Who has a clearly defined Web strategy? Who has a dartboard approach, where you’re taking a stab at any promising new revenue stream in hopes that it will pay off?
Most publishers would probably admit to the dartboard approach. Part of that is because, as everyone likes to say, “No one knows where this is going.” Experimentation is relatively cheap, and if something doesn’t work, it can be gone the next day. “The beauty of the digital world is that if something works, great,” said John Loughlin, executive vice president and general manager of Hearst Magazines, at the Digital Magazine Forum earlier this month. “If not, you can just take it right down.”
The problem with the dartboard approach is that it stretches already overstretched magazine staffs even farther. Yes, everybody needs to be working online, from editorial to ad sales to marketing. That’s not even an argument any more. But is what you’re doing online serving a specific purpose or are you there just because your competitor is too? If you have a blog, what’s the purpose? If you’re doing a Webinar, have you triple-checked the system before you go live? If you’re offering channels, have you worked out a pricing structure that makes sense for you as a publisher, after you’ve paid off the writers and designers who create the channel?
Unless you’ve been fleeced by a Web design firm that doesn’t understand your market, getting almost any kind of Web functionality should be extremely affordable, if not free. Publishers like to say, “It cost us nothing but man hours.” True, but are those man hours being used wisely? “Integrated” is not a synonym for “online-only.” The same staff is still producing magazines and events, and creating direct mail or maintaining the server. It’s true that we’re all still experimenting with what works and what doesn’t but have a rationale before going online.
Fortunately, as more and more Web products begin to pay off, we’ll all be wiser, as well as wealthier. “On thing a profitable business model let’s you do is choose what’s important and what’s not,” says Alec Dann, general manager of magazines online at Hanley Wood. “The early days of the Internet were anarchy.”