Learning To Take A Risk: Mag Editors Meet To Discuss The Move From Print To Digital

dessert.jpgThe move from print to digital publications was the topic of the moment at mediabistro.com’s annual event for women’s magazine editors last night at ilili. (But really, isn’t it the topic of the moment at every media event these days?)

On hand to discuss were some female leaders in the digital field: Michelle Adams, the founder of new online shelter magazine Lonny; Caroline Little, former CEO of The Washington Post Co.’s digital side and current CEO of North America for Guardian News & Media; Newser co-founder and editor-in-chief Caroline Miller; Glam Media’s Jennifer Salant and founding editor of Hearst’s Delish.com and RealBeauty.com, Nicole Stagg. We also ran into lots of online editors like Betsy Fast from InStyle.com and Julie Hochheiser from Seventeen.com (now senior Web editor of Hearst’s Teen Network) and we shared a table with Folio Associate Editor Vanessa Voltolina, WWD Senior Accessories Editor Roxanne Robinson-Escriout, BusinessWeek.com Community Editor Diane Brady and Barbara Brody and Annemarie Conte from Woman’s Day.

Over dessert and coffee, moderator Sara Benincasa steered the conversation on topics about the changing face of content in the digital space, monetizing content like video and some of the challenges facing an industry that needs to change the way it thinks in order to survive.

Here are some highlights from last night’s discussion:

When asked what metrics are most important to them, all of the panelists said they were concerned with “engagement.”

“I usually look at page views or time spent on the site, although when looking at page views I’ll focus on how much content each person is reading,” Stagg said. “We want to deliver impressions.”

“The fantastic number of numbers are overwhelming,” Miller added. “It’s terrifying that you know way to much about what people are doing. With print magazines, you know so little. Online, you know so much it can be debilitating.”

Later, Miller called print advertising “a big con” because you can’t tell if anyone is actually noticing it and basing decisions on it, yet print advertising is much more expensive for marketers to buy than digital ads, which can provide real time metrics.

Panelists were also asked if they would ever consider setting up a paywall or subscriber-based model for their sites. The answer: a resounding no.

Little said paywalls are “bad news for news.” However, she thought up one example where paying for content would attract readers. “If I needed to read about one topic and every day I searched through several news sources for information about this topic and instead it could be delivered in a quick and easy way, I would be willing to pay for that. Because it would save me time,” she said.

The panelists also agreed they would prefer provocative content that generated comments, even if it was only provocative in order to draw commenters. “The commenters are often as interesting as the content,” Miller said.

So what sort of mistakes are print magazines making in the digital sphere?

Stagg said she disliked magazines that “just put their magazines online and don’t leverage the medium.” Instead, they should publish fewer articles from the book online “but make sure they are very strong.”

“I hate what they did at The New Yorker,” Miller said, pointing to the magazine’s recent move to put some of its features online in PDF format, preventing readers from sharing the content. “It’s totally fake and infuriating,” she said.

Women’s magazines have also been slow to move to digital formats and take advantage of them, Miller said, but she mentioned Double X as one site creating good content for women.

The ultimate take-away from the evening? Content is changing and thus everything else will eventually change, too — from what editors look for on resumes and story pitches to the way we think of monetization. We all just need to be willing to take a risk.

“People who have grown up in the print space and want to make it in digital are afraid to a take a risk,” Stagg said.

Hopefully that will soon change.

Stay tuned for more coverage of this event, including pictures and video.

(Photo by Kelly Samardak. Also, check out more of her pics from the night on Flickr and her thoughts on the discussion.)