One of the central questions of the seminar “10 Things You Should Know About Magazine Publishing Today,” which took place yesterday afternoon at the PDN Photo Plus Expo in New York, was what exactly defines the term “magazine” in the current media marketplace?
Moderator Michelle Dunn Marsh, co-publisher of Aperture magazine, put the question to the seminar panelists, which included Rolling Stone senior photo editor Sacha Lecca, photographer Lisa Kereszi, New Yorker photo editor Whitney Johnson, and Bonnier Corp.’s Gregg Hano, publisher of Popular Photography, American Photo, Popular Science and other magazines.
Dunn Marsh offered two definitions for the term magazine from a pair of sources. One progressive definition acknowledged that magazine companies are branching into tablet editions; online articles, videos, multimedia slideshows and other features; standalone special issues and other forms in order to reach readers. The other defined the magazine as a strictly print product. All of the panelists appeared to agree on the former definition, and a great deal of the seminar was spent contemplating evolving online and tablet media.
The panelists also suggested that edited or “curated” content, produced by professionals, was key component of what defines “magazines.”
In introducing himself earlier in the seminar, Hano had summed up the attitude of Bonnier by saying they were “interested in bringing content to our readers in whatever way they want to receive it.” Johnson noted the New Yorker had launched an iPad edition, and Lecca said Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs” special issue was published for the iPad with interactivity that would allow readers to hear the songs on iTunes. Lecca also noted that all of Rolling Stone’s magazines are searchable online, and Dunn Marsh said Aperture would offer the same digital access to the magazine’s issue archive sometime in 2011.
Johnson noted how different the audiences were for the New Yorker Web site and the print magazine, and this touched off a conversation about producing content to fit each platform and each audience. Some young online readers had no idea that the New Yorker specialized in long-form journalism because they only read short pieces on the magazine’s Web site, Johnson related.
Hano noted Bonnier’s belief that the tablet editions of their magazines needed to be complete packages, with a beginning, middle and an end. Readers enjoy the sense of accomplishment in finishing reading a publication, he argued.
Lecca said that he’d recently given a photograph he planned to use in a print issue of Rolling Stone to an online editor who wanted to publish it right away. The online and print audiences were so different that nobody would notice, he said.
Kereszi added that multiple platforms for magazine content meant that a larger number of photographs shot on assignment could reach audiences, but she and other panelists also qualified this by saying that the impulse to put up more photographs just because you have them was not what audiences were looking for in a “curated” product.
During the Q&A portion of the seminar a photographer in the audience asked how they could get their work noticed and published. Knowing the publication you approach was key for the photo editors on the panel. If you can reference sections of the magazine your work might be a fit for it indicates a level of thought that appeals to editors, Lecca noted. He also suggested that email promos should be personalized and should include a photographer’s contact information and location because editors are often looking for shooters who are already in a location they need photographs from.
Another audience member asked if the large number of photographers competing for work were driving down creative fees. Lecca noted that the fee for Rolling Stone—unless it’s a cover shoot—is the same whether the photographer is established or unknown.
The editors also discussed finding photographers who they commission or whose work they pick up at gallery shows, portfolio reviews, other magazines, photography blogs and the editors’ colleagues in the industry were all sited as sources.
In one of the last comments, Hano offered an opinion that the price of magazine subscriptions had been driven too low, and he felt it was important that publishers increase prices so editors and the contributors they hire could create more quality content for whatever platform a magazine utilizes.
The comment drew something of an amen from the panelists and the crowd.
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