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DPAC forecasts excitement & tough decisions ahead

June 29: One thing is clear after listening to almost all of the speakers and panels at this year’s second annual Digital Publishing and Advertising Conference hosted by Zinio last week: nothing is clear.

Publishers are facing a variety of challenges in both their advertising and digital format worlds. For instance, should versions of magazines appearing online and on mobile devices be counted together as digital or two separate entities? Should advertising be sold for either print or online or should it be bundled together?

Now that delivery methods, technological platforms and content are all coming into sync, there is a shared feeling of excitement and terror. While the rush ballooned in New York City with Apple’s release of the new iPad, the rest of the country hasn’t caught up yet.

So the question for publishers, and some advertisers, becomes how much money, talent and time should be put into developing editorial content for platforms only being used by a fraction of the magazine reading public? Jen Collins, general manager of Variety.com, testified to the demand for e-reader content, but also noted that “it drastically affects our production schedule.” Panelists’ opinions on whether or not to make that production investment varied widely.

According to the Harrison Group, the number of mobile devices in the U.S. is expected to outpace that of laptops and e-readers combined in the next five years. And because the way the content is presented must be adapted according to each platform, publishers are no longer considering themselves magazine brands, but content or media companies. If it sounds like a lot to process, it is.

Between back-to-back sessions, the narrow Hudson Theatre foyer swelled leaving little elbow room for networking and brainstorming. Software companies aiming to make the online publishing world a better place came flush with ideas of how to improve or at least track digital content. From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and then a cocktail hour beyond that, more than 500 attendees crammed into the newly renovated and ornate meeting space attached to the Millennium Hotel in New York’s Times Square.

The drama however was mostly between panelists who argued over the case for and against paywalls. Keynote speaker Greg Coleman, Huffington Post president and chief revenue officer, advised against erecting a barrier between content and future unique viewers unless the publisher had a monolith of a brand.

Then there were some who argued against counting unique visitors at all. For advertisers, the concern should be first about the big picture, said Jon Gibs, vice president of media analytics at Nielsen Online. “Help clients put things into the overall media mix,” he said. Before focusing on selling an ad on one page of a website, noted Gibs, and obsessing on how many page views and unique visitors see that one page, the concern should be first about the overall advertising strategy and whether or not buying that one ad on that one Web page fits into the overall plan.

Dave Roberson, vice president of business development for Alpha Media Group, echoed the sentiment and encouraged an “immersive experience between the content on the page and the advertising campaign.” For instance, Maxim.com, which is owned by Alpha Media Group, does not release its unique visitor counts because it bundles its advertising packages across multiple platforms. Meanwhile, Rob Deichert, senior vice president of digital ad operations for the Weather Channel, wasn’t shy about announcing they have over 40 million unique visitors per month.

Although the solutions to these questions and debates are still uncertain, it is clear that digital publishing and advertising are exploding industries. Those who feel like they’re struggling to keep up with the advances are not alone – they’re the new norm.

–Rebecca Bredholt

A few takeaway quotes worth noting:

“If you’re not willing to drive innovation in your business, you will fail.”
–Mike Leo, CEO, Operative

“Imagine walking through Times Square and using a remote to turn off whatever ads don’t appeal to you.”
–Andy Goldman, senior vice president, strategy & integration, RAPP

“Every device is an opportunity for a new audience.”
–Michael Tamblyn, vice president, content sales & merchandising, Kobo

“Assume that in five years, most women will not be getting digital information from a desktop.”
–Catherine Balsam-Schwaber, senior vice president marketing, iVillage

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