Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reports seem to show that Time's new CEO is proving to be a traditional publisher after all

Some media observers expressed concern over the hiring of Laura Lang, then the head of the ad agency Digitas, when she was named the CEO of Time Inc., the publishing company behind Time, Sports Illustrated and People. "Laura Lang has never written a magazine story or sold a magazine ad," the WSJ report began at the time.

With plenty of digital ad experience, though, some thought Lang would be just what the publisher needed, a fresh perspective on a tired industry.

But, if reports are true, Lang will have proved to be a very traditional publisher, after all. Of her first moves one was to bring in an outside consultant, one can't get more traditional than that. While some thought this a demonstration of her lack of publishing experience – after all, wasn't she hired to bring in solutions herself? – those in the media business could see the traditional role of consultants being employed: to act as an excuse for staff cutbacks.

Now AdWeek, the WSJ, and other media observers are speculating that "up to 700 of the publisher’s 8,000 employees may go in this round."

In the end, the problem remains ad pages... they keep falling. For traditional media executives, cuts to the payroll, including the ad staffs, generally follow revenue declines. (Actually hiring additional sales power and changing the sales and advertising strategy is usually left to others if a divestiture proves to be the next step.)

It is hard to blame a publisher for wanting to reduce costs in the face of revenue declines. But this is very much an industry that repeats itself, endlessly, with little variation. From media consultants who discourage digital innovation, often in the guise of being "digital first", to celebrity authorities who pen inane tone poems to print (no, print magazines are not like vinyl LPs, but what does that have to do with anything?), the magazine publishing industry is becoming terribly predictable – and it is killing it.

Look at the trade association events being organized by both the consumer and B2B associations: the same speakers, speaking on the same subjects, ignoring the real causes of the industry's declines. Will someone at least acknowledge the problems by inviting the ad agencies to these events? No, we get more of the same.

In today's world of magazine publishing the most important players reside not at the top of the major publishing houses but at Apple, Google and Amazon, not to mention Adobe, the ABC, and other firms that interact with publishers on a daily basis. Until representatives of these companies become the star attractions at industry events there really is no reason for any professional to attend one (though we all know that escaping the snow is the real reason companies continue to send attendees to these things).

We'll see if any real reorganization takes place if Time announces layoffs. In the meantime, it is more of the same: a dreary procession of bad news in an industry where the real exciting action is taking place in the Newsstand and online. Stay tuned.