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The Future of Magazines, According to Tobaccowala

Tobaccowala.jpgRishad Tobaccowala, jet-setting CEO of Publicis Groupe‘s Denou, “chief innovation officer” of Publicis Groupe Media, media “futurist” — not to mention owner of our new favorite media surname — talked to magazine executives yesterday at the Harmonie Club in New York on behalf of the Magazine Publishers of America, the association for an industry that prides itself on talking about the future, if not actually doing anything about it.

Enter Tobaccowala, who came off as perhaps the smartest guy in the universe, if the universe consisted of magazine executives and people called “media futurists.” And as far as the real universe goes, he’s up there. When he spoke, you could practically see actual wheels churning inside his head.

Here’s what he had to say:

  • His opener: If consumer magazines don’t do anything differently, they will continue to be successful. Although they may want to do things differently anyway. (Nicely done, Tobaccowala, you’ve lulled them into your grasp. Brilliant. Did we that say that already?)
  • Digital has become a dogma. The magazine or mainstream media people who say “Let’s do a blog” or “Let’s do a podcast” or “What do you think about viral?” are losing focus on the meaning of what they do in lieu of the ritual. (Oh, Tobaccowala, you’ve really got them now. They never wanted to do that blog roll-out anyway.)

  • The magazine industry needs to have a little cooperation or “in effect you will be picked off and killed.” (I’m sorry, come again?)
  • “Consumer magazines are better positioned for the future than any other industry.” (Phew, I thought ya lost them for a minute there, Tobaccowala.) “If you’ll do one change.” (I have a feeling they’ll listen.) Magazines are no longer in the publishing business. “You’re in the content, consumer understanding, editing, design and community business.”
  • Magazines should take their smartest, best talent and tell them they no longer have a print product to work on. Tell them to develop something else, and don’t ask them to worry about monetizing it, at least at first. “Who ever told you you’re in the print business? Step out of your cave, there’s a party out there.” (Nice line, Tobaccowala. Cave. Party. That’s good. But what about Google?)
  • “Google is growing so fast they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Shrewd, very shrewd Tobaccowala, scratching these magazine people where they itch.) They are going to have a “people get in the way” problem. “There’s more intelligence out there than just in Mountain View.” (Yes, there is, there is more, Tobaccowala.)
  • But “Google doesn’t understand your business, so they might hurt it.” (Aww, man.)
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