MPA-IMAG 2009 Conference Coverage: The Future of Publishing with Bo Sacks

Bo Sacks tells the independent magazine industry why they shouldn’t panic

Bo Sacks loves magazines. He was a publisher at 18. In his career he’s had just about every job in publishing – he’s been a publisher, editor, writer/journalist, director of circulation, you name it. He now says “ink on paper” is important, but so is the distribution of information.

He’s recently started a company called Media Ideas, a research and advisory service for the publishing industry.

He says the future is already here, it’s just not widely distributed. “Magazines are not changing. How the content is received is. Don’t stop printing magazines; get comfortable with digital”, says Sacks.

While there is no “magic bullet”, Sacks claims that there are certain procedures and thoughts old media can listen to in order to pave the way back to profitability.

Here are a few headlines he’s pulled from the press:

  • Time, Inc shoving its reluctant writers online
  • It’s the journalist, not the paper, that matters
  • Electronic paper is catching up with the real thing
  • Would you like that book in paper or plastic?
  • Newsweeklies Continue Long, Slow Print Goodbye
  • Decline of the newspapers to strengthen local magazines
  • Hearst to launch e-reader
  • Time, Inc Made-to-Order magazine lets readers choose
  • Amazon device white night
  • Magazines tap twitter for reader interaction
  • It’s the publishing model—not print—that’s dead

The myth is finally busted, says Sacks. “It’s not the substrate that counts, but rather the relationship between the publisher and the reader that really matters. We call it branding.”

His company predicts that in 25 years, only 15% of paper-based media will exist.

What does this mean? Shift happens.

Sacks says that we are in the information distribution business formerly known as publishing. The key to our success in the future is to embrace the new technology, specifically the e-reader technology.

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In thinking about all this change…

  • Think creatively about the new medium. The screen can do a dozen things the printed page can’t do.
  • The ability to read a passage from any book as well as ability to click on hyperlinks, add links and share passages with others.
  • Culture of ideas and innovation – sadly publishers suffer from BDS. Blackberry Denial Syndrome. Sacks notes that it’s the same executives who rely on their Blackberrys who refuse to believe that long-form digital text is where we’ll end up.

Sacks spent a lot of time discussing all the recent advancement of portable e-readers from companies like Sony and Fujitsu. There are tons of products out there today. He talked about Hearst’s recent announcement of a newspaper e-reader and the likelihood that they’ll eventually release a magazine e-reader.

His main point is that the next generation of whatever device that comes out will be continuously less expensive, and will be building on success of the Kindle, the iPhone and Netbooks. He referred to the anticipated “iPod touch supersize” as a game-changer.

Sacks predicts that the new generation of e-paper readers that enter the market over next 4 years will dramatically change and improve digital magazines.

Publishers have an irrational fear of digital

Sacks reminded the room that all publishing leaders should make every attempt to learn new languages of communication. “if you don’t practice new technology, you won’t be able to manage it.”

Several things publishers need to consider:

  • Digital publications will continue to become stronger, more reliable and easier to use.
  • We must accept this change as a truthful premise and if we don’t we’ll continue to struggle with our destiny and employability.
  • Content is more important than the delivery vehicle.
  • Digital delivery has more credibility because it is:
    • timely
    • immediately fact-checked
  • Digital publications create new revenue models.
  • Half the world’s population has a cell phone.
  • Digital delivery means instantaneous information as it happens. Think about Twitter’s role in recent fires and earthquakes.
  • Consumers nibble at media.
  • Increased independence. Mass media has downside of offering the same message to everyone.

Print is not dead.

That is the wrong message. And the worst thing, says Sacks, is that it’s us that’s spreading it!

“It’s ridiculous”, and Sacks says he’s doing everything he can to squash that message.

Things are changing but print is not dead. Sacks explained that this is an era of great publishing expansion. Expansion of the written word, delivered to multiple methods, to various devices, one of which is paper.

More from MPA-IMAG 2009:

August Home Publishing is a True Inspiration for Multi-Platform Publishers

10 Lessons Learned from Taunton’s Membership Websites

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