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Are print magazines becoming blimps?

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Remember the last time you saw a blimp, live and up close? Blimps are rare. I find them fascinating. Unlike any other aircraft, they hover mysteriously, crawl along and command attention in a wide-open sky.

Until the 1980s, blimps always meant Goodyear blimps. Goodyear controlled key intellectual property (IP) for blimps, holding an effective blimp monopoly. Goodyear unwisely sold its IP, lost its uniqueness and allowed a flock of competing blimps to take flight.

Like blimps, print magazines are increasingly rare.

In our industry, telecom, almost all the printed U.S. trade magazines have folded. Now we need to ask, what we should do with our customer magazine, Tellabs Insight? Conventional wisdom says, print is dead—move along.

What’s wrong with stories about the death of print?

The death of print has been foretold many times. In 2000 I worked at R.R. Donnelly, the largest printer in the U.S., when analysts warned that print would die any day now. That warning came 12 years ago—yet print still abounds.

Media soothsayers have foretold the deaths of many media, and they’ve been wrong every single time. Remember, such seers said:

  • Radio would kill newspapers.
  • TV would kill radio.
  • Cable TV would kill broadcast TV.
  • Internet would kill cable TV and other media.

Old media and new media force each other to adapt


As much as I love new media, in today’s ecosystem we need to face the fact that new and old media must coexist. New media usurp attention by adding the thrill of discovery to content. Yet new media largely echoes content from old media.

New media make old media adapt, evolve and specialize. But new media haven’t killed old media—at least, not so far. Today people use old and new media simultaneously.

What’s the future of customer magazine content?

In our quarterly customer magazine, Tellabs Insight, trade reporters tell our customers’ stories in their independent voices. For more than a decade, a printed magazine has been a constant in Tellabs’ marketing mix—despite several name changes, including a quick change triggered by Al Qaeda.

Now we’re asking the question, what’s the future path for customer magazines? What matters most to customers is our message—its relevance, uniqueness, clarity and value. The future of customer magazines (or any old or new media) ultimately depends on the value of its content, as seen through the eyes of customers.

Separately, each customer chooses the medium or media they want to use. That’s why Insight is available the way customers like it—in print, on our website, through emails, via social media links and on the Tellabs iPad app.

As printed magazines die off, some marketers may gain the opportunity to own the only print magazine in their sector. By sticking with print, you could come to own your industry’s Goodyear blimp.

The biggest marketing mistake ever?

Letting go of the uniqueness of its blimps was one of the biggest marketing mistakes Goodyear ever made, their former CFO told me. Years later, he still sounded incredulous about that decision and its short-sightedness.

We can debate old and new media, but ultimately customers choose where their eyeballs go. With content, what matters far more than the medium is the message—thoughtful content, original observations, provocative questions and genuine dialogue. We strive to deliver this kind of content, wherever our customers choose to see it.

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