Monday, December 5, 2011

Retweet: Lang hire at Time Inc. has media observers more worried than ever about the future of print

The hiring of Laura Lang, the head of the giant interactive agency Digitas, has quite a number of media observers wondering why someone with no magazine experience, let alone print experience, would be the right choice for Time Inc. Others don't doubt the choice, but are nonetheless concerned that the hire basically is the death knell for their favorite print titles.

David Carr's column today looks at the hire and what it says about the magazine industry:
It’s a bold hire and Ms. Lang has an excellent reputation, but it’s a bracing moment for the print romantics among us. Time Inc., the home of Olympian brands like Time, People and Fortune, will be run by an executive who would not know a print run from a can of green beans.
I disagree: Lang will be able to tell the difference between a print run and a can of green beans – the print run is the thing that is not the can of green beans.

I agree with a lot of what Carr has to say but it's clear that the columnist has never been a publisher of a magazine. He writes:
A good magazine will do many things for a brand, including bestowing luster and creating awareness by osmosis. What magazines have not been able to do is to provide reliable measures of effectiveness.
That may make sense when looking at the industry today, but that is actually the opposite of the truth when looking at magazines historically. Magazine advertising succeeded precisely because advertisers were able to both target their audiences and track their results.

For B2B, for instance, audiences were restricted to only qualified readers, audited for their buying habits. A typical well run B2B magazine could tell you how many of their readers bought products you sold, how many readers were in a decision making role, and how many planned to buy new products this year. Then, using what was affectionately called "bingo cards", readers would respond to the print advertisements so that effectiveness could be measured.

Over time, however, some publishers gamed the bingo card system – one Wisconsin-based B2B went so far as to send the leads generated from the ads to all their advertisers, even if the reader was responding to only one ad.

But B2B executives soon scaled back on both the BPA audits and the bingo cards simply as a cost saving measure – the things that made their media so effective were eliminated by these PE firm installed execs simply to cut costs. The result, of course, is a decline in advertising.

On the consumer side it is the cutbacks in reader surveys and other market research that has effected the print side.

The reason so many publishers want the customer data from Apple is because they have stopped surveying their readers themselves and have forgotten, or never knew, how to get this information. If a customer subscribes to your iPad edition it is easy enough to learn about them: ask them, an incentivize the survey to improve survey results. This is old school for many, but new for many now running media companies.

The hiring of Lang has many advantages, my only concern would be that her lack of print experience might skew her views towards the value of the existing print readers and advertisings. But this doesn't have to be the case, especially knowing how so many current print publishers under value their print readers and advertisers.

The rise of digital is not a zero sum game for print. Yes, money thrown at digital has to come from somewhere, but it doesn't all have to come from print. But print has to fight for its dollars, or rather it has to learn how to fight for its dollars. Too many publishing executives have no clue how to do this and so are making matters worse by cutting back audits, print sales staffs, and market research for their print products. They can proudly say that they have been proved right that print is dead. They should know, they are the ones who killed it.