Future tense at the ASME

Group - MPA2

(l-r) Prof. Cumming, Jenna, Laura, Maggie G., Courtney, Charlie, Wyn, John, Caroline, Andrew, Barbara, Peter, Hendley (not pictured, Andrea, Libby Cumming and Maggie D.)

At our first stop of the trip the CEO of ASME, Sid Holt, spoke to us over the telephone since he was staying home, under the weather. I think I can speak for the group when I say I was immensely grateful to Mr. Holt for taking an hour out of his (sick) day to talk about the magazine industry with us.

The offices of the ASME-MPA were unmistakably modern and hip. Much of the interior was white and minimalist, yet contained splashes of color, like the bright orange chairs outside the conference room. It occurred to me that this mirrored the trend in print media that has apparently made “white space” in magazines and advertisements trés chic. As Professor Cumming observed at Martha Stewart Omnimedia’s offices—a tastemaker today if there ever was one—“white is the new black.”

Returning to Mr. Holt, he began by answering Professor Cumming’s question about what he foresaw to be the future of print media. Mr. Holt prefaced his comments by discussing the rapid change that has occurred in the last decade or so, but admitted that nobody really knows what will happen next. Furthermore, he said that, today, past performance is certainly no indicator of what will happen in the future. There are too many variables swirling around the multi-platform, digital, social world of media today. The very operations of a magazine have multiplied because of this. When Mr. Holt began his career, there were three maybe four departments at a publication. Today, there are all sorts of departments that try to address the changing marketplace, like digital marketing and social media to name just a few.

This, according to Mr. Holt, is all for the purpose of “monetizing” a reader’s relationship with a publication—more specifically, a brand. However, at the center of this brand is still the physical printed product. The relationship that the publication and its brand have with its readers is still shaped by the magazine that can be acquired through the mail or from the newsstand or in line at the supermarket. Today, the magazine industry is also dependent on social media. This seems like something that almost anyone with a Facebook or twitter account could surmise. Mr. Holt discussed the perhaps less obvious trend of aggregating content on websites. In some ways though, this flatly contradicts the long-held goal of magazines to direct readers’ attentions to specific stories and issues.

For Town & Gown, Mr. Holt offered some useful advice…

  1. See what successful magazines with similar focuses and audiences are doing. He suggested we look at Southern Living and, in particular, Garden & Gun. We must be really smart since we’ve already been basing much of what we’re doing off of the latter.
  2. He stressed the importance of building a relationship with your reader and one that will appeal to advertisers (since we’d like to, you know, stay afloat). Fortunately for us, the 21-34 crowd is the most valuable for advertisers, which is right in our targeted demographic. Going along with one of Mr. Holt’s earlier points, this group is ripe for being monetized. I think we should all give ourselves on the pat on the back for choosing such a lucrative target audience.
  3. The “heterodox” view of media is that consumers don’t really want to pay to view a publication—if they did, they’d be paying huge sums of money for quality content. This may generally be true, yet Mr. Holt agrees with our idea to at least charge a nominal fee, since it elevates the appreciation and care of said readers. The readers would, in his words, “commit to the experience.” Let’s hope they commit to Town & Gown.
    — Charlie Klingenberger
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