Magazine people must become better storytellers

11/12/2012 — 1 Comment

Story of the magazine industryMagazine people are, or at least should be, some of the best storytellers around. That’s what they do. But I’m talking about a different kind of story – the stories we tell inside our businesses about our industry.

I just read a post on Dan MCCarthy’s Media Transformations blog. In Who should CEO’s entrust with storytelling in the digital age? Dan says this about the importance of storytelling in business leadership:

The best leaders knew who they were telling the story to, why it would matter and what made the story important.  The best organizations lived their own stories — each employee knew that they were part of bringing the story to life.

Think about that in the context of the magazine business. The story that is most often told in our space is that print is dying and that digital is the future. Ask anyone who works for a magazine publisher what’s the biggest story in publishing. Like the piggies in Animal farm they’ll recite the mantra: Print bad, digital good… Print bad, digital good.

Magazine companies living that story, and that’s most magazine companies, are trapped in a tale where the evil resource suck of print is a distraction from the noble quest for digital profitability, which has so far proved to be as elusive as the Holy Grail. That doesn’t sound like a story that ends well.

How about we try telling it a different way. Print isn’t bad, different from digital undoubtedly, but not bad. Most publishers I know rely heavilly on revenues generated from print. More, the digital revenues they do have are very often tied directly to audience loyalty founded on print activities.

To sideline our print heritage like an unwanted stepchild is to dismiss the biggest assets we have built over a long time – attention, community, reputation. No one would argue that digital does not loom large in the future of the magazine business. But for the forseeable future, the majority of publishers have to see print and digital as parallel activities, not mutually exclusive but complimentary.

To be fair, some senior magazine people are starting to speak out about this. At the Association of magazine Media conference in San Francisco this October, CEO Mary Berner said she was “pissed” that the industry had lost control of its own narrative.

By letting others hijack our story, it has become one of doom and gloom, demise and even death. And that conversation is affecting our business.

Good news. The worm is starting to turn, but it will only make a difference if we take back control back and a different narrative is told to, and ultimately by, the troops.

Magazine bosses need to round out the plot. Digital is big and getting bigger. Staff need to embrace new technologies and innovate in their markets if pulishers have any hope of growth. But they can’t forget their roots in print or ignore the legacy revenues that currently pay to keep the lights on.

Let’s start telling a crossmedia story. Yes we do digital, but we also do print. We do video and audio, but we still do words and pictures. The magazine narrative is complicated, don’t oversimplify it, tell tales of pixels and ink and maybe we can manage a happy ending.

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    [...] the end of last year I suggested “Magazine people must become better storytellers“, that we should tell the tale of our industry differently, focussed on how we are building a [...]

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