Print's Future: Full Of Changes, But Experts Say There Will Be One
Those were some of the conclusions reached by panelists at "The Future of Print in the Information Age," a discussion held yesterday at the Time Life Building in New York. The mood of the panel, which was hosted by Sappi Fine Paper North America and Fortune magazine, was generally positive, while recognizing the need for change in the magazine industry as electronic-based media become more and more pervasive.
Fortune Senior Editor Geoff Colvin, who moderated the session, started things off by presenting two items to the audience: an instruction book that accompanied a Microsoft Windows disk and an electronic book reading device.
He said that the fact that Microsoft included a book along with a Web-based product spoke to the importance of print, while the audience's uncertain reaction to the electronic device illustrated paper's continued importance. "The fact that you don't know what it is shows that it really didn't catch on," he said.
Yet despite that opening, panelists spoke of inevitable changes in the industry, some of which are already evident.
"Clearly there are areas where print will not compete well," said Guy Gleysteen, director of paper and digital development at Time, Inc. "That includes encyclopedias and commoditized news."
"TV didn't displace radio," offered Roy Grossman, president of Sandy-Alexander Commercial Printing. "Print is not going to be displaced." Yet he cautioned that the younger generation's media habits warranted close monitoring. "The way they embrace technology is alien to anyone under 35," he said.
Jack Kliger, president and CEO of Hachette Publishing, and co-chair of the Magazine Publishers of America, was both critical and optimistic in his assessment of the medium's future. "We will fit in, but the landscape is different," he said.
Kliger, of course, is a proponent of the industry's need to sell itself, and has been instrumental in developing the MPA's recently announced multimillion-dollar advertising campaign.
"When it comes to promoting ourselves, we are doing a lousy job," he said. "We spend much too much time competing against ourselves. We have to understand we are an industry, and we have to act like an industry." Kliger used the cable TV business as an example of an industry that does a good job of putting the medium first.
The topic of accountability, and advertisers' increasing demands for ROI, predictably reared its head during the discussion. While magazines have been criticized by some in this capacity, Kliger expressed that this arena could prove to be a strength for the medium.
"Magazines offer both emotional and logical connections," he said. "The essence of magazines is that they are brands."
Yet Kliger believes that magazine publishers are often preoccupied with their own audience data over proving results. In making this point, Kliger invoked the work of Andrew Swinand, senior vice president, group client leader at Starcom Worldwide--who was not in attendance yesterday, but has been conducting significant research on the issue.
Starcom recently asked a group of magazine readers to clip out pages of magazines which they thought were a defining part of that magazine's reading experience. One-third of those studied selected ads, which Swinand believes speaks to the medium's unique relationship with advertising (as opposed to, say, TV).
"I believe magazines are on the cusp of an explosion," he said. "In a DVR world, we are really looking at engagement. A print reader is an engaged reader."
An engaged reader is one who is more responsive to advertising, theorized Swinand. "We've been consumed with Time versus Newsweek rather than looking at driving awareness, purchase intent, and sales," he said.
Among the other issues raised by the panel were the benefits of technology in speeding up the printing process and the changing role of media strategists at mega-media shops.
One of the more unexpected topics discussed yesterday was a charge leveled at ad agencies. Sandy-Alexander's Grossman said that agencies have been so beaten up over compensation rates in recent years, and are avoiding producing print because of virtually nonexistent profit margins. "One thing people don't like to talk about--agencies do not embrace print anymore," he said.
Yet when asked later on, Starcom's Swinand disagreed. "In my experience it's exactly the opposite," he said.