SPI Media Moments

Rodale's Mary Ann Bekkedahl speaks at SPI about  the role of a publisher
Rodale’s Mary Ann Bekkedahl speaks about the role of a publisher

“You guys are killing us. You’re the generation that won’t pay for anything!” griped Mary Ann Bekkedahl, EVP and Group Publisher for Rodale, www.rodale.com.

The 100 students staring her down did not look chagrined, perturbed or even ruffled. By now, week two in the Summer Publishing Institute, these recent college grads are getting used to being defined (and gently maligned) as game changers who are shifting the face of media. “You are ‘screenagers.’ You are born into the digital industry,” said Robert (“Bo”) Sacks, media commentator and creator of a widely read eponymous newsletter www.bosacks.com.  Once again, the students sat serenely, secure in their newfound sphere of influence. They registered more concern about Sack’s comment that half the information they learned in college was obsolete by the time they graduated.

While absorbing such messages from on high (“It’s the publishing model that is dead, not print,” opined Sacks), students managed to enjoy some lighter moments. A panel of art directors turned out to be graphic in more ways than one. “Be loud and have a clear message,” Adam Fulrath, Art Director of Time Out New York told the audience. “Tongues and licking work on our covers. You will see more in the near future.”

Jessica Musumeci, Art Director of Seventeen,  revealed unabashedly that Tropical Twist Trident Gum was a design inspiration; and that the flashing, neon mélange of bursts, brackets, checks and post-its on her Skittle-colored covers are meant to “make people’s eyes pop.”

Seventeen's Musumeci and Executive Editor Joanna Saltz reveal cover secrets
Seventeen’s Art Director Jessica Musumeci and Executive Editor Joanna Saltz reveal cover secrets

Just when everybody had absorbed the message that free is good, youth is power and wild covers sell, Steve Malley, Senior Deputy Editor of ESPN The Magazine, www.ESPN.com, shook things up a little. “How many people think you should pay for what you read?” he asked. A few hands waved tentatively in the air. “How many of you want to be paid for what you will eventually earn in this field?” This time lots of hands shot up. With that, Malley smiled just a tad smugly before announcing that ESPN  The Magazine would now charge for all online content, joining The Economist and other magazines putting up an online paid wall.

Mullen, Sacks and Malley hold a computer what they call "the right way."
Mullen, Sacks and Malley hold a computer what they call “the right way.”

At least they still publish print magazines their owners might say with secret relief.  Sacks predicts that in 10 years, 75% of magazines will be digital only—good news for companies like Zinio, which specializes in putting magazines on the web. Jeanniey Mullen, Zinio’s Chief Marketing Officer, showed students cool online features like how to interact with both the content and the ads, email screen shots to friends, and preserve archived content on your computer instead of letting it yellow in your closet.

What does it all mean? Maybe we should take a lesson from hockey great Wayne Gretzky, suggested Sacks. “I skate to where the puck will be, not to where it’s been,” Gretzy has said, issuing a chilly warning to those who refuse to look to the future of publishing.

by Andrea Chambers

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