Friday, June 8, 2012

Apple and publishers, a failure to communicate and understand each other; the MPA's new chief executive

It has been 27 months since the first iPads were delivered via UPS to those who had pre-ordered the new device. At the that time it was clear to me that if there were to be problems with media apps on the device it would be caused by the fact that Apple did not have executives at the company with publishing backgrounds who would be the face of the company when dealing with their content partners – that is, anyone launching a news app.

The situation has not changed, it seems. One can see this with the occasional app that gets approved that has no right to be in the store.
A good example is this new app called Drudge New(s). The app is from Vijay Anand and it takes the content directly off the Drudge website and reformats it into a new app.

Now it is possible that the developer has gotten the permission of Drudge to take their content, but I highly doubt it.

In fact, there are eleven Drudge Report apps for the iPad in the Apple App Store, and who knows which is the official app. My guess is that the Drudge Report doesn't mind the traffic to its RSS feeds and is not complaining to Apple. But that is besides the point, there have been other such apps that TNM have pointed out that did the same thing to other media companies.

This issue seems once again important to me when thinking about yesterday's announcement that Nina Link will be leaving her post as chief executive of the MPA, the group that represents consumer magazine publishers. Already I know of at least one self-promoter who has publicly thrown his hat into the ring.

But most magazine observers fail to recognize what would make a good association president. First and foremost, they have to be good at their role, which is NOT knowing magazines but knowing trade associations. The chief responsibility of any association head is to run the association. Without this basic skill having all the print and digital magazine experience in the world won't help you when you have to deal with members and staff. It's the same mistake many publishers make when they fire their veteran editors and bring in someone who is an expert in the industry or topic of the magazine – they may know their subject, but can they make a deadline or evaluate editorial content.

Most magazine observers will no doubt think that what the next MPA boss should bring to the job is a deep understand of digital media, better to guide the association through its future days. This is silly, if they have such skills they should launch their own magazine company.

No, what the next MPA chief executive needs to business development skills. The magazine industry needs a leader who understand that only if their members are property represented will they have a chance at success. In the past, interfacing between the industry and government agencies seemed like job number one. But today companies like Apple and Google are where the action will be at. If Apple has failed to adjust to the new realities of distributor/content provider relations, the newspaper and magazine industry has been just as much at fault.

Where does one find someone with the skills to run an association, business development and partner relationship skills, and a deep knowledge of the industry? One doesn't. But falling back on the "we need a digital expert" position is too easy an out. And this from someone who publishes a site on digital media!