New Devices, New Models: Rethinking Magazines and Newspapers for Ever More Paperless World

The economic storm has largely subsided for magazines and newspapers. So, what's next? Print-media veterans tackled that question during two back-to-back Advertising Week panels on Wednesday, presented by TargetCast tcm. Not surprisingly, much of the conversation focused on tablet computers and their attendant challenges and opportunities, from creating content for numerous tablet operating systems to selling advertising on them without compromising editorial integrity.

As readers increasingly access magazine content on tablets and other digital platforms, companies like American Media Inc. are changing the way they market themselves and organize themselves internally. "We have to look at ourselves as powerful brands," said Diane Newman, evp and group publishing director at AMI, whose titles include Shape and Men's Fitness. "We have to be very nimble in how we connect with them."

With terms like "platform-agnostic" and "liquid content" being bandied about, panelists wondered what will happen to the magazine as a curated, ink-on-paper form of content delivery. "Magazines will live forever," said Josh Quittner, editor at large for Time Inc. The format "takes a bunch of stuff, it packages it, it makes it intelligible. There is a great need for that."

But Robin Domeniconi, chief brand officer of Hachette Filipacchi's Elle, said tablets demand different ways of thinking about packaging content. "Some content is no longer relevant in a magazine format," she said. "We should be talking 'brands.' "

Of course, it doesn't help those trying to transform themselves that legacy models persist. Domeniconi bemoaned the fact that magazines are still measured on a cost-per-page basis and by Publishers Information Bureau (PIB), a service that keeps a tally of publisher-reported ad pages and revenue. "I'm so tired of talking about the PIB game and newsstand sales," she said. "I think [PIB] should go away. I think they should measure us by audience."

  PIB is a service of Magazine Publishers of America, which Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. recently dropped out of.

The potential for tablets also is clouded by concerns about what they mean for editorial integrity. Quittner, one of two journalists on the panels, said that as publishers find new ways to sell advertisers' wares on tablets, they need to make sure those relationships are clear to the reader.

Those on the newspaper panel also discussed the digital transformation imperative for that medium, which is struggling with how to charge readers for online content after years of giving it away for free. Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding newspapers, many are still highly profitable and have robust online audiences, said Jason Klein, president and CEO of the Newspaper National Network. That said, expect more of them to experiment with pay walls, test different business models and pour resources into hyper-local news coverage in the year ahead, he said.

Already moving in that direction are The New York Times, which is expected to roll out a pay wall in 2011; The Wall Street Journal, which is launching local editions; and the Detroit dailies, which last year ended seven-day home delivery and beefed up their electronic editions. And newspaper giant Gannett is testing pay walls at three of its local papers.

Yet if newspapers' death was exaggerated, the industry is far from at peace. Joyce Jenereaux, evp of the Detroit Media Partnership, the business arm of the Detroit papers, said employees there have had to get comfortable being uncomfortable, a statement that likely holds true across the industry. "It's transformation," she said, "and it's constant transformation."