Mags no longer equate digital with doom

At AMC, publishers say industry-wide fear of new media is thing of the past

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nives@crain.com



[phoenix] Magazine publishers finally brushed the digital dirt off their shoulders at last week's American Magazine Convention, a meeting where new media used to leave a lot of executives in fear. And after so many warnings that print was about to die turned out wrong, the crowd this year showed no capacity for survivor guilt.

"We're still in the same business despite all the chaos," said Ann S. Moore, chairman-CEO at the country's biggest publisher, Time Inc.

More telling, she had just a few stark words when an attendee asked her about old predictions by Bob Pittman, the former top America Online executive who took the fall for its luckless merger with Time Warner.

"Well, he's not here any more," Ms. Moore said, to laughter. "And I am."

Google and Yahoo, of course, are "here" more than ever, but they came to present themselves as partners for print-even while Google keeps building a system to auction off magazine ad pages.

"There is a public perception about getting steamrolled by Google," Tim Armstrong, Google's VP-advertising sales, told attendees. "But Google is not great at creating content. It's not something we talk about. I would not be worried about Google doing anything in the magazine space except for helping."

Afterward one unconvinced magazine pro asked: "Can you say 'Trojan horse?"' But again, the question sounded more wary than worried.

Jack Kliger, chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America and president-CEO of Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., called some shutdowns-like his company's closure of the ElleGirl print edition last April-productive for the business, noting that it was no more tragic than a network show being cancelled.

'pasty-faced trolls'

Laughter even came easily early in the morning on day three, when The New York Times reporter and columnist David Carr moderated a video panel and needled the business on its place in the new wave. "Magazines, let's face it, are put out by pasty-faced trolls who type for a living," he said. "Video's become the lingua franca. We're up against an audience that learns visually, and so we need to learn to address that."

The crowd didn't applaud after Mr. Carr played part of his "Carpetbagger" video series for NewYorkTimes.com, but laughed when he teased them for it. "You people obviously don't know groundbreaking video when you see it," he said. "That's why we're here."

At the airport later that day, one executive rated the agenda a little too heavy on digital. But there were sessions, panels and open bars, too, that dealt with other subjects, from design to retail to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's possible hopes for the presidency.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gave a searing speech accusing American media of negligence while the Bush administration and big business treat the planet, he said, as if it were a business in liquidation. "Americans know more about Tom Cruise and Katie than they do about global warming," he said. "We're the best entertained but the least informed."

And a conflicted panel on celebrity magazines, the liveliest segment in print, simultaneously trash-talked star quality these days-even publicist extraordinaire Ken Sunshine said he felt the whole celebrity mania had gotten out of control-and held star-gazing high. "The stratosphere has become polluted with 10-minute celebrities," said Peter Herbst, editor in chief at Hachette Filipacchi's Premiere. But no one is going to take that candy away from Americans, he said. "The mania for it has not subsided at all."
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