Ford's interest in corporate contracts, with packaged discounts and potentially multi-title promotions, and its willingness to limit the number of publishers it signs corporate deals with, upsets the notion that big magazine houses can always expect a share of the pie. For smaller publishers, with just one or a few titles, the prospects of coming up emptyhanded are now quite real.
Then there is the disturbing worry that behind the new Ford media-buying tactics, and the reduced overall spending in magazines that comes with it, is a shift of Ford attention -- and dollars -- to marketing on the Internet, at magazines' expense.
The first challenge for magazines is what they do when they vie for year 2000 ad dollars from General Motors Corp, DaimlerChrysler and other major auto marketers in the U.S. The losers in the Ford round will be determined not to lose again. While car advertisers stand to benefit from any price war that breaks out, reliance on price cuts alone is a poor substitute for more innovate offerings -- alliances along smaller publishers, smart promotional offerings and strategies that allow advertisers new ways to tap into the value of magazines' own Internet sites.
Another -- and obvious -- step is for the Magazine Publishers of America to place a new representative in Detroit, where it currently has none, and give that rep solid publisher backing to engage in wide-ranging discussions with automakers on new ways of doing business.
Autos are the No. 2 ad-page category for magazines, according to Publishers Information Bureau talleys. That's plenty of incentive for publishers to pull out the stops in seeking new ways to make their medium easier to buy, more