The news that the MPA (the Association of Magazine Media, the former Magazine Publishers of America) would be absorbed by its newspaper-industry counterpart, the News Media Alliance, in a tentative agreement -- outlined in an email to NMA members on Wednesday -- seemed stunning. It’s like one of those portentous stories that produce a cascade of reflections and memories of relationships, events and initiatives over the course of a whole career.
But then I realized it wasn’t exactly surprising news.
The event had actually been telegraphed for years. It’s just one more addition to a long list of organizations associated with the magazine industry that have experienced a slow and bumpy decline in the last decade and a half.
No one’s immune -- not the publishers themselves, not the printers, paper companies and other suppliers. Not the associations themselves, which have shrunk with a marked persistence.
The MPA was the association whose members were the titans of magazine publishing in its heyday: Hearst, Condé Nast, Time Inc. and Meredith, Hachette and other prestigious European publishing giants. It even had a separate division for smaller enthusiast-publishing companies.
Once, the MPA’s influence was enormous. The highest-profile executives from the highest-profile companies served on its board. Its budgets were extravagant, its leadership salaries were lavish. Its events were always in exclusive resorts in Florida, Arizona or California -- sometimes Bermuda or Puerto Rico. Its conferences always attracted top-tier speakers: major politicians, the business executives of the moment, celebrities. Barack Obama appeared in 2006, Bill Clinton in the early 2000s. Also Barbara Bush and Norman Schwarzkopf. Once, at a 2005 event, Senator John McCain got into an infamous late-night spat with a guest at the gaming tables.
But then, as print-magazine publishers began to struggle, so did the MPA. It dialed back its events, first to still-swank hotels, but in work-oriented locations, cities like New York and San Francisco. Then the conferences were reduced to one-day events. Then, in the biggest concession to reality up to that time, in 2019 the MPA closed its New York offices after 100 years and relocated to Washington, D.C., where it had a government affairs office.
It also “reallocated” (read “downsized”) its resources, focusing mostly on lobbying and not its traditional core activities of advertiser outreach, research, and member networking and education.
So now, in the agreement with the NMA, the association that represents high-profile consumer magazines will pool resources with an association that represents the newspaper industry -- two struggling legacy print-media sectors joining together.
Under the terms, which need to be ratified by the NMA membership, seven directors from the MPA will join the NMA’s board, Poynter reported. Eventually a Legacy Directors group will be formed, which will direct the use of MPA reserve funds.
It’s not like the MPA is the only association to take a hit. Virtually all the nonprofit organizations that serve (or served) the magazine industry have reduced in scope or gone out of business altogether. Over that same 15-year period, I recall many events where attendance declined inexorably, with year-over-year declines that left participants at a couple of dozen, not the 300 of the old days. Then associations stopped producing events altogether.
Such is the process of disruption. The pain is real.