Canadian Magazine Industry News
26 June 2009,     VANCOUVER
Notes from Magazines West: Surviving the great publishing meltdown

 

Richard Siklos
Richard Siklos is the "editor-at-large" for Fortune magazine, which he says is a fancy way of saying “writer.” He's earned the title by writing for many of the English-speaking world's best publications, from Vanity Fair to the New York Times, usually about the frenzied world of media business. Siklos is also the author of two book about Canada's favourite media super-villain: Shades of Black: Conrad Black and the World’s Fastest Growing Press Empire (1995) and its sequel, Shades of Black: Conrad Black, His Rise and Fall (2004). Last weekend, he jetted into Vancouver for Magazines West to host an optimistically titled seminar called "Surviving the Great Publishing Meltdown of 2009."

The perfect machine

Siklos was in Japan last week reporting on the travails of Sony. The company's problem, he said, is that the pursuit of the perfect machine isn't what people want. Who would have thought ten years ago that people would be content to watch video on a cell-phone screen? This is a metaphor for journalism. Twitter has been incredible in fueling the protests that are challenging the Iranian regime. It might not be better than, say, reporting from The Globe and Mail, but it's there and people are using it.

The death of the railroad companies

The death of the great railroad companies last century was because they keep focus on their core product—trains—while alternatives took over. They failed to understand they were in the transportation business and that's what killed them. What business are magazines in? According to Siklos, magazines are part information, part pleasure. For example, a great writer like David Sedaris can lure us into an article on Levi Johnson in GQ, a topic we might have no prior interest in.

Focus on the big orgasm

A bulk of Fortune's audience read the magazine because they aspire to be rich and the Fortune 500 is the title's "big orgasm," says Siklos. In the past, magazines did what they had to do so they could do what they wanted to do. But the world where writers could cover topics of interest because the big media institutions had their model down is fading. This is a new fickle world with less money and publishers and editors have to be more congnizant of what people are willing to pay for.

There is hope

Remember that a lot of great things start in bad times, Siklos says. Google came out of nowhere shortly after the dot com crash, while Fortune magazine started in the great depression. There will be less professional journalism in the future, Siklos predicted, but that is not reason for despair.

— Aaron Leaf
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