Face the Digital Future without Fear

Article excerpt

This article is adapted by FOLIO:'s Lorne Manly from a keynote speech at Temple University's Acres of Diamonds Award Luncheon last fall. The Acres of Diamonds Award for the best new magazine of the past five years went to SmartMoney: The Wall Street Journal Magazine of Personal Business, a joint venture between Hearst Magazines and Dow Jones & Co.

I have always been a magazine junkie. I read magazines as a child, when my father worked at Life. I sold pages as a young advertising salesman, and through the years, worked on titles both small and large. Today, I supervise the publication of 14 magazines in the United States and more than 60 international titles, making Hearst Magazines the largest publisher of monthly magazines in the world.

I recite this bit of biography only to emphasize the fact that I am an unrepentant believer in the print medium. And I also happen to think that magazines will enjoy a prosperous future.

Given all the business news of the last few months about the interactive future of media, these thoughts are almost contrarian. At times I feel as if I'm standing on the median strip of an electronic highway. Racing along one side are the cable companies and video production outfits, all in hot pursuit of some sort of partnership deal. Coming down the other side of the highway are the telephone companies--riding in dump trucks filled with money.

The key to the future is content

Now, with the merger of cable television and telephone technologies into a single conduit of communications, the implications really defy the imagination. I read about all these mega-billion-dollar mergers and I am impressed--both by their size and by the possibilities they hold for magazines. These technological hybrids are going to be fierce and innovative competitors in the communications marketplace of the future. But, as a magazine publisher, I am not fearful of the future. Nor am I afraid for my magazines' prospects. If you remember the movie The Graduate, you certainly recall the classic bit of career advice proffered to the character played by Dustin Hoffman--the one single word that would practically ensure his future success: Plastics!

It's nearly 30 years later, and I would venture that the future success of magazines can also be summed up in a single word: Content!

There is little question that the technological advances we read about today--and those just around the corner--will provide everyone in publishing with a variety of new ways to deliver magazine, newspaper and book content to interested readers.

But all these amazing new means of delivery will never change what has to be done first. First, someone has to have an idea. Then someone has to be able to put that idea into words. Then someone has to be sure that those words have real meaning and value to people. And then someone, not so incidentally, will have to persuade businesses that those people are attractive as a group and should be a target of their ad messages. …