Today’s MPA conference in San Francisco kicked off with a discussion of the magazine industry’s least favorite topic: the death (inevitable or otherwise) of print media. It was a non-MPA member, Andreessen Horowitz co-founder Ben Horowitz, who first broached the issue. While adults ages 40 and older will continue to use the medium, “babies born today will probably never read anything in print,” he said.
In a separate session the same day, Dr. Jeffery Cole, research professor and director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC, concurred that print—at least newspapers—would continue to decline: “The sad truth about newspapers,” he said, “is that every time one of their readers dies, they’re not being replaced by a new reader.” But Cole was a bit more bullish on the future of magazines, partly because after the 2008 economic crash, he said magazines recovered advertisers more quickly than newspapers. While Cole predicted that news magazines will be the first to disappear, and that service-oriented publications like Consumer Digest will likely end up as digital properties (to their advantage), magazines with the “most impressive physical presence”—like fashion and lifestyle titles—will ultimately survive.
The role of tablets and mobile in the future of magazines continues to be an important topic. Cole predicted that, eventually, tablets will become the “second screen” (currently, he said, that order goes from TV to computer to mobile) and will almost entirely replace desktop computers. Google’s director of digital publishing, Scott Dougall, was equally optimistic about the growth of both tablets and the digital newsstand.
Dougall, who played a major role in the development of Google Play, said that magazine brands will become stronger digital contenders when they finally set an open industry standard for tablet editions, much like e-book publishers have done. At the same time, magazines shouldn’t lose touch with their core mission: creating quality content. “Don’t try to turn into a tech company,” Dougall advised the MPA members. “People love you for your content.”