Friday, August 20, 2004

Future of Magazines is Web Technology

The Red Herring Conference on the Business of Publishing a Magazine at Seybold San Francisco 2004 proved to be an unexpected mix of technology, business, journalism and even social networks. The future of new traditional print magazines, and even established print magazines, is bleak due to high startup costs, decline in print advertising and high print production costs, a picture painted by Larry Crutcher of Veronis, Suhler Stevenson and Thad McIlroy of Arcadia House. Yet, overall, the panels painted a bright picture for publishers willing to experiment with the new technologies of the Web for product development. A magazine exists for an audience, and developing that voice and audience is the most expensive component of a publication. Once the audience is developed, the money follows. Web technologies are inexpensive compared to print, provide much faster feedback, and allow interactivity—all critical factors in developing communities of interest which can be developed into readership.

Blogs dominated the technology discussion. Joichi Ito, an executive with Technorati, and principal VC investor in Movable Type, a leading blogging software, spoke eloquently on the social networking aspects of blogging, and influence on the political process. His advice for magazine publishers is to create permanent URLs so bloggers can create permanent links, which are more valuable than search engine optimization. Susan Mernit of 5ive emphasized the importance of RSS and syndication for broadening audience to specialized niches. She cited Hearst Magazines as magazine publisher with a strong web presence for their magazines. CosmoGirl is a showcase for developing the audience with a successful website presence before launching a new print publication.

Mike Edelhart, formerly CEO of Zinio, sees the future bright for micro-publishing, but not for controlled circulation B-to-B trade publications and general circulation newspapers. Changes in human behavior is key to opportunities—our children are multi-channeled, watching digital TV, listening to music, and instant messaging simultaneously, so “magazines” as content need to respond to remain relevant. Business Week has tapped into college students by providing free email subscriptions, which results in high uptake of print subscriptions at a very low cost. Mitch Ratcliffe creates industry specific blogs as a marketing tool for InnovationWORLD, in addition to being the official blogger for Red Herring. As his blogs gains wider audiences, they attract paying sponsors.

As for Red Herring itself, the Seybold conference marked the relaunch of their print publication which has existed as a website for the past year. As a reader of the “old” monthly Red Herring which bloated and died during the dot com era, I look forward to reading the “new” Red Herring in a weekly format tailored to today’s environment.
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