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Magazine group decries print is dead meme

MagazineMeme.RBThere’s a scene from the 1984 movie “Ghostbusters” where Egon (Harold Ramis) declares “Print is dead” when asked if he liked to read a lot. Was this declaration ahead of its time? In the previous decade, numerous books, articles and blogs have proclaimed the same. Yet a small, persistent collection of voices on LinkedIn are daring to say the opposite – at least when it comes to magazines.

There is an 835-member group called Magazine Professionals Forum on LinkedIn. There are other, larger groups covering the same topic but this one was the first, and appears to be one of the most active. Like most groups here, users post comments or questions. Most discussion threads have one or two replies. Though some have up to 100, it’s rare. More than three months ago, a co-founder and CEO of a small computer software company in India posted this question:

What will happen to magazines in the next couple of years?

Do you think they will stop being printed? I think there will be a massive shift to iPhone, iPad and other mobile devices. So people may stop reading books and instead go for reading e-Books. Thoughts?

There are about 32 replies so far, most of which passionately respond that print is not dead. It wasn’t the quantity of answers that was surprising, however, but more the depth of the replies that was interesting. Most people spent about one or two paragraphs sharing their thoughts instead of the typical one or two sentences. What’s even more interesting is how comments from American posters are similar to those coming from around the globe. Industry professionals from New Zealand to the U.K. agree that magazines are evolving.

Account manager Judith Peters-Brandner, with Kable Distribution Services Inc. wrote: “Printed [magazines] will evolve, digital will evolve, and audio will evolve. It will be about options, preferences, convenience and instant gratification … Knowing your markets will be key … Even milk and ice delivery still exists.”

In addition to the word evolution, the word integration is popping up in many comments. “Together, an articulated campaign for advertisers, and ultimately readers (who I presume want to see at least some related ads) will set magazines into a competitive position vis-à-vis other marketing vehicles. I-n-t-e-g-r-a-t-i-o-n is the key I believe,” wrote Dan Aks, creator of the magazine forum and a senior education and media executive in New York. John Kilpatrick, operations manager at Sunbelt Services in Orlando, Fla., agreed: “I am of the opinion that both formats, in some form, will peacefully coexist.”

One less optimistic view comes from Russell Miller, manufacturing manager at the U.K.’s Wyndeham Heron, who wrote: “I fully expect the magazine print industry to downsize dramatically over the next few years, perhaps with the total demise of business to business magazine print, as most of this is heading towards Internet magazines. However I suspect commercial magazines will be around for a few years more until the real Internet generation arrives in around 10 years’ time. How many children do you see reading comics or annuals nowadays compared to how many are on a computer?”

Good question, Miller. Here’s a response to his question from Timothy Rhys, owner of L.A.’s MovieMaker Media LLC: “My boys (11 and 18) read the print editions of Rolling Stone and MovieMaker regularly, among several others. What’s changing are kids’ lifestyles … they aren’t getting outdoors as much as people of my generation, so they have more time for both print and online publications, along with video games and television. Screen time is enormous, but at the breakfast table they read magazines … in bed at night, they read magazines … and they tell me that most of their friends are print magazine readers, too. Surprisingly (to me), this generation does NOT seem to seek out this content online as often as I would think. That may change, but print will be around for a very long time, and smart publishers will evolve and grow with their readerships. John is right – the formats will continue to complement each other in new ways and publishers will discover new revenue streams.”

Disney sees children preferring print as well. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be investing such an effort in their new Cars magazine, launching this fall. And let’s face it, writers and editors will want to flock to print until digital media salaries in the editorial department are a little more livable. An article on Women’s Wear Daily’s website referenced three women who worked at print magazines, then worked for digital media, then returned to print, where their salaries were higher. In addition to raises, these women also claim there’s a bond between a print reader and print editor/writer that doesn’t exist yet in new media. “It’s because of the print we have this trusted brand thing that’s going to take years and years for the Web to establish,” former Jane Magazine editor Brandon Holley told WWD.

LinkedIn member Richard Miller, who has worked for Bonnier Active Media/Time 4 Media, Zinio Systems and U.S. News & World Report, couldn’t agree more with Holley’s sentiment. “The reality is that it’s going to take more time for digital,” he said in an email interview. “We still have a lifespan of 10 to 20 years for print.” Miller pointed out that bundling marketing packages between print and digital editions (and other platforms) benefits both the advertiser and the consumer.  His statement is certainly a reminder that it’s not a question of whether or not we love the ease and simplicity of reading print magazines. There is no doubt the majority of us would answer with a resounding yes. So perhaps the question should be: will our love for print be overridden by our love for immediacy once devices become cheaper and marketing and editorial become more integrated?

–Rebecca Bredholt

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