Joe Ripp, the newly installed CEO at Time Inc., has spent the first eight weeks on the job firing up his troops for the company's spinoff from Time Warner next year. On Wednesday, he seemed intent on rallying the magazine industry as a whole.
Publishers Confront Digital at Conference: 'Magazines Are the Original Native Ads'
"We're not really competing with each other," Mr. Ripp said of his rivals in the magazine business, "but with the other sources of distraction coming at readers."
Mr. Ripp appeared with CEOs and presidents from the top publishing companies for the closing session at this year's American Magazine Conference on Wednesday, where the leaders presented a united front against the external forces shaking the industry.
The professed solidarity comes as the magazine industry battles for its share of ad dollars, which are migrating to the digital media. Tom Harty, president of Meredith's National Media Group, said his company has "an advertising problem," referring to the prospects for growth, but stronger-than-ever business with consumers.
Conde Nast President Bob Sauerberg echoed the sentiment about consumer revenue. "We have the best subscription business in the world," he said.
Publishers are trying to solve the advertising challenge partly by working with marketers on more bespoke ad packages, including the "native" ads that seek to more or less mimic the editorial content surrounding them. The American Society of Magazine Editors updated its guidelines last week to say native ads shouldn't use the same font as editorial content.
On Tuesday, day one of the conference, a panel of agencies and publishers argued that these ads should look and feel more like the editorial product, not less.
The magazine company leaders on Wednesday agreed that they didn't want over-regulation of native ads, but promised to not violate the trust they've built with readers.
Publishers also took the opportunity to argue that readers often treat magazines' print ads like content already. "Magazines are the original native ads," Mr. Harty said.
The panel's moderator, New York Times media columnist David Carr, sought to challenge the executives on a number of issues, pointing out that tablet editions, once seen as a savior, comprise a very small fraction of overall revenue even after several years on the market. Tablet editions also don't have the same ability to win casual readers on as print newsstands.
"We all need to work to bring that home in the digital media," Mr. Sauerberg answered.
The agenda for the two-day conference did not include any sessions specifically focused on the platform, a departure from recent history.
Tablets got a welcome defender, however, from Google Executive Eric Schmidt, who also appeared at the conference on Wednesday. "Magazines are going to be read on tablets," Mr. Schmidt told Wired Editor-in-Chief Scott Dadich. "Look at the numbers, guys."
During the conference's final panel, too, Mr. Carey said Hearst's goal is to have 3 million digital subscribers by 2016. That figure is 1.06 million today, according to the company.
But the executives seemed to acknowledge that the challenges facing them were only picking up. Mr. Carey helped wrap up the panel by saying Hearst needs to move more quickly still in digital. Mr. Ripp said his company still requires more urgency: "We need to move faster."
For the still-important paper product, Mr. Ripp added, "Print will be around for the next 25 years, at least -- at least. I guarantee it."