With a name change, Magazine Publishers of America is formally recognizing that its consumer magazine members are no longer just ink on paper, and some industry stakeholders are asking: What took so long?
Magazines now distribute content on various platforms, and many now make meaningful revenue outside the printed periodical. “Publishers have been developing Web sites and mobile sites and iPad apps. But yet the MPA still represents magazines,” said Robin Steinberg, svp, director of print investment and activation, MediaVest. “It’s a disconnect.”
The MPA is chucking “magazine” from its name to reflect the increasingly multiplatform nature of its members. Going forward, the 91-year-old trade association will go by just its initials, as it’s informally known. It’s also adopting a new logo and tagline, the Association of Magazine Media.
Steinberg and others hope the changes are more than just cosmetic. They’d like to see the MPA push out data that represent the breadth of magazines’ touchpoints, not just ad pages, which the MPA tracks through its Publishers Information Bureau service. “Their research needs to be upgraded to understand the new-media experience,” Steinberg said.
The MPA, along with other industry associations, has faced questions about its relevancy. Recent revelations about the salary of chairman Nina Link caused growsing, while the recession caused some members to exit, including Elle publisher Hachette Filipacchi Media, Rolling Stone parent Wenner Media, Star publisher American Media Inc. and New York magazine parent New York Media (all but Hachette have since rejoined).
Attendance at this year’s American Magazine Conference in Chicago this week is expected to be around 400, off 10 percent from ’08. (The MPA canceled the event last year because of the recession and substituted a one-day program in New York.)
While big publishing companies like Time Inc., Meredith and Hearst Magazines are sending large contingents (Time Inc. will be particularly visible, given that its new CEO Jack Griffin is also the MPA’s incoming chairman), other industry leaders including Reader’s Digest Association’s Mary Berner, American Media Inc.’s David Pecker, Wenner’s Jann Wenner and Time Inc.’s Ann Moore won’t be there. (Moore will be at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit in Washinghton, D.C., which is happening at the same time, a Time Inc. rep said.)
The name change itself was complicated by internal debate among the MPA’s board members, some of whom wondered what the point was, given that the organization is already known as the MPA. Another view held that there was value in the word magazine itself.
Bryan Welch, publisher and editorial director of Ogden Publications (Mother Earth News and Utne Reader), said a magazine can come in many forms and need not imply a printed publication.
“I don’t see any point in liquidating that asset,” Welch said. “How we describe our business everyday will be the final word in what it means to be a magazine publisher. What I'm advocating is defining magazines as a multimedia platform for branded content.”