Live Blogging FIPP’s World Magazine Congress, Episode I

FIPP, Episode I

[Left: India Today, which is published by the same company that distributes Time India. Hey, if the iconic red border ain’t broke, don’t fix it.]

It’s day two of FIPP’s 35th Annual World Magazine Congress at the Waldorf Astoria and I’m attempting what is probably best described as “very casual conference attendance.” (Very casual = people watching, occasional paying attention during panel and sporadically blogging.)

A few observations:

· The last conference I attended here was a high yield bond conference some time in ’01 or ’02. Functionally, this doesn’t seem much different. The people are slightly more fashionable and the lame jokes have been replaced by no jokes whatsoever, which may or may not constitute an improvement. When I walked into the general session during a presentation by an MIT guy about emerging media technologies, the nerdy guys with electronic devices clipped to their belts were huddled around the front of the ballroom, listening attentively while the tall well-dressed Europeans were playing hooky in the lobby outside. In short, it is, like so much else in life, exactly like high school. Most of the attendees appear to be business-side executives and there are a lot of little side meetings in lobbies and lounge areas where various multimedia doodads are being displayed on fancy tablet laptops, which sort of crystalizes another sociocultural difference between the media people and the Wall Street people: the media people are more likely to have flashy little pieces of electronic gadgetry but less likely to have them clipped to their belts.

· Speaking of technology, I walked in on an MIT presentation about student media lab projects, which included a “messy magazine” (an online magazine that showed visual wear if the page had been viewed or “used” a lot), a “drive through” magazine that employed an actual steering wheel for navigation (those MIT kids and their SpeedRacer addictions) and a magazine embedded with RFID tags that could be scanned for more info. I wonder if the drive-through versions of US Weekly or Star would have built in car crashes. The symbolism would be powerful.

· Generally, the actual speeches (so far) were more interesting at the Wall Street conferences. Scott McNealy would make fun of Carly Fiorina, irate shareholders would ask provocative questions, Scott McNealy would make fun of the bankers, panelists would get into arguments, Scott McNealy would make fun of Dell, and so on. Here, everyone gives very polite speeches, most of which contain no cumbersome substantive content. A sample statement might be, “file sharing is changing the music industry.” (Actually, that wasn’t so much a hypothetical as a paraphrasing of an actual line in an actual speech. At one point, I nearly picked up a simultaneous translation headset just to see if the address was more interesting in Spanish.) This is the sort of environment where “I politely beg to differ,” constitutes a hostile rebuttal. Where are the fun people who like to argue? Where’s Michael Wolff when you need him? Where’s Roger Black? (Oh, wait. Right there. Not sitting on a panel, sadly.)

· The inevitable conference swag avalanche that occurs when you walk in consists mostly of free magazines, piled on several large tables. The most popular so far seem to be the American women’s mags. The conference appears to be male dominated, so I’m not sure what that implies. Least popular: Playboy. Either there’s a direct correlation between the least and most popular choices or no one wants to be seen walking around a conference with a stack of porn magazines. That or everyone already has the June issue. (Semi-related: magazine jargon that sounds vaguely pornographic – entry points, trim size…)

· Attendance is, according to conference producers, record-breaking, with a heavy European constituency. I attribute this to a heretofore little unknown phenomenon: conference rate arbitrage. It’s much, much cheaper to spend the week in New York for most of these people than to spend the week anywhere they’re currently living. (And you’re not fooling me with that shopping bag, Georges. Bergdorf Goodman is most definitely not a conference sponsor.)