Steven Frye started in the publishing business in 1978 as the special sections art director at The Saturday Evening Post
. He's been running his own magazine production and distribution consultancy since 1985.
Media Business: How do you think the World Color-Quad/Graphics merger will affect b-to-b publishers?
I think the merger is brilliant because the big three printers are fighting over a market that doesn't exist anymore, which is the real large-run offset market. There's too much hardware out there, too much dinosaur equipment. With Quebecor [now World Color] being the first organization to go through the tough times, they come out looking good. It's kind of like the airlines. American went first, and they suffered through and came out pretty strong. The next one didn't come out as strong, and the next one didn't do very well at all. After that, there's nothing left. Everybody thought Donnelley would go [into a reorganization] after Quebecor did. And now Quad, instead of being a victim of the market, took control of it.
MB: Who will benefit from the merger?
Fry Communications and Brown Printing, two solid printers that can go head-to-head against the bigger guys. The catalog market has never heard of Fry, but that will now likely change. They all can print great magazines. It's the distribution aspect that is critical to be a good printer.
MB: Why is that?
Publishers should be looking at printers differently. Printers used to be distributors of content only through ink on paper. The printers that are going to survive these days are the ones that can distribute to all mediums. So your printer, once they get your content, they should be able to distribute it to print, Web, e-readers, smartphones—wherever the reader wants it. They need to be leading on that. It's all about multimedia distribution because people will start paying for content through any medium.
MB: When will that change come?
The full circle is coming around. People are going to realize there is a real benefit for push technology. There's no reason people have to go out and search for everything they want. If I'm interested in scuba diving and caving, which I am, those magazines should deliver to me electronically and in print. We have to deliver [content] to [readers] on any medium they prefer. Our job is to figure that out. Right now we have to do it on all of them. As e-readers evolve and become a better reading experience, that area will grow rapidly. With that, e-magazines and their subscriptions will grow. We're still in the hand-calculator age of 1972 for e-readers. They are going to get lighter, and more efficient and more affordable. And that is going to change our industry a lot.