Now whither magazines?

I’m stage-managing a panel about magazines in the era of search at the Magazine Publishers of America confab in New York on Thursday. It’s the shortest panel on record: a half-hour. Those of you who know me will know to fear how fast I’ll be talking to cram any questions into that slim slot.

For some context, see German magmogul Hubert Burda in my post, The last presses, saying that he is now investing in relationship software, not content or distribution. See my post above responding to the question in a print magazine, “Is print dead?” And see Paid Content wrapping up the Digital Magazine forum:

A big question – as Bob Carrigan, and a panel leader, consultant and newsletter publisher Bob Sacks, pointed out – is whether any of these magazine-to-Web models is really a way to go, whether they ultimately ignore the power of the technology, and its applications that allow creation of community, complete customization, push and pull syndication, additive linking, hyperlocal service, database mapping, database manipulation, on-demand media, meta-search beyond text, and on and on.

Here are a few of the questions on my list. Please add more.

* In an age of search-engine optimization — when people are finding content via search, when Google has become the home page for all content sites — are magazines left out in the cold because they don’t put articles online or put them behind walls or move them to archives or don’t have rights to keep them up? Are you planning to or do you now put your content up online at permanent addresses so it can be part of the conversation (in blogs, tags, and such) and receive search-engine optimization for your brands? Or not?

* Is search proving to be means of selling subscriptions or of branding?

* Google is a brand killer. People find information via Google and don’t necessarily credit the sites that end up giving it to them. This affects newspaper and reference sites. Are magazines in a stronger position with their stronger brands and voices? Or not?

* What is your worst fear about Google?

* Google is planning to do to print what it has done to online by buying magazine pages and reselling them to advertisers. Are any of you taking part in or planning to take part in this? Do you fear this commoditizes you? Or do you think it brings you new advertisers?

* Do any of you think the day will come when print will be the value-added to a larger online product, audience, and brand?

* Search is just one aspect of online. Do you have parallel strategies to share regarding citizens’ media, distributed ad networks, blogs, podcasts, video, tagging, wikis, communities, and so on?

What else do you want to ask mag execs, including Bob Carrigan, president of IDG Communications; Lauren Wiener, vice-president of Meredith Interactive; and Michael Smith, general manager of

  • Marina Architect

    Vonage is the best case study. Having spent hundreds of millions on advertising, I would speculate they have no brand equity only utility to inspire loyalty.

    I would speculate all the dialogue at your meeting will turn into the usual “it’s an opportunity for us . . . ”

    I’m a Google supporter but everyone is overestimating them. Smaller startups can easily outmaneuver Google on superior service offerings. Google’s last few releases have been me-too offerings.

    Put your nose out where the startups are. Open source has changed the dynamic of service offerings in networked space. VC urgency is over, take your time and focus on selling your service above or at cost.

    In addition, you are missing the point of Google being a brand killer. Google is an enabler. Google only dilutes brands that are stale. It raises the competitive stakes in a good way. It is not deleterious as you point out.

  • I can think of a few places where print has a big advantage over digital. The bath for one.

    But, that aint gonna hold true forever. New types of display such as electronic ‘paper’ will make it a lot easier to haul documents around. One might have a ‘book’ that holds hundreds of volumes. Said book having a total of 100 physical pages, when you reach page 100 you’d flip back to the beginning and find what had once been page 1 is now page 101.

    With further advances in the technology you could have animated art, and even interactive books. Such as, say, a book of Winnie the Pooh stories where the illustrations follow along as you read to your kids, and comment on the action.

    Some years back, when I first heard about ‘electronic paper’ I had an idea for using it when playing RPGs. Each player would have his own ‘screen’. The left side would have a display of what his character sees. The right side would display the character’s statistics. The GM (Game Moderator) would have a larger screen displaying the overall situation along with other stuff. All this linked over a wireless network to the the GM’s computer, or perhaps the house server. The ‘screen’ would also have rule and descriptive/background information for the RPG in question. If one is not into flipping pages this format could be used for non-RPG works.

    Before I forget, there are a number of on-line RPG magazines. Steve Jackson Games has two. Both offer archives of past content. Then there are free e-zines in PDF. Mongoose Publishing of Britain recently switched to that format.

    So as time passes and the technology becomes available expect the reading experience to go through some drastic changes.

  • I have to say, magazines have fared a lot better with me than newspapers have. I have a bunch of magazine subscriptions: MAKE, Scientific American, the New Yorker, the Nation, The Economist, the New Yorker, Dirt Rag (a mag about mountain biking and cyclocross) PSM and, yes, Nintendo Power!. The long articles featured in these mags are ones I’d print out if they were online anyway, and in the print version, there are often great photos. Plus the magazine isn’t a handful of loose pages and can be easily stowed in a bag without worrying about the pages getting everywhere.

    I really love the Letters to the Editor section of almost every periodical, newspaper or magazine, and I think they should be featured more prominently in their online version. I think the idea of adding a comment section to the online version of the Letters to the Editor, as they do at the Greensboro News & Record, is genius.

  • Lisa: I think you’re right. Stronger brand? Stronger relationship? Less of a commodity?

  • When will they retire? New blood is needed…Young and aggressive executives…Where is the new Rupert Murdoch?

  • My Dream Media Team

    President: Richard Branson
    CEO: John Battelle
    COO: Jason Calacanis
    CEB (chief executive blogger): Robert Scoble
    CTO/CIO: Max Levchin
    CSA (chief software architect): Mark Canter
    Editor-in-chief: Chris Anderson
    Chief customer representative: Craig Newmark
    Pundit: Jeff Jarvis
    Pundit: Susan Mernit
    Pundit: Steve Gillmor
    Pundit: Dana Blankenhorn
    Editor: Dan Gillmor
    Editor: Tom Foremski
    Analyst: Rafat Ali
    Content development: Marshall Brain
    Marketing: Seth Godin
    PR: Steve Rubel
    Business development: Michael Arrington
    Search: Philipp Lenssen
    Podcasting: Doug Kaye
    Podcasting: John Furrier
    Telecoms: Om Malik
    Blogs: Dave Sifry
    Europe: Loic Le Meur
    China: Jack Ma
    CSO: John Robb
    VC: Fred Wilson
    Mobile: Oliver Starr

  • Question for your panel –> How can magazines promote, rather than fight against, journalists building a more direct and personal relationship with their readers?

  • I’ve recently cobbled together a new Web site ( that attempts to use the net to promote the smaller and independent magazines by offering current and recent sample copies of hundreds of them (340 at last count and growing fast) by mail for the low price of $2.59 each. It’s a way for magazines lacking universal newsstand presence (affordable only to the most mass of mass magazines these days) to get actual copies into the hands of prospective subscribers. We also offer links to the home pages of each of these magazines.