Magazines Meet Web 2.0

Time Inc.'s Peter Meirs Explains How Print Can Adapt

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Web and all things digital may be the most disruptive forces facing the media business, but after a long period of hand-wringing, magazine executives suddenly seem pretty chipper about the whole thing.

Well attended
Take, for example, a well-attended event yesterday, where publishers took notes, smiled and, at one point, burst into applause during a talk by Peter Meirs, Time Inc.'s director of alternative media.

"Web 2.0 is really about engagement," said Mr. Meirs, the speaker at Tuesday's "Meet the Innovators" event in New York, part of a luncheon series from the Magazine Publishers of America. The series is sponsored by The Jordan, Edmiston Group. Guests in attendance yesterday included Cathleen P. Black, president, Hearst Magazines; Cyndi Stivers, exec VP, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia; and Britta Ware, executive director-corporate research, Meredith Corp.

Reshaping expectations
Sites like Flickr, Del.icio.us, Craigslist, Technorati, Wikipedia and YouTube exemplify the spirit of the latest Web permutation, and while their content isn't as polished as that produced by the big publishers, they are all reshaping people's expectations, Mr. Meirs said. There will always be a market for professionally-produced content from established brands. But near-future consumers may expect a lot more accompanying room to express themselves and communicate with each other.

Mr. Meirs also described three categories of technologies: disruptive, which has the potential to upend or replace existing technology; emerging, which approaches widespread adoption but remains limited by factors like high costs; and practical, which classifies any technology in general use.

He touched on the evolution of early versions of digital magazines, like Zinio and Qiosk, but said he looked forward to widespread use of browser-based readers that won't require downloading software. "I'll put them a little past 'emerging' but not anywhere near 'practical,'" he said.

But when flexible screens really roll out, allowing digital magazines to become more tactile and engaging, the whole game will change, Mr. Meirs predicted. Within five years, he said, consumers will be able to buy a product that fits in their pockets. When unfolded, the device's flexible screen will display a calendar, data and digital magazines, he said.

'I never look at commercials'
At one point, Mr. Meirs was asked a question about the digital threat to TV -- in the form of increasingly popular digital video recorders -- and his answer got a strong reaction from the audience.

"I think they're at great risk," Mr. Meirs said in response to the question. "I have a DVR. I never look at commercials. And I think it's great because what it's doing is forcing people -- it's forcing media buyers -- to consider magazine advertising." The crowd burst into applause and laughter.

Atoosa Rubenstein, editor in chief at Hearst's Seventeen, said events like yesterday's are key to the industry's future. "It's important for all of us to be open and communicating right now -- not just for the sake of our respective businesses, but for the sake of progress," she said.
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