print or…..? print!

Print or digital?

Smartphone apps or iPad?

No.  Print.  Or..?

The American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Transformation Conference in San Francisco the week before last week seemed to be the focal point for all kinds of efforts of magazine publishers to publicize magazines.  Ironically dubbed “Trans 2010,” the problem is that nobody seemed to be able to agree on exactly what a magazine is:

WIRED Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson sees the future in iPads, Apple’s soon-to-be-released electronic tablet, and told the conference audience that staffers have been working to create a tablet version of the title for six months, with the goal of having it ready in May.  “We’ve been looking for a way to do it better, and the good news is that I think we found it,” he said.  Buzz has it that GQ, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Glamour will also be iPadded.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the magazine now owned by Bloomberg LP, launched a print and online advertising campaign in conjunction with the conference, promising it will “reinvent the business magazine.”  The ads feature the headline, “Sure, we looked at what the competition is doing, then we did the opposite.”  The ad offers a free copy of the “first issue” of this reinvented magazine, which hits newsstands April 23.  Carl Fischer, head of global marketing and communications for BusinessWeek, said, “This is…much more than a new design.”

And head honchos Charles Townsend of Condé Nast, Cathie Black of Hearst, Jack Griffin of Meredith, Ann Moore of Time Inc, and Jann Wenner of Wenner Media on the opening day of the conference jointly announced the launch of “one of the largest print advertising campaigns ever created to promote the vitality of magazines as a medium” with a video.  (You read that right:  to promote the viability of print they showed a video)  “The Power of Print” campaign will preach to the converted in 1,400 ad pages valued at $90 million and donated by the participating publishers.  You can watch the video, which purports to finally telling “their story,” and find a link to the press release HERE.

(One startling fact that is trumpeted as a triumph towards the end of the video is the average time a reader spends on any given title: a depressing 43 minutes)

Print, web, iPad, smartphones – aren’t they all versions of the same thing, namely distribution channels?  For magazines, which are primarily monthly or weekly content channels – albeit ones with a point of view – isn’t the ability to distribute programming across as many platforms as possible what you want to do? The recent Cablevision/ABC7 Oscar brouhaha is simple evidence of that – how has is taken the magazine industry 20+ years to embrace (even half-halfheartedly) digital media?  This is not a battle between VHS or Beta, this is a chance to have VHS and Beta.  And the question publishers should be asking themselves is not “how do we get our print edition to fit on that iPad, PDA, Smartphone, etc.,” but “how do we use the inherently superior technology of each device to replicate and reinforce our unique brand experience.”

Uh-oh, I guess the problem there is that the media titans have spent the better part of a decade all but sacrificing their respective brands on the alter of diminishing ad pages.  So maybe they should be worried after all.


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