Blog Post

@ FOBM: Magazines Wrestle With Whether To Merge Print And Digital

imageThe big issue for magazines these days how to determine the level of “integration” between the print and the digital side. Rumors have been swirling again about the merging of Forbes magazine and its website, with president and CEO Jim Spanfeller at the head. During an exchange on a panel of mag execs at ContentNext’s Future of Business Media, ContentNext Media managing editor Ernie Sander, Spanfeller was playfully vague about what the future holds. When pressed, he told Sander. Asked pointedly, Spanfeller cheekily changed the subject: “Hmmmm, I heard it was snowing in New Jersey.” Trying to keep the topic alive, David Carey, group president of Condé Nast, was happy to volunteer that Portfolio won’t be a digital standalone.

Knowing when to fold ’em: Vivek Shah, president, Fortune|Money Group revisited the shuttering of financial tech mag Business 2.0 last year and finds that the timing and the decision couldn’t have been better. Shah: Fortune is up 9 percent in ad pages. That’s offsetting a 15 percent decline in financial advertising. Going forward, ad budgets will shrink and they will be concentrated. Advertisers’ equation is: do I want to spend $10 with five players, or do I want to spend $5 with two players.

Is there such a thing as too much?: When it comes to building traffic, more is definitely… well, more. “We publish 4,000 stories a day on If we don’t do more, we simply won’t grow. The web is a limitless place. Keith Fox, president of BusinessWeek I think ultimately, the time crunch is very strong on a business news audience. That’s why being a business-weekly is a good place to be.

All about branding: Shah said the key to transferring the brand loyalty to the web brand from the print brand depends on how users approach the site. Are your users renters or owners? If they don’t become an owner of a site, if they don’t stay, you won’t build audience. Just because you have a brand, doesn’t mean you have a web business. Online display — you have a better shot at getting hit by lightning than getting someone to click-through an ad. Does online ad display work? The tools are fairly weak, and shame on us for that. Google (NSDQ: GOOG) provides campaign data, and that’s what’s needed for display Spanfeller took aim at ad networks: they move conversations away from branding to direct response. “We have to get more branding tools out in the marketplace,” he said.

The last word on ad nets: Do they create value? Spanfeller: No. Shah: They sell placements, we sell content and audience. If you target based on context — say you want to reach someone in-market for travel plans — we’re the better bet. Spanfeller adds: If you’re a content creator and you use [remnant ad nets] you are a traitor to your creed, noting the commoditization of ad impressions (aka MSLO co-CEO Wenda Harris Millard’s admonition comparing ad nets the pork bellies futures market).