Panelists Address Economy, Challenges at Direct Media Co-Op

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WHITE PLAINS, NY -- Direct marketers sounded off about how they're coping with the economic challenges of the past few years in a morning panel at yesterday's 29th annual Direct Media Mailer Conference and Co-Op here.

"Let's face it, the past two to three years have been rough," Direct Media chairman/founder David W. Florence said in his introduction of the panel.

From the publishing industry, David Ball, vice president of consumer marketing at Primedia Consumer Media & Magazine Group, painted a bleak picture. He cited telemarketing abuses, high-cost newsstand distribution prices and consumer expectations of free content as huge hurdles for the industry.

"The Internet has caused people not to value editorial product," Ball said. "They don't see why they have to pay for it."

Still, he said that he thought the public would return to seeing the value in paying for good content online and off.

And publishing brought some of its problems on itself, Ball said, such as charging next-to-nothing subscription prices during the advertising boom of five years ago.

Ball also said he thought the consumer publishing market had hit bottom, meaning there was nowhere to go but up.

His view of the business-to-business market was also dour, as Ball said that perhaps the bottom had not been reached in that sector.

Ending on a brighter note, he commended the use of the Internet as a viable channel for selling subscriptions though he said the industry was a long way from realizing its potential.

Panelist Michael O'Connor, president of Abbott Card Co., cited the U.S. Postal Service, prospecting and customer services as his BTB greeting card company's top challenges. He urged all direct marketers to get involved in postal reform issues.

"Everybody should be educated and involved," he said. "You have to speak up or it won't happen."

Other panelists were more upbeat.

"Direct marketers will inherit the Internet," said Kevin Aronin, chairman/CEO of PlasmaNet Inc., which runs the Web site. He called the Internet the best direct response medium ever invented.

Equipment is better and cheaper than it was a few years ago and it is still cheap to send e-mail, said Aronin, who encouraged attendees to collect e-mail addresses any way they could.

The fourth panelist was Thompson & Co. president Robert Franzblau, who encouraged attendees to move beyond identifying challenges and start finding solutions.

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