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Acting Out in Mississippi*. An ACT 4 Experience Review by Lynn Rosen

November 9, 2013

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Print or digital? Digital or print? Sick of that debate yet?

The answer: “Integrated.” That is the keyword down here in Mississippi, from whence I write.

This week I made my second trip to Oxford. Unlike many visitors to this charming historic town, I didn’t come for football, nor did I come merely to shop at Oxford’s fabulous indie Square Books (although that in itself might be worth the trip), nor did I come to visit the home of William Faulkner (did that last time). I came for a repeat visit to the annual magazine conference hosted by the only man I know with a trademark in his name, Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni , director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, as well as mastermind of the annual ACT “experience,” this year themed: “Don’t Let Digital Scare You: The Power of Print Integrated”

This friendly non-conference brings together editors, printers, publishers, account execs, producers and more from across the US and internationally for a few jam-packed days of discussion, mixes in a group of Ole Miss journalism students eager to learn and enter the industry, throws in, for good measure, some delicious southern cooking and some Delta blues, and the resulting mix is a fresh look at how we do business and move forward successfully in these changing times.

So back to this integrated print & digital thing….

William Morris III, Chairman & CEO of Morris Communications,Opens in a new window began the day on Wednesday with what I found to be an interesting statement: “the product is the content.” In the book publishing piece of my career, I’ve seen countless people cringe when anyone would refer to a book as a product. And yet, my passion for good literature aside, does not a book, being something we create, manufacture, promote, and sell, meet that definition? So for Mr. Billy Morris to pull out content, that nebulous thing only recently released from the confines of containment in print-bound media and available for placement in any number of packages, and refer to it as our essential product, was something I found refreshing. And our job, says he, is to “gather, assemble and disseminate content.”

Morris, whose publications include the WHERE brand of magazines, also declared that digital is the greatest opportunity for media that has come along “in my lifetime,” although it is “very much still an evolving medium.” Acknowledging the underlying print v. digital debate that lurks alongside any discussion of the state of the industry, Morris said that print is still the foundation of what they do as it “pays the bills.”

In the reality of the day-to-day workplace, we must each make our own decision about our print/digital balance, and about how we integrate content in what Brian O’Leary calls its various containers, and this conference spoke to the fact of where we all are in time, in the midst of this huge ongoing transition.

For those interested in print, the conference offered an update on print technology, offering talks from representatives of a large range of printers. For those wishing to move forward in digital, the conference offered behind the scenes looks into the workings of augmented reality, digital watermarking, and various software platforms to design digital editions and create apps. The list of speakers can be seen here. As I write these words, we are still listening to presentations demonstrating some pretty cool new technology (more on that to come!).

Media sales expert Jim Elliott interviewed Reed Phillips , CEO and Managing Partner of DeSilva+Phillips, an M&A firm focused on traditional and digital media, for a take on investment opportunities and possibilities in magazine publishing. During the digital transition over the last few years, says Phillips, a lot of magazines lost 30-40% of their advertising revenue, and are now looking to reclaim the loss in value by expanding their platforms, doing other things like hosting events. As an example of the loss of value, he cited McGraw-Hill’s sale of Business Week to Bloomberg for $5 million, when ten years earlier, according to Phillips, they had turned down an offer of $1 billion.

Ever the optimist in a turbulent publishing climate, Dr. Husni likes to present examples of successful magazine launches, and these success stories were featured in a panel led by Folio’s Tony Silber . In a group that included Simply Gluten Free, the Kentucky-focused Story magazine, and Real Food, Real Kitchens, which comes out of a documentary style series of TV programs featuring families preparing family recipes. One stand out was Cake & Whiskey magazine, a publication that grew out of events created to provide networking opportunities for business women.

In all, the magazine publishers convened this week in Mississippi are sharing ideas freely about how they are integrating print and digital, new and traditional media, and the status quo with the demand for change.

*Lynn Rosen is editorial director at Publishing Executive and Book Business magazines. Her blog Literally Speaking: Acting Out in Mississippi is republished here with her permission.

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