American Magazine Conference 2008

It's Not Always About Ad Pages for Some Magazine Publishers

Execs Discuss Nontraditional Revenue Streams, From Events to Digital

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- While most magazine publishers continue to depend heavily on print, today at the American Magazine Conference they heard from a panel of publishers that are going well beyond the page.
From left to right: Jack Myers, Ed Kelly, Bob Carrigan and Andy Sareyan.
From left to right: Jack Myers, Ed Kelly, Bob Carrigan and Andy Sareyan. Credit: Doug Goodman

Some 60% of U.S. revenue at IDG Communications, the publisher of titles such as Computerworld and GamePro, comes from outside print, such as MacWorld Expo and other even more narrowly targeted events, said Bob Carrigan, CEO, during a panel about reshaping magazines' model. But events often leverage magazines' brand names for attention and authority, Mr. Carrigan said. "I found this to be a wonderful space for our magazine brands to act as hosts," he said.

Meredith's cut
Almost a quarter of Meredith's revenue last year, $300 million out of $1.3 billion, came from nontraditional sources, said Andy Sareyan, president of Better Homes and Gardens, as well as exec VP at Meredith Publishing Group.

There was a time not long ago when ad pages were the foundation of packages into which Meredith added interactive and event components, Mr. Sareyan said. And while ad pages are still critical -- "Paging will stay our largest currency for quite some time," he said -- now nontraditional elements such as Better.tv and Parents.tv, have begun to lure advertisers by themselves. Interactive and event deals often bring in marketers who then agree to buy ad pages too. "It's symbiotic now," he said.

American Express Publishing has been among the industry leaders in creating event programs for consumers and advertisers, hosting happenings like the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo., said Ed Kelly, president-CEO.

But he acknowledged that the online space remains particularly tightly fought. "We're not making money on our online properties at this point in time," Mr. Kelly added. "It's a slugfest out there," he said later.

How should publishers navigate the web? "With great patience," Mr. Kelly said.

But not with trepidation, advised another AMC speaker, futurist Paul Saffo, associate professor at Stanford University. "Learn to be comfortable with uncertainty," he said.

An iPod for magazines
Mr. Saffo told attendees they are probably overestimating the short-term implications of digital media -- but underestimating the long-term effects. He nonetheless had predictions to offer, including the rise in the next few years of an iPod for e-books -- and magazines. Good electronic readers may send print issues the way of vinyl, he said, throwing magazines to his feet to demonstrate.

Publishers that understand that and don't get in the way will be poised to reap gains from new businesses, Mr. Saffo said. His model for handling change wrong: the music industry. The music business was so busy suing "its best customers," he said, that it missed its chance to get a bigger piece of the ringtone business.

That's why comfort with uncertainty is important. "You all are in the eye of the hurricane," he said -- not the best place from which to discern how the winds are blowing.
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