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CONFERENCE QUEEN: When Oprah Winfrey took the stage at the American Magazine Conference on Tuesday for a sit-down with Susan Casey, the editor in chief of her namesake magazine, she made quick note of a strange situation. “This is an unusual circumstance that I’m going to allow myself to be interviewed,” Winfrey said. “In the elevator Susan asked if I wanted to see the questions ahead of time, and I said no. It makes it more fun.”
Not that Winfrey was ever in anything but total control of the chat, which closed out the two-day meeting of magazine executives in Chicago. At one point, the master of all media even paused to fix Casey’s mane. “Your hair’s sticking out right there,” she said to the editor while patting her head. When not stage managing, raving about her iPad or dispensing Oprah-isms (Sample: “This journey here on Earth is about growing to who you really are”), Winfrey talked on her upcoming exit from her syndicated show and what to expect from the Oprah Winfrey Network next year. Those curious might want to check the newsstand, as Winfrey said that her team is using the “quality and spirit of what we do in the magazine to create a network.” (Cue a huge sigh of relief from Hearst Magazines, publisher of Oprah.)
“David Zaslav came in holding an Oprah magazine,” she said, describing how the chief executive officer of partner Discovery Communications presented his vision for the 24/7 network. “It’s the ‘live your best life’ channel,” she added, cribbing from the magazine’s tag line.
Where Winfrey was busy thinking about traditional media dominance, most conference attendees were wrestling with the digital future. Morgan Guenther, ceo of the publishing industry joint venture Next Issue Media, had the unenviable time slot that preceded Winfrey’s. He promised the much-awaited digital storefront would make its debut in 2011, a launch that probably couldn’t come soon enough for many in the room.
“I think that you guys need to take a hard line in the sand,” William Lynch, ceo of Barnes & Noble (which just batted away an unwelcome advance from Yucaipa Cos.), advised the crowd earlier in the day. Lynch didn’t make explicit reference to the quiet battle between magazine publishers and Apple over customer data sharing that has largely held up subscription selling until now, but he didn’t really need to. Most in the room, where the iPad was the go-to accessory this year, knew what he was talking about.
“Be obdurate about that kind of access.…Don’t let anybody tell you how to run your business,” he said. Perhaps, say, Yucaipa’s Ron Burkle? — Matthew Lynch