Richard Siklos of The New York Times, after spending “a languorous afternoon watching a new form of video entertainment, sponsored by advertisers like Budweiser and General Electric,” questions the line between commercial messages and content. While I question his questioning, I do like how he ties it all back to custom publishing, pointing to examples like Time Inc.’s All You, Benetton’s well-regarded Colors and Departures, the travel magazine sent only to American Express cardholders.
Analogies have been drawn to the early days of television, when shows like “Texaco Star Theater” spurred the medium out of its infancy. But to me, it’s something different: an evolved form of marketing blurred with media. In fact, this type of marketing already has a huge presence in print media in what is known as custom publishing — a business that doesn’t get much attention because it’s not the domain of the cool kids.
Media giants like Time Inc., the News Corporation and Dow Jones are all in some way involved in custom publishing, putting out all kinds of specialized magazines and newsletters for marketers like airlines, hotel chains and industry organizations. As you can imagine, these are rarely celebrated as “hot books,” and their editors don’t make the list of luminaries spotted at Michael’s.
But according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson, an investment bank that focuses on media, more money was spent on custom publishing in 2005 than on the entire United States consumer magazine business: $28.6 billion versus $23.5 billion. What’s more, the category is growing 15.3 percent a year — better than any other so-called traditional medium — and expected to total more than $58 billion in 2010. That, by the way, would be more than double the size of the slow-growing consumer magazine business.