chief Robbie Myers, who was also on the panel, agreed that journalists could play a role in writing ad copy, as long it doesn’t confuse the reader. “Look at TV and radio and their sponsorship model,” Myers said, citing the thinking at Hearst Magazines. “We cover our advertisers. Everyone pretty much knows this. Our advertisers make beautiful clothes and things people want to wear. Native is here and we are figuring out how to make it more palatable,” she said.
But even moderator Jenna Lyons, J. Crew Group Inc.’s president and executive creative director, balked a bit at the idea that editors today have to wear two hats. “You have to be marketers as well,” Lyons said. “Thank God I don’t have to do it.”
During the conference’s chief executive panel, Condé Nast president Bob Sauerberg gave native a new, fashion-inspired spin, worthy of the titles his company owns, such as Vogue. “We are building bespoke content,” Sauerberg said, emphasizing that native is another revenue generator, not the result of a failed media business model.
Journalist Michael Wolff, who led the panel, wasn’t biting. “Do you care if print goes away?” Wolff asked.
“Fear is not a strategy. I’m not afraid of anything,” Sauerberg said. “I have the best brands in the world.”
“I’m afraid of everything,” the journalist retorted. “There’s something to be scared about. We’re in the brand business. Many people feel that we’ve entered an unbranded world. Content is delivered out through Facebook and random places. That seems scary to me.”
Time Inc. chairman and ceo Joe Ripp said “brands matter” because readers are coming back to “good brands” because they have “trusted content.”
“Do you want Buzzfeed or trusted content?” the ceo said at the mention of the 150 million uniques that Buzzfeed garners every month. “I have a lot more revenue than they do.”
Ripp cited the shrinking ad spending in TV as an opportunity for magazines. Wolff scoffed at the notion that advertisers would spend with magazines, and returned to his original thought: that magazines are expanding their businesses because print is essentially a sinking ship. “Part of the issue is that the magazine business is a shrinking business, a dinosaur business, a planet Kryptonite [sic], and we want to shoot off to some other planet,” he said, before asking Ripp what scares him the most.
“There will be a point where print magazine declines will level off,” Ripp said. “The reality is that we will continue to invest heavily in new revenue opportunities. The reality is that the magazine business in magazine media is an exciting place to be. We are at a point of transformation. We have incredible power. The challenge for all of us, are we going to invest wisely in the future or are we going to keep crying that it’s not the same way it was 10 years ago? I go for the future.”
Always one to get in the last word, Wolff asked: “Do you think that the people who work for you are excited or fearful?”
Ripp said he thought both, but added: “The reality is we’re changing for the future.”