BoSacks Reader Speaks Out: An Industry in need of Self-Reflection

By BoSacks on November 10, 2021
BoSacks Speaks Out: Last week Samir Husni and BoSacks entertained a group of media professionals at a virtual town Hall hosted by The Media & Content Marketing Association (MCMA).
 
It was mostly a free-flowing conversation between two publishing mavens who have been having friendly debates with each other for ages on behalf of an interested industry. It was a great hour and it’s always fun to chat with my friend. You know the routine, Samir has a passion for printed magazines, and although I like print, I take a more digital approach to our business and our future.
 
I opened the conversation by asking if the publishing community is ascending or descending? Ascending of course. Then I asked if print magazines were ascending or descending? I’ll let you answer that one for yourself.
 
Among the many topics, we discussed was my observation that we as an industry who are communication experts are failed communicators when it comes to promoting our own industry. You know what I’m talking about because other industries have succeeded while we fail. “Got Milk” comes to mind or “The Other White Meat”, and a dozen more. On so many levels publishers are on their own island and don’t/won’t cooperate with each other for the betterment of the industry as a whole.
 
After the Town Hall, my friend Leslie Laredo sent me her reactions to the discussion. With her permission, I have printed it below. 
 
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
George Bernard Shaw

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BoSacks Reader Speaks Out: An Industry in need of Self-Reflection

By Leslie Laredo
President, Academy of Digital Media, a Laredo Group Company
 
I thought I’d share my thoughts from the MCMA Town Hall with Bo Sacks and Samir Husni. I hope a part 2 of this Town Hall gets scheduled as we need more discussions around the efficacy of print media.
 
I had several visceral reactions to the comments made, so my written words may not accurately describe the intensity of my feelings. While many say I am a “digital media guru” having considerable experience and success, since founding the first company dedicated to training the buyers and sellers of digital media, I have always advanced the concept that digital is a media channel that works best when bought and sold holistically or part of an integrated or omnichannel media plan. Digital has changed and expanded how we think about creating, delivering, and measuring all media. I would also add that digital has added ways to measure the effectiveness of print, especially proving how print creates a lot of top of funnel activity.
 
My reaction to the comments made about the industry not pulling together to save itself was poignant. The issues are embedded on all sides of the media table, including publishers, agencies, and marketers. From what I understand, the MPA’s membership got decimated because of the publisher’s meltdown from ad dollars moving from print to digital. I don’t think the MPA or the NNA (National Newspaper Association) have done enough to support print media in comparison to how the IAB, RAB, TVB, and NAB support their media. To many, magazine media equals print, which is ill-informed and materially wrong. While the MPA’s annual Magazine Handbook contains a lot of information supporting the efficacy of print+digital media, I don’t think this is getting into the right hands at agencies nor elevated to decision-makers at the brands.

On the other side of the table, most agencies still bucket magazines under print. The planning teams budget in silos. The buying teams have templates that compare performance averages across all digital formats and price benchmarks, resulting in buys with high percentages of fraudulent impressions. While the desire for “integrated” media proposals is often used in RFPs, the framework for evaluating is outdated, and no framework exists to evaluate all the assets magazine media brings to the table in an integrated way.
 
Many agencies are at fault for not training buyers and letting their younger buyers get away with “I don’t read magazines, why would I put them on a plan,” which I heard directly from a buying team, and no media supervisor challenged the statement. It is unforgivable that organizations and associations don’t support/invest in training for the skills needed to have more updated and informed decisions and so often allow or tolerate a “focus group of one” approach.
 
The national magazines and larger newspapers have always competed with TV for scale and ubiquity. So, when readership slipped because the desired format became digital, most magazines/newspapers did a terrible job selling the value of their print PLUS digital audiences. They had self-defeating advertising programs that allowed and often even promoted digital to be used as a mere value-add to a print sale. Giving away digital minimized, distorted, and obscured digital’s value proposition, and I think it has taken over a decade to begin winning this value back. From the beginning, publishers needed to sell why their media brands exist in different formats and use different assets, including audio, video, and digital, with more diverse audiences (digital was usually younger), and how differently they consumed content. I remember telling magazine publishers they needed to learn how TV was sold if they wanted to sell digital video because TV buyers managed that budget. No one listened, and they lost more ad dollars because print sellers didn’t call on TV buyers.

 

I think Samir misses the point about print vs. digital. The Internet changed the expectation of content delivery. The blogosphere dis-mediated the role of the publisher, as everyone with a blog became a publisher. The Internet gave people an easy way to comment on content, and publishers learned that people loved this opportunity, giving new life to “letters to the editor.”
Connectivity made it really easy for pass-along, expanding reach beyond what circ departments could ever imagine. Digital gave us a whole new slew of metrics to measure if and how ads were seen and interacted with (clicks, CTRs, interaction rates, viewability, completion rates, etc.). I loved the comment that publishers should have made their editors the most important influencers for their brand, just like broadcasters do with their anchors and hosts (e.g., Anderson Cooper for CNN, Lester Holt for NBC, etc.). 

 

While I admire Samir’s collecting and archiving first issues of every magazine, owning thousands of magazines being stored in hundreds of boxes, he is a “focus group of one.” I don’t know many people who keep back issues of their magazines around to reference. His “bought and owned” perspective and his story about challenging a woman at the grocery store checkout for flipping through a magazine but not buying it made me smile…but he didn’t see me flip through a magazine and then add it to my basket. Magazines are not consumed like a cereal box…words are meant to be shared outside a home; a cereal box is not. I say this is having grown up with three newspapers delivered daily (Rockland County News, New York Times, and WSJ) and experienced my dad and grandfather keeping old issues of National Geographic (now in boxes in my brother’s house), and my mom keeping the annual Thanksgiving issues of Gourmet magazine to reference every holiday. I now have print and digital experiences with NatGeo, which I love, and I don’t have to keep old print issues around because they offer digital archives back to 1888 (I need to tell my brother so he can clean out the boxes). All their content is only available behind the paywall, and I am a loyal customer and would have paid more than their subscription price ($24/year for both digital and print).

 

It seems that Samir believes “digital is the bad guy” in the print vs. digital discussion. I have many personal anecdotes of why I gave up some print titles and kept others. My son wouldn’t let me cancel SI for Kids because he loved getting the December issue with “happy birthday Josh” printed on the cover. Most of the magazines that I get in print are because it was just too damn cheap not to subscribe, and those are flipped through but not devoured like The New Yorker ($74.00 print+digital) or The Economist ($225/year print+digital). This topic of subscription deserves its own Town Hall. 
I love how some magazine brands, notably from Hearst and Conde Nast, have evolved to appeal to the omnichannel media consumer, expanded their video assets, and created new subscription and e-commerce platforms. Our discussions should reflect on how digital changed the rules for content, distribution, community, and measurement. Digital does not hurt magazines; it expands the capabilities and experience of ink onto other surfaces.

November 10, 2021

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