New media works alongside old
Publishing chief shares her predictions for magazines
Cathleen Black says it is an exciting time for the magazine industry
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Often described as America's "first lady of magazines," Cathleen Black speaks to Spark about the future of the publishing business and the role technology will play in the industry.
As president of New York-based U.S. publishing corporation Hearst Magazines, Black is well placed to make predictions.
Here is an edited version of the full interview of her recent appearance on Spark.
CNN: What impact has technology had on the publishing business?
Black: The impact of technology is felt throughout the entire operation. Certainly everybody focuses mostly on what's (been) the impact of the Internet -- that's the most consumer-oriented and most consumer-directed (aspect). Each of our magazines has a Web site, some are more robust than others. It is an incredible consumer connection. And at the end of the day, that's really what a magazine is all about -- it is the individual connection with that reader.
We are constantly revising our Web sites, we want to make them fresh, we want to make them interactive. And I think the interactivity that technology has allowed us as a communications vehicle with our readers is the most important part of this. The more we can inter-connect, the more important we are a part of their lives in this very technologically oriented world that we live in.
CNN: How do you, personally, stay ahead of the curve, in terms of both technological advancements and your content?
Black: We urge our editors to be out there at all times -- we have to be watching what the consumer is responding to and wanting. And it's a very delicate balance, that line. If an editor is too far ahead of what her current reader base wants or desires, she's hanging out there alone. And they're responding by saying, "Gee, this isn't the magazine that I subscribed to or that I really cared about. What happened from two months ago?" -- I think it's always a very careful line of leading and of pointing but not being too far out there.
Personally, I try to expose myself, read multiple newspapers every morning, I'm watching the news. I just came back from a wonderful media conference that Allen and Company put on each year in Sun Valley so it's every media mogul that you can imagine, different kinds of seminars and presentation and conversations. So I'm always keeping abreast and it's my job to stay abreast.
It's my job to make cross sections of people, so we're always involving our Internet people with our traditional print editors. We're pushing those editors to really think in different ways, to think on multiple levels cause I think that's really what it's all about, it's trying to think, "Alright, what do they want in print, what do they want on the Web, how do we inter-relate with that and also being around younger people?" And it's not only an age thing -- it's not like you have to just hang out with 18-year-olds. There's a lot of people who've always been the people who want to be first at something, they've got the newest gadget. You want to watch what they're doing, how they're using it. So I think it's a combination of things.
CNN: Do you think conventional media outlets will become obsolete in the future? And if so, how do you think that will affect the magazine business and the publishing business?
Black: You can't predict one's future, but you can look at the past. Every time a significant new media entry has come into the marketplace, what it really has done is carve up the pie differently.
We started with radio, then television came in. They thought it was going to kill radio but that didn't happen. I was in the magazine business when cable first came in and everybody thought that it would be the end of the magazine business. We're talking 20-25 years ago -- it didn't happen.
All people would talking about a few years ago -- when the words "Internet" and the "Web" were new -- was that it was going to kill off traditional media. But it doesn't seem to happen like that. I think people readjust how they use their media.
Certainly, this is very exciting but I do think that we will shift. I think there will be some forms of media that will have a more difficult time, newspapers have had a more difficult time, for sure. But again, I think that because the reader really chooses to want the environment of a magazine. In fact, I spend a lot of time with our advertisers and our clients and ad agency people.
In a funny way, during the boom of television and cable, print was put on the defensive fence, if you will. It had to defend the value of print because it wasn't as sexy. Admittedly, if you go to a conference, all anybody is talking about are all things new. But that's to be expected because that's what's sexy, because that's what you know people are really talking about.
But I really think that -- and admittedly I'm the president of a very large magazine company -- I think this is a great opportunity. Because the one thing that is for sure about a magazine, it is wanted, it is desired, the person subscribes, (or ) they buy it from the newsstand.
Take Cosmopolitan, for example. Cosmopolitan magazine is international brand, It's in 54 countries and in almost every single country it is in, it is the number-one selling magazine, it's the number-one selling magazine in college campuses and it's been like that for the past 25 years.
Every single month it sells about two million copies on the newsstand and has another 950,000 subscribers. This young woman has a passion for Cosmo. Is that going to be satisfied electronically? I would suggest probably not. Because where are you going to see the picture of that fabulous model or that fabulous celebrity on the cover. I think we've got smart enough people that will see how we have to morph our magazines, to make them more interactive. But it think it's actually a great time for magazines.
CNN: Are there limitations to the way people acquire information from the Internet, or a different medium, than they are from acquiring from magazines?
Black: This could be debated in media circles, certainly. But the role of the editor is really to be a prism. It is to take this amazing amount of content that is available, (in) thousands of different places and try to distil it, try to bring an editorial point of view to it and present it to a reader, saying, "This is in our best judgment, our most-informed judgment, a well fact-checked, a thoughtful article," whatever the content is.
Certainly, the Internet exploded the confidence of say, for example, a woman going to a doctor. In the old days the doctor would say x or y or z. Today, the woman has read in depth articles on magazines or on the Internet or she studied her own disease or problem, or whatever. So she's really an active participant in that. But at the end of the day, that really is the purpose, it is to present entertainment, information, service, how to, tips to lead a better life.
CNN: The Internet is a great way of conveniently obtaining information for free. How much of an impact does it have on the financial branch of the magazine business?
Black: A magazine is a serendipitous experience. From a financial standpoint, certainly there's no question that we think about environmental issues and environmental concerns and recycling and use of trees and things like that. But the electronic version of The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, compared to their overall product, is still much smaller. Maybe in 10 years it wont be, because by then you may be able to identify what kind of a newspaper, what kind of content you want every day.
We have an experiment here at Hearst, which others are also doing. It's a tabloid-type format that can be updated constantly. Will you want that on your hypothetical dining room table every morning? So it's being updated constantly, so you are not really looking through a full newspaper. Or could you download statistical information into it or something like that.
It's very hard to change media reading habits. Changing habits takes a long time. From a financial stand point, however, I think that the Web will help us better organize what we present on the web and we will certainly, many of our magazines have an electronic version today, but from a financial standpoint, you can't even compare them. When you think about the profit that a magazine like Cosmo throws off at an annual basis, or The Oprah Magazine or Good Housekeeping, it is just huge.
So until we figure out the revenue opportunities on the Internet and until advertisers really use it in a big and bold way, that begins to come anywhere into the same lexicon as the printed product. Because we aggregate an audience so that that audience for L'Oreal or Estee Lauder or Crysler or Mercedes, they know that they're getting exactly the people that they want. So I think a lot of things are going to swirl around for the next five years or more.
CNN: What will be the role of technology in the magazine business a decade from now?
Black: When you use the word technology, that's a very broad word that can cover a lot of things. From an efficiency standpoint, for example, which may not sound very sexy, we have probably six different technology projects going on right now in the magazine business within Hearst, to drive efficiency through the production side of the house.
That's important for us because it can make our editors and their people more efficient, but more importantly, it will drive cost out of the system. And that interests me a lot. How do we, those behind that page if you will, present a beautiful printed page and maximize the advances in technology, from digital photography to the efficient ways that we produce magazines. What can we centralize so that so that we don't have these individual units.
So technology in its less brilliant definition has many things it can do on the magazine side of the house to take cost out of the system. And I think on the editorial side, whether it's digital photography or something else, it's going to be -- and already is -- a tool for us to embrace, and embrace in an even bigger and better way.
CNN: Given that habits are hard to break, what would you say is the future of media, for both television and print -- will they become obsolete and where do you see future growth in the media?
Black: As I said, the deck chairs or the pie, or the triangles within the pie will be rearranged. But if we are smart, as an industry, not just our own magazines, and we continue to maximize the advances that technology allows , if we try to stay ahead of where our consumers are. At the end of the day, you have to think, what does my consumer, what does my reader, what does my user really want? We can't start from the inside and say this is what we're going to give them. We've got to figure out their own demands and be where they want to be.
So again, I think it's very mutually supportable, I think that we will work together. More and more, people are coming to our companies that have spent some amount of time in Internet world, and vice versa. Five years ago, magazine people were flooding the Internet world, trying to go to start ups, thinking that this was the holy grail. Many of them came back to the magazine business because they really missed the very physical connection that they had with these pages, with arranging the photo shoots, being excited about an article that they were assigned, that was a beautifully written article. That's a different experience.
I think most people aged 17-20 go to the Web generally -- especially women --for something specific. That's not why generally they read a magazine. They don't go to a magazine because they have one specific question in mind. They go to a magazine to be entertained, to be informed, to have fun, to be inspired, to see really good writing.
Think about The New Yorker. If you spend 45 minutes or an hour reading The New Yorker on a weekly basis, you are a more informed person about a wide variety of subjects. That's fulfilling a different need or a different reason, a different mission than your reason for going to the Internet to find out what's the best lemon bar recipe or I'm in the market for a new Mercedes and I want to see various different attributes compared.
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