How to Be a Master of the Digital Domain

Magazine Execs Gather for MPA Conference

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Publishing executives met again today to try to become masters of their digital domain as the Magazine Publishers of America held its second "Magazine 24/7" conference in New York.
Frank Moss, director, MIT Media Lab, was the keynote speaker at MPA's 'Magazines 24/7' digital conference.
Frank Moss, director, MIT Media Lab, was the keynote speaker at MPA's 'Magazines 24/7' digital conference. Credit: douggoodman.com

"Think creatively and learn continuously, and in the case of the digital age, I think you need to have a 16-year-old daughter at home," said Frank Moss, director, MIT Media Lab, whose team researches digital media, human-robot interaction and other kinds of Philip K. Dick scenarios with support from 100 corporate sponsors.

Mr. Moss told attendees specifically to keep an eye on the development of electronic ink and e-paper, which has been gaining increasing attention lately. "It's going to have a tremendous impact on digital delivery," he said.

Plenty of execs
In an indication of the breadth of interest -- among publishers and agencies too -- registered attendees, which the MPA said numbered 250, included Beth Fidoten, senior VP-director of print services, Initiative; Martha Nelson, editor, Time Inc.'s People Group; Marta Wohrle, VP-director of digital media, Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.; Ellen Payne, director of editorial operations, Hearst Magazines; Caren Sherman, VP, Mendelsohn Media Research; Matt Ingber, General Manager, Latina Digital Media; and Laurie Sloan, group publisher, Log Home Living.

After Mr. Moss's keynote address, there were presentations on "What Works Well" by Cyndi Stivers, exec VP, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia; Rosemary Maggiore, general manager, the digital business group, The Reader's Digest Association; Andy Wilson, director of e-commerce, Meredith Corp.; and Kathy Rebello, executive editor and editor in chief, BusinessWeek Online.

Panels covered topics including capitalizing on enhancing advertisers' results, the aggregation sites that are popping up all over the Web and the ways that video works best on magazine Web sites.

And unlike most big general meetings of the magazine industry, many of the presenters offered up good news. During the panel on making money from mobile technology, for example, Todd Anderman, president, Dennis Digital, said over 1 million wallpaper images from Maxim were downloaded through Sprint alone last year. "I think the business models are all open right now," he said.

'Mistakes and overreaching'
But some cautionary notes remained. "I liken the mobile space today to the Internet in 1999," said Jeff Price, president, Sports Illustrated Digital. "There will be a lot of mistakes and overreaching."

Other advice attendees heard:

  • Syndicate your content using technologies like RSS, gaining a broader audience for your brand.
  • Gather information on people who sign up for RSS feeds so you can offer them to advertisers as a precisely targeted buy.
  • "Microchunk" your content, dividing packages and articles into smaller items that can more easily find audiences on blogs, wireless devices and content aggregators.
  • Be sure to maintain ownership of that content and preserve the opportunity to serve ads with it.
  • Encode your syndicated content so you -- and your advertisers -- know when it is consumed, as already happens online and is beginning to happen with podcasts.
  • Plan for the day when your mass audience lives online but your smaller "class" audience covets your glossy, bound print edition.
Josh Quittner, editor, 'Business 2.0,' interviews Fred Wilson, partner, Union Square Ventures, about emerging business models for magazines in the digital age at MPA's 'Magazines 24/7' digital conference.
Josh Quittner, editor, 'Business 2.0,' interviews Fred Wilson, partner, Union Square Ventures, about emerging business models for magazines in the digital age at MPA's 'Magazines 24/7' digital conference. Credit: douggoodman.com

Challenges to come
Publishers have plenty of changes to manage already, of course, but naturally there are more to come. Technology will soon allow magazines to include smart chips that can communicate with readers' cell phones or other wireless devices, Mr. Moss said.

But they may not want to hang too much hope on the idealized "iPod for print," according to Fred Wilson, partner, Union Square Ventures, a venture capital fund. "I don't think anyone should wait for that nirvana device, because it won't necessarily save magazines," he said.

Mr. Wilson added that magazines don't necessarily need a saving grace, but later admitted that his old practice of reading Sports Illustrated was long gone; he said he no longer reads any magazines in print.

"I enjoy engaging with the content," he explained. "I'm an interactive consumer of content. I'm not a passive consumer."
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