24 October 2007

A New Kind of Hope

In his latest “Bo Sacks Speaks Out,” Bob Sacks tells of the plaintive reader requests for good news about the survival of print. He honestly and sympathetically explains that he tries to find positive gems and that he does pass along what he finds. But there isn’t very much.

He says:

"So in my writings and my daily newsletter, I am offering a new kind of hope. Nature abhors a vacuum. For every job that is eliminated in print there are even more new jobs created in the digital arena. Look it up. It is in the US census bureau data. Graphics jobs, editorial jobs, production jobs, and jobs we have never heard of. Those jobs are the new frontier. And it is growing by leaps and bounds."

And concludes:

"What I am dead sure of is the future direction of information distribution. The king of the information forest is not tree based life, but silicon based information distribution."

Allow me to insert my own two bytes. Two factors and two factors alone will determine if the tree goes the way of the dinosaur — technology and the marketplace.

Is there available technology to emulate the print magazine digitally? Almost. We already have specifically magazinoid digital formats. We are awaiting a relatively cheap reader. And there is a sense it is coming, so help me Microsoft.

The marketplace is trickier. Marketers and technologists can reason, declare, insist, bluster and foist all they want; but consumers (you know . . . people?) decide what makes sense to them and what doesn’t..

In the mid-‘80s I was at a 20th Century Fox Home Video press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show. The news? The studio declared it would not distribute to any video dealers who let their customers rent instead of buy. So, how did that turn out?

It is entirely possible that current and future magazine buyers will decide that paper covers screen— no matter how light of weight, portable, convenient, paperish the screening device is. But considering the current and growing comfort with the screen and the digital technology behind it, I’d have to say paper is a paper tiger

As I asked previously, when was the last time you said, “send me a photocopy” and the last time you said, “send me a link?”

15 October 2007

Digital, Digital, Digital

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft delivered more than a keynote at the opening of the Association of National Advertisers conference last week. He delivered a shot across the bow of traditional media, including our friend the print magazine.

He stated that in 10 years, all media would be digital and delivered over the Net.

Advertising Age reported the following:

"What if in 10 years we can give you a screen that's this light, this manipulable," he said, pulling a sheet of crumpled paper from his pocket. "That's what hardware will permit over the next 10 years."

Here at Magazine Daze we agree with him. But sad to say his prediction did not receive unanimous agreement.

Brand Week reported

While some of Ballmer’s futurism (such as digital media that’s as thin and malleable as paper) seemed a bit too sci-fi, attendee Eric Leininger said never bet against Microsoft’s predictions.


others, however, weren’t buying. Motorola CMO Casey Keller said that Ballmer “was speaking in hyperbole. At a high level he is right, but I don’t think traditional media will die in 10 years.”

Come on folks, that paper-thin reader is coming. After all if we can put a golf ball on the moon . . .etc., etc.

03 October 2007

Cell Phone Novels

In Web mag 3:AM Roland Kelts tells about how the recording industry is trying to cope with the downloadable, digital sea change. Kelts, author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US, suggests the US publishing industry might be in worst shape than the music biz. US book publishers, he suggests, are in denial. He cites as contrast the Japanese embrace of “cell phone novels.”

Kelts writes,

“when I raised the topic of cell phone novel downloads as a promising new format for writers like me and publishers like mine in the U.S., a prominent and progressive editor from one of New York’s major international houses shook his head. “They’d just outsource the work [of producing the downloads] to someone in Chennai [India],” he said, referring to his superiors. “And it would just be a mess.”

He adds,

“When the concept of the electronic book (E-book) surfaces at the American Book Association conventions, or other major book fairs, Western publishers begin their moaning and dread. But in Japan, the success of downloadable cell phone novels is being celebrated by young editors, who are pursuing the format avidly.”

If it’s any consolation to our bibliopeers, the magazine industry has a louder chorus of digital deniers. The most forward of these talk about cross-platforms —marketing and content programs that encompass Web and print and mobile and whatever other media platform buzzword is floating around. Fine!

But this neatly ignores the evidence that the foundations of print magazine publishing —readership, advertising, circulation —are collapsing.

Indicators, Shmindicators

There’s a simple formula that always helps when writing a blog about magazines. Just start with the phrase, “Samir Husni writes, “ . . .” and then blithely go on to agree or disagree with quoted comment, while adding a riff of your own. What’s the point of being involved with magazines if you can’t be formulaic? So here goes.

In yesterday’s Bulldog Reporter’s Daily’ Dog, “Samir Husni writes,

“When sporting events see small crowds, you don't hear the managers bemoaning the death of a sport; when stocks prices fall, you don't hear CEOs complaining that money is no longer a viable product; but for some reason a drop in new magazine launches makes our industry think our days are numbered.

The numbers this year are lackluster at best, but there is no reason to think this is the first step down a slippery slope to the death of the magazine industry. Just as many other industries experience every few years, we are seeing nothing more than a market correction. I said a few years back that we would see something like this during 2007 and 2008 with a rebound to normal form in 2009.”

Okay. Professional sports are not going out of business and money is probably here for the long haul. BUT some sports do crash and burn when they can’t take root. And some sports franchises move to (they hope) greener pastures. When people with means find one marketplace isn’t working, they move their action into an entirely marketplace.

I’m not sure that the quantity of magazine launches is a reliable indicator of industry health. I suspect they certainly are a good barometer of both individual and zeitgeist passion, and perhaps a slight indicator of the prevalence of bipolar disorder. The quantity of new specials and annuals might deserve notice. These are forays by experienced publishers into established markets.

The article’s main thrust was to remind PR practitioners of the classic rule of pitching: Know thy audience. In this case, Samir Husni was advising publicists that mass email blasts are not as effective as targeting niche publications and niche specialty freelancers.

It got me to musing, possibly even thinking. One of my wonderments about the consumer magazine segment is how little it relies on marketing to consumers. Its major marketing efforts are directed at advertisers and retailers. We understand why, of course. But isn’t the magazine a consumer product? Aren’t quality, quantity and loyalty of readership the foundation on which advertising and single sales are based? Or am I missing something?