The BoSacks Interview - Tony Silber, VP/ Content for Access Intelligence

By Bob Sacks on February 20, 2014

BoSacks Speaks Out: I've known Tony Silber for a decade or more. He is currently the Vice President of Content for Folio:, Min, Expo, Audience Development, and PR News at Access Intelligence. He is a publishing realist and clever strategic brand operator who has broad experience and clear industry vision. As a professional who's main job is to track and report on the media industry, I believe that his opinions are worth listening to.  


As a side bar, Tony and I share an involvement and commitment to local politics. Along with his professional duties, Tony is also the Chairmen of the Trumbull Planningand Zoning Commission.


Oh yes, one last note on Tony. Every year Samir Husni puts together a very special event at the University of Mississippi. It is a publishing symposium called ACT at the Magazine Innovation Center. ACT stands for Amplify, Clarify and Testify. At the end of the event before we all go back to our vocational homes, we all go to Morgan Freeman's blues club called Ground Zero. It is here that the musical publishers with talent get on stage and play killer blues to a crowd of peers. Tony is the excellent drummer in this ad hock band that I have come to call the Paginators.  


You once wrote about how media is moving increasingly toward a greater technology dependence and you asked, "What's First, Technology or Content?"  What is your answer to that question?

Technology is more important. We are inundated with information. There's no way we can absorb it all. There's simply no way to process it. I subscribed to the paper version of the New York Times just to see if I could wean myself off the firehose of Twitter, Slate, HuffPo, FB, YouTube, LinkedIn, Yahoo, New Republic, Politico, CNN, Time, New Yorker, Scientific American, The Atlantic, etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. I wanted to be able to spend a few quiet hours on a Sunday morning reading for leisure's sake. It's very hard. I mean, if I'm in Perth, Australia, and I want the latest news from Dayton, Ohio, I can do it, easily, at the hometown paper, with up-to-the-minute reports. So: Assuming that the content is mostly ALL good, then it's the framework-the technology that enables me to control the deluge-that's more important.


We constantly read about the long-term decline of the consumer magazine market and newsstand sales that have yet to find a bottom. This decline has seen publishers trying to reinvent their products and content delivery systems along with attempting to reinvent their revenue streams. What is your opinion of the current state of affairs?

The current state of affairs is not one of expansion, but decline and adjustment. There are some exceptions but that's the pattern. But great magazine brands that create an affinity with their readers will survive, in print and elsewhere. Print advertising in more sectors than not will not be a main revenue stream in the future. So print brands need to be able to radically reinvent their models-content and business-because Google, Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn and the other great data-mining companies are doing it for them. I emphasize data mining, because that's what the Facebooks and Googles are, fundamentally. But magazine brands have a distinct advantage in that their customers know them and trust them. For some, that will prove to be a disadvantage, because complacency will kill them. Content delivery is an extraordinary challenge. Print magazines can still be a lot of fun as an experience, but the days of mass-circulation magazines are over. "Mass" is being redefined and we are watching it happen. 


Can you foresee a bottom to the decline in the near term? What do we have to do as an industry to make the slide into at least a plateau?

The media market is fluid. It might be the wrong prism to view the situation as one that produces a plateau for print-magazine brands. Some brands will rise and others will decline and it won't be solely the delivery channel that determines that. I don't foresee an easing of the fluidity. I expect it to increase, both accelerate and expand. There is still a great shakeout coming. It might be the death of print newspapers. It might be the rise of some new media business model that we haven't yet developed. But the fundamental instability shows no sign of resolving itself. 


You are in charge of several BtoB publications. What is the state of the union when it come to the BtoB market?

B-to-b brands are facing the same pressures that consumer media is. There is a movement away from third-party media and toward peer-to-peer media and transaction-oriented media, like Amazon. Advertising is migrating massively toward search and social media-with b-to-b especially impacted by search. This is hard to overstate. Facebook produced $7.8 billion in ad revenue last year. That's a bit less than half of all b-to-b advertising. Of course, content has to originate somewhere, but often it's from individuals, and not those affiliated with third-party brands. This is not happening in events, of course. And third-party media companies still have dominant positions, but that's partly because everything else is so diffused. The current trend, though, is toward those other sources: Peer-to-peer interaction (often via social media) and transaction/search.

You recently posed another interesting question to your readers of Folio, "Is advertising in free fall because new channels and technologies have emerged?"  What is your answer to that question?

Yes, as stated above, new forms of advertising are viewed as more effective, more responsive, more targeted and more measurable. Why would you advertise in a daily newspaper, for example, when you can advertise based on consumer behavior and geographic location on Facebook and Google? This is a huge challenge. At the MediaNext event, the keynoter from Google, Dan Alegre, told the story of a car dealer being able to serve ads to an audience segment known to be shopping actively, and have the shopper be able to not just custom-build a car online, but to then use Google Street View to drive that car into the shopper's own driveway. If traditional media brands don't start innovating like that, it will be bleak indeed.

An interesting change in the dynamics of publishing has been the emergence of brand marketing  and content marketing. There was a time when we were partners with brands, but now it seems we are competing with each other for the reader's valuable time. Is this a temporary situation, or have those partners and our former advertisers moved on permanently?

In a theoretical sense, technology has enabled brands to become storytellers on their own. In a practical sense, that's not what they do, most of them. Content marketing works best when you have content creators who are trained in content creation.

While I'm on the subject would you care to offer an opinion on native advertising? Is it a deceptive form of advertising that takes advantage of an unsuspecting reader or is it a caveat emptor or reader beware situation? 

I don't think native advertising is deceptive, necessarily, because for the most part it's adequately labelled. I do think it can be awfully annoying in many iterations, and I think it creates "noise" that doesn't just diminish the content consumption experience, but sometimes the content brand itself. Ironically, print display ads rarely do that.  

As part of your strategy for staying ahead, do you attend any trade shows or conventions? If so why? Would you recommend any of these to other publishers?

I think the Folio: and Min events are the class of the magazine-media space. That includes MediaNext, MediaMashup, this year's Folio: Growth Summit and the many Min breakfasts and one-day conferences. Lots of others are well put together, and worth attending, but in terms of rich content, I am very proud of ours. I watch the growing crop of digital media conferences, of which All Things D is one example.

If you could give a young person entering our business one piece of advice, what would it be?

Never assume you've got your job figured out, because it is going to change within 18 months. Also: Go where the puck is going, not where it is. In a whole lot of instances, this means watch the digital-media brands more than the print ones, because they're the ones still rising.

By Bob Sacks| February 20, 2014
Categories:  Print|Industry News|Opinion

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Bob Sacks

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