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Magazines barking up the wrong tree with meaningless rebranding

For those from the print publishing world who saw early on the devastation wreaked by online, the Magazine Publishers of America?s decision to rebrand is skirting a larger issue: retooling a dying business model.

The media industry was offered yet another glimpse into old-world mindset Friday when the MPA announced it would rename itself MPA ? The Association of Magazine Media. This soon after the very same association mocked the Internet in a widespread magazine campaign touting the virtues of print over digital media.

Talk of lack of focus ? or inadequate acknowledgment of the larger reality: digital media, including online and mobile, will cannibalize print.

Digital will eventually kill the print star, at least for business and news-driven publishing.

Time?s up
Take a look at what?s happening to the nation?s leading publishers ? The New York Times, Washington Post, Time Inc. and Tribune Co. While they may have popular franchises within the family, the news-driven titles are gasping for air.

Storied brands such as Newsweek and BusinessWeek and leading newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and New York Times have had to reach deep into the parent?s or third-party pockets to stay afloat.

Not that there is anything wrong with the editorial quality of these brands. On the contrary ? these magazines and newspapers are the standard-bearers of quality, curated journalism and their absence from the business and political debate will greatly diminish the intellectual capacity of this nation.

But here?s what publishers need to focus on ? coming from a niche publisher that is looking out the same window in the 21st-century future: the 20th-century model of print supporting digital media will have to be turned on its head.

Instead, revenues generated from online and mobile media will have to support the media organization of this century.

And this is what these national publishers just don?t get. Simply rebranding an association to reflect multi-platform products won?t cut it. Simply holding seminars and symposiums and running defensive ad campaigns won?t revive the pharaoh.

Eye balls are bull?s-eye
These efforts will just not cut dice with the two constituencies that hold magazine and newspaper media?s fate in their hands: readers and advertisers.

What are readers saying? Increasingly, they want to read the latest news on digital media platforms including widescreen computers, laptops and tablets as well as smaller-window mobile phones.

These same readers want to be able to access the latest news with multimedia capability such as video and social networking options to connect with likeminded people.

Most important, these readers have been trained over a decade and a half not to pay for this ability to read and watch news on computers and mobile phones. Free is the new currency.

So that?s the hard reality from the reader side of the equality. In other words, it?s becoming established consumer behavior, or already has. There will also be the exceptions, but exceptions are not doing enough to pay the bills.

Advertisers go where the readers are.

The readers are online and mobile. Of course, viewers are also on television, which strangely has a wonderful future ahead, regardless of what naysayers say ? audio, visuals, the Internet and eventually the ability to target relevant content and advertising will save and boost TV.

Marketing dollars follow consumer eyeballs. Advertisers have finally cottoned on to the reality that print may not deliver the interactivity that 21st-century marketing and advertising demands.

There is a difference between a quick page turn and an engaging click-through. There is a difference between depth online and mobile versus limited newsprint.

Indeed, some advertisers even risk their brand reputation by continuing to reserve more dollars for print than online or mobile. Will their customers and prospects wonder if the brand is keeping with the times? Perhaps.

Don?t ape the past
So what the MPA and others of its ilk should be doing instead of prettying-up logos and media kits is this: initiating a serious discussion on viable business models for a future where most news and information will be delivered and consumed electronically via computers, mobile phones, tablets and TV screens.

These associations should be advising publisher members on how to wean themselves off printing presses and circulars and start learning the language of HTML, HTML5 and applications.

The MPA should throw the wraps off the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the print model is dying. There will come a time when print revenues will not be able to sustain organizational overhead such as office lease, salaries, printing and production costs, and marketing.

If anything, publishers should be pondering a world without print.

It will mean tremendous dislocation, but if the goal is to save the brand and not the medium, most MPA members will come through.

But right now, what seems obvious is that most publishers can?t figure out how to live without print content and advertising. Unfortunately, readers and advertisers this decade will hasten that moment of reckoning.

Team Media 2.0
Publishers need to create within their organizations Team Med