AMC 2007: Online, ‘The Consumer Is Way Ahead of Us’

Monday am AMC 2007 Future.jpg
From left: Mark Edmiston, AdMedia Partners Inc. managing director; Jonas Bonnier, Bonnier Corp. chairman; Wenda Harris Millard, president, media, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia; and Philippe Guelton, Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., Inc., executive vice president and COO

Online media was the subject of a bracing dose of reality this morning for the 500-some-odd magazine executives gathered in Boca Raton for the 2007 American Magazine Conference. In a panel talk entitled “How Publishing Companies Position Themselves for Growth: Best Bets for the 21st Century,” it was panelist Wenda Harris Millard — a former Yahoo! executive now serving as president of media at Martha Stewart Omnimedia — who delivered the strongest words to magazine industry members. “There’s no question in my mind that this is a revolution,” she said to the crowd of online media. “There’s no question that the consumer is way ahead of us.”

Her fellow panelists, Bonnier Corp. chairman Jonas Bonnier and Philippe Guelton, executive vice president and COO, Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., Inc., echoed her sentiments in response to moderator and AdMedia Partners managing director Mark Edmiston‘s questions. As Guelton described the consumer’s outpacing of the magazine industry in embracing online media, “I’m still amazed … we started the conversation [about online media] in 1994,” he said, marveling that “still, we missed out.”

Even Millard’s more positive comments on magazines’ advantages carried caveats.

“Here’s the great news,” she said. “The plethora of choice [in new media] is stunning and overwhelming. The consumer needs an editor. The consumer needs a filter.” Further, she advised magazine execs to take heed of magazine consumers’ evolving needs. “When the consumer is a user, there’s a different set of expectations than when they’re a reader or a viewer,” Millard said. “Technology has given consumers a voice. User-generated content is not an ephemeral product. Magazine content doesn’t allow for the user’s voice. We have to change the model in ways that are probably uncomfortable for magazine publishers.”

To maximize magazine’s authority among consumers, capitalizing on depth of coverage was advocated. “It’s all about tagging and storing [content],” said Guelton. “You have to be able to do a Google-like search on your assets.”

Pricing magazines was cited as another trouble spot. “This has bothered me for so many years — we have undervalued magazines for consumers for so many years. We are going to pay the price now,” Millard said. “The Web’s not new to most consumers. It’s not just for teenagers. The notion of trying to charge more for magazines is going to be very tough [for consumers to accept].” However, magazines can tap reserves of power within their databases of users and subscribers, she pointed out. “Our ability to turn data into consumer intelligence — that’s Holy Grail stuff,” she said. “Data is not the same as consumer intelligence. Turning that data into consumer insights — that’s the magic.”

—Rebecca L. Fox


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