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Magazine Executives Gather in New York at Critical Moment

On the eve of summit, talk of technology innovation — and survival — planned.

For the first fall in memory — or, at least in the relative few years (six) I’ve been writing about the medium — magazine editors and publishers will not be attending the American Magazine Conference, the annual, unapologetically glitzy pow-wow of industry executives, usually held in sun-kissed resorts in Arizona and Boca Raton.

Earlier this year, sensing the economy’s deathgrip on the industry, the American Society of Magazine Editors and the Magazine Publishers of America, the organizations that produce AMC, did something smart: they cancelled the event, replacing it with the Magazine Innovation Summit, a business-style event (read: serious — like, no cigar bars and celebrity deejays this time), which begins Thursday morning in Manhattan.

Roughly 400 magazine executives are expected to attend the event, which is taking place at yet another critical moment in the industry’s history. Through the first nine months of the year, ad pages are off more than 27 percent, or $3.47 billion in estimated ad revenue. Magazine publishers are struggling to navigate a seismic shift – among both readers and advertisers – to the Internet. Industry powerhouses like Time Inc. and Cond√© Nast, once thought to be recession proof – are struggling, shutting down titles, slashing budgets and shrinking headcounts at a rate that has alarmed even veterans of the magazine business. And BusinessWeek, valued by some at $1 billion less than a decade ago, was sold on Tuesday to Bloomberg LP. The price? Less than $5 million, including the assumption of its heavy debt.

Granted, these were the same issues facing the industry a year ago, when these same executives gathered in San Francisco, but there’s a renewed sense of urgency this year. A summit about magazine innovation, it would seem, is needed now more than ever.

Speakers and panelists expected at the summit include Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time and currently CEO of the Aspen Institute; Ken Auletta, New Yorker staff writer and author of the upcoming book with the fancy title "Googled: The End of the World as We Know It"; Mary Lou Jepsen, founder and CEO of Pixel QI; Danny Stein, CEO of eMusic; Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix; and Postmaster General Jack Potter, who will be interviewed by Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines.

Among the sessions planned for the two-day event: “Why I Tweet,” “Who Pays for Content,” “The Decline and Rise of Magazine Journalism” and “What Happened to the Record Album and Why it Matters to Magazines.”

Speaking of tweeting, that’s what I’ll be doing, as well as updating the column. So follow along here (@stableford) and here.