This year’s mass-consumer magazine conference concluded on Tuesday in New York. In some ways the American Magazine Media Conference (AMMC) was very different from the old American Magazine Conference of years past. For starters, it was held in New York for the fourth straight year, having abandoned the resort-junket destinations of prior decades.
But it was more than that. Last year, there was a dichotomy—everyone talked about the strength of print, but there was subtext that amounted, to me, anyway, to an unspoken acknowledgement that digital and social media is where the action—and the traction—is.
That wasn’t true this year. Yes, the “media” part of “magazine media” was an emphasis, but there was a kind of cockiness in the air this week, based on a growing realization that magazine brands are really, really good at creating world-class content—across platforms. And aggregating audiences. And generating revenue. "Yes," the unspoken sentiment seemed to be, "Facebook, Google, Buzzfeed and other new competitors lead in some ways, but they’re not as well rounded as we are, nor as skilled in content creation as we are, and they don’t have generations of brand loyalty working for them."
This vibe was justified, perhaps, in the numbers of the first-ever annual MPA Magazine Media 360° report, released last week. The 360° is a newly invented metric that tracks engagement with magazine brands across print, mobile, Web, and video. The full-year 2015 numbers showed an average monthly reach of 1.6 billion people combined for the 100-plus brands tracked. As Hearst Magazines president of marketing and publishing director, Michael Clinton, described it, “The secret of magazine media is that we move along with each generation."
See also: AMMC Day Two Recap
On the other hand, it was not necessarily justified by the news that Hearst and Conde Nast were forming a venture to combine back-office operations. That's usually an efficiency play. The air of confidence was in the air for sure at the closing session, the "Big Four" CEO panel, which featured the same participants as last year, with Time Inc.’s Joe Ripp, Condé Nast’s Bob Sauerberg, Hearst Magazines president David Carey, and Meredith’s Stephen Lacy, plus Rodale’s Maria Rodale.
Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp took a swipe at the approach of many digital-only media brands when he said, “People who don't want to write listicles and want to do serious journalism are attracted to Time Inc.”
Maria Rodale also made a reference to low-quality internet content, but more obliquely, when she said, “Consumers are willing to pay for media that’s free of bullshit.”
But Hearst’s Carey put it best. “Who would have thought that the magazine business was such a springboard to all of these other media forms,” he said, “but we’re seeing that.”
That’s the future. Even as they predicted revenue from new (digital) sources (mostly video, but also marketing services), executives still touted print. “Print is the fundamental underpinning of any media program,” Lacy said. In a separate breakout session, Meredith SVP Britta Cleveland laid out the really impressive work Meredith is doing to demonstrate ROI in print to its marketing partners.
The AMMC was never heavy on nuts-and-bolts business tactics and strategies. It always mixed in light fare with celebrities and politicians, and this year was no different. The featured speaker was First Lady Michelle Obama, who was on a panel with the actresses Julianne Moore Lena Dunham. It featured several political journalists interviewed by Seth Meyers. Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel spoke on the first day.