Tony Silber: In a Down Economy,
Markets Really Do Respond to Quality Product

In his keynote speech at the ASBPE National Editorial Conference, Tony Silber aimed to demonstrate with a real-life example that a magazine can not only launch and stay in business, but actually beat out the competition, even in the current lukewarm economy.

You probably know that Silber, a former editor and publisher at Folio: magazine, helped start the magazine-industry publication M10 under the company umbrella of Red 7 Media. The pub launched as a web site in March 2003. A print edition followed in June '03. M10 (the name signifies "Magazines to the 10th power") was a direct competitor to Folio:, which was then owned by Primedia Inc.

According to Silber, M10 was a very bare-bones proposition at the start. "I was employee Number Two," Silber says. "It was literally two guys in a basement. … The first media kit was a Staples folder with two PDFs on one side and three PDFs on the other side."

Yet within a year, M10 was the ad-page leader in the field (beating not only Folio: but another startup, Crain Communications' Media Business). Was M10's per-page rate lower vs. Folio:'s, and could that have been a factor? I'm guessing yes. Still, in August 2004, the team behind the year-old M10 acquired sole responsibility for the management of 32-year-old Folio:. (Primedia still retains a minority stake in the property.) Red 7 Media combined the two magazines, keeping the M10 look and content — M10 did not take on any of Folio:'s editorial staff — and renaming it Folio to take advantage of the familiarity of that brand.

The conclusion Silber drew from M10's success was this: Markets respond to quality, even in a down economy (a sentiment shared by David Silverberg, editor of year-old homeland security magazine HS Today.) Silber says M10's quality showed in both editorial content and marketing strategy. Under Primedia, he says, Folio:'s content was "Manhattan-centric. It was largely about who's eating lunch with Tina Brown." Silber aimed for more relevance with M10. On the ad side, the philosophy was to sell marketing services and help with business development, rather than focusing narrowly on selling ad pages. Another factor in M10's favor, he believes, is that from the start it was a multimedia resource, with a web site, a print issue, and an email newsletter.

Publishing Industry Outlook

It's nice to know that a new magazine can make it in a down economy. But Silber thinks an economic recovery is on tap for the magazine business in second half of the '00s. He's seeing renewed investment and activity — for instance, American Business Media memberships are up, and so is attendance at the Folio: show. Other predictions, at least for the B2B side of the industry, are a little less sanguine.

Silber also believes that entrepreneurship will be a strong trend in magazine publishing. As it happens, entrepreneurship is the planned topic of our first fall chapter event.

Coming up on the Blog

Over the next several days, I plan to post more about what went on at the ASBPE Conference. Travel and work temporarily put my ability to post on hold — hence the lengthy gap since the last post on this fledgling blog — but I don't intend that to be the norm.
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