Sunday, May 06, 2007

E-Media, Postal Rates on the Minds of Western Publishers

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"It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted."
Aeschylus (Ancient Greek Dramatist and Playwright known as the founder of Greek tragedy, 525 BC-456 BC)

E-Media, Postal Rates on the Minds of Western Publishers
By Tony Silber prmMID=7662

Is the postal-rate hike scheduled for July really as bad as it seems? Not according to several of the participants in a Western Publications Association seminar held last week for executive-level magazine managers.

In the session, which was part of the association's annual Two-Day Publishing Conference, the topic of postal rates came up as part of a wide-ranging discussion that included sales compensation, flex- time, partnerships and, of course, e-media. Although it was brief, the postal-rate discussion was telling: With rates for b-to-b especially likely to increase by as much as 15 percent to 18 percent, many of the publishers in the room saw it only as an unpleasant cost of doing business. "It's an increase of 15 percent in a cost that is usually less than 3 percent of your total cost structure," said Joe Hanson, CEO of Professional Media Group and one of the speakers. Other speakers spent some time debating whether the cost savings provided by such techniques as co- mailing and co-palletization were offset by the fees charged by the supplier to do them.

Overall. this year's WPA conference, the key regional event for publishers on the West Coast, was focused mostly on e-media, at least in the general sessions. For example, 1105 Media CEO Neal Vitale and BPA Worldwide CEO Glenn Hansen gave powerful presentations at the annual VIP panel. Vitale offered an eight-point framework for a successful e-media strategy.

· Make sure the sale is integrated. "It's better to have one person talking about our products than having separate sales teams that potentially compete," Vitale said. He did make an exception for live events, noting that the sell is fundamentally different.

· Have an in-house e-media guru. "You need a chief catalyst within the organization," he said. This also helps to cross-pollenate ideas within the organization from division to division."

· Experimentation is a good thing. "Things like mashups and other online applications-you have to be talking about these things," Vitale said. "You may not succeed with some of them, but you should be part of it-and you also have marketers that want to try new things."

· Be wary of the quality of back-end support. "A lot of this looks easy," Vitale said. "It's not. It's not easy to be up to speed on content-management systems and technology capabilities and needs, while also running a publishing company. It's also an interesting question whether you can build a CMS and other capabilities in house and also provide value to the marketplace. The jury is out."

· Band-Aids don't work. You'll be doing makegoods galore, Vitale said.

· Online is NOT a value-add. "It is a fundamentally important part of the marketing program," Vitale said.

· Markets and industries develop at different paces. "You really need to keep pace with the markets you serve and act accordingly," Vitale said.

· The business has not changed. "This is still the same old business," he said. E-media is a new medium, but it's the same song."

For his part, Hansen stressed two things: Integration and developing analytic skill with all the new database information being collected through online channels. "No one is taking the time to think about how we are going to integrate the back ends of these things and develop intelligence about who's seeing what," he said.

Beyond that, he said, traditional media metrics are eroding, underscoring how the whole media landscape is changing. "You're not a print product competing with another print product in the same SRDS category," Hansen said. "You're competing against all sorts of media you never thought about."

In terms of tracking media, even the seemingly highly measurable world of online is not infallible. "You're seeing conjecture posing as fact," Hansen said, quoting a media director he'd heard recently.

What's more, he said, the younger generation does not look with the same perspective as you do regarding your "near-and-dear" brand. "Your key to success is getting the old guard up to the level of the new guard, and the new guard down to the old."

Many of the WPA attendees seemed to be somewhat early on in their e-media strategies, something conference chairman Peter Çraig acknowledged. "My sense was that they are as concerned as anybody else about e-media, but I guess they're not early adopters for the most part. And at the same time, some of the panelists [who focused on e-media] were representative of the industry, but they're not representative of the whole industry," Craig said. "The point is, you have to get into the game. The biggest mistake is not playing."

That said, Craig added, publishers need to be wary about their revenue mix as they move online. "If you take 20 percent of your readers add move them online, do you take 20 percent of your revenue with you? I don't think so. If you get on the digital train, it may not be going where you think it's going. You'll end up in Poughkeepsie."

The WPA conference traditionally ends with the Maggie Awards for design and editorial excellence. And one of the staples of that ceremony is the opening speech by Craig, usually a highly political commentary that is one of the unique moments in the magazine industry. This year, he toned it down, exhorting the audience to get involved in e-media, but also asking whether the rise of e-media and citizen journalism is symptomatic of the decline of traditional journalism. "It seems like journalism has lost its real purpose and sacrificed its sacred trust," Craig said. " Fair and balanced journalism in this country is suffering from loss of its real purpose in exchange for entertainment value and slanted reporting. It is no wonder that public confidence in traditional news sources has eroded and the public has a perception of bias and partisanship in the press."

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