The concept of a single-title magazine publisher, delivering a single printed magazine to a single audience in 2007 seems almost quaint. Magazine companies have reinvented themselves over the last decade into multi-platform publishers. The most successful can deliver any specialized information the customer wants, in whatever form the customer prefers.
The Internet as Media Nexus
With multiplatform publishers delivering content through magazines, newsletters, books, reports, live events, radio, television, CDs, DVDs, RSS, podcasts, PDF downloads, mobile phones, software, seminars, e-mail, and more, the Web has become a nexus where every consumer expects to find a publisher's entire suite of content.
In years past, when publishers created brand extensions or ancillary products, they were usually another print product. The Web burst onto the scene and changed everything.
Now, every media company doing business in the digital world needs three critical characteristics: A robust user-centric online presence; a multiplatform approach to information products, and a database-marketing machine powered by the Internet.
However, publishers need to stop thinking that a single Web site can meet all the needs of their entire audience. Rather, every publisher needs to create a Web network that starts with the hub;a free, content-filled media site with new content added daily, hourly or even more frequently. Implemented correctly, the Web network should become a digital marketing machine and act as the basis for every publishing company's online strategy.
Using the Internet to Market Products & Services
At the center of a Web site network is a "destination" hub that attracts online visitors, builds relationships and generates massive amounts of digital advertising inventory. It should include lots of search-optimized content and strong database architecture for subscriber and prospect files. The hub will be surrounded by five different kinds of satellite sites that maximize sales of publisher and sponsor products and services. Each of these can be owned and maintained by the publisher or third-party sponsors:
- Retail: Where products and services are sold
- Classified: Similar in scope to retail
- Membership: Where information is available for purchase
- Lead Generation: Sites that focus on generating leads as a primary by-product
- Brand: A site that exists simply to build brand awareness
Each site in the network may have its own URL, or the entire Web site may sit on a single URL. Either way, each archetype will have a separate purpose and unique functionality designed to serve the same audience with a variety of information and retail services.
Perfecting the Online Media Nexus
The concept of an Internet hub with dedicated satellites is one of the most effective architectural approaches for building and monetizing the largest online audience possible. Its open-content architecture, strong conversion architecture, keyword-focused category pages and multiple content offerings make it the perfect online media brand nexus. Understanding the five unique Web site archetypes and how they are used to build a network is crucial in understanding the ways in which you can optimize your online revenues.
Three sites in particular come to mind that exemplify multiplatform publishing strategies that incorporate the Web network approach. The Forbes Media Network, Cook's Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen) and Computerworld each emphasize one or two characteristics, but all three sites exhibit all the traits that make a successful networked approach.
Forbes Media Network Goes Platform Agnostic
With 2006 revenues estimated at more than $510 million, up from an estimated $460 million for 2005, the newly formed Forbes Media Network is on a roll.
Forbes Media currently includes print, online conferences, radio and TV properties. An estimated $330 million comes from the American edition of Forbes, but senior executives Steve Forbes and Jim Spanfeller have both said that online publishing revenues will pass print in 2008 or 2009.
Out of the major media brands, the Forbes Network may possibly be the first one that has its online publishing business surpass the revenues of its successful print sibling. And this feat will be even more impressive with Forbes continuing to grow its revenue and profits. The milestone will prove that a wildly successful dot-com brand extension does not hurt the print sibling from which it sprung. In fact, the power and synergy of the integrated brand strategy may give the existing magazine a competitive edge on several fronts.
The Forbes Media Network includes:
- Forbes: With ten foreign-language editions in addition to the flagship biweekly
- Forbes.com: Which is separate from the magazine and has been profitable since 2005
- ForbesAutos.com: Operated as part of Forbes.com
- Forbes Video Network: Original broadcast quality news programming that is Webcast on demand
- Forbes E-mail Newsletters: 37 free e-mail newsletters plus Forbes Desktop Alerts, a unique contextual e-mail system that sends users e-mail on more than 10,000 topics and keywords.
- Forbes Newsletters: 40 paid-investment advisory newsletters including the new "Forbes International Investment Report"
- Forbes Conferences: About a dozen conferences and seminars around the world.
- Forbes Radio: A syndicated radio program in 157 markets
- Forbes on Radio: Podcasts
- Forbes on Fox: Weekly TV Show
Steve Forbes has a very clear picture of the audience for all of the products of Forbes Media. He calls it the "entrepreneurial, capitalist class." The purpose of all the products in the Forbes Media Network is to provide useful information to that group. "The people who read us, see us as more entrepreneurial, more on the edge, more conversational, more sympathetic to those who are trying to make things happen rather than preserving the status quo," Forbes says. By using many platforms to reach and serve the Forbes customer, Steve Forbes and his team are generating double-digit growth rates in both revenue and profit. Perhaps more importantly, Forbes is now a platform-agnostic media brand that is not dependent on any one media platform.
America's Test Kitchen Achieves Uber-Brand Status
Sophisticated content marketing and delivery helps ATK grow revenue by 30 percent.
Chris Kimball, CEO of Boston Common Press, is master of what we now call multiplatform publishing. Kimball has gone from publishing a single cooking magazine, Cook's Illustrated, to a growing media empire that offers recipes in books, another print magazine, membership Web sites, a TV Show on PBS, e-mail newsletters and DVDs. These recipes are published on TV, the Web, e-mail, books, magazines and DVDs. Revenue has increased a staggering 20 to 30 percent every year since 2001 and exceeded $46 million in 2006.
The central products of ATK, tested, proven recipes and useful equipment reports, are packaged and repackaged for distribution in an extensive portfolio of media platforms. New products are grown out of the old. If they succeed, they are added to the mix. Essentially, the products are all different versions of the same information.
- TV & Web site: The PBS program "America's Test Kitchen" provides some of the same information found on the ATK Internet hub and in Cook's Illustrated. This powerful TV-to-Web strategy is a primary driver for the entire media enterprise.
- Magazines: The flagship magazine is Cook's Illustrated. It includes articles and recipes and has nearly 900,000 paid subscribers, but no advertising. A new magazine, Cook's Country, focuses on "country cooking."
- Books: There are at least 45 ATK books for sale, both in bookstores and at the Web site. Several are or have been best sellers.
- Membership Web sites: Another important part of the business are paid-membership Web sites, CooksIllustrated.com and CooksCountry.com. Some information is free, but users have to subscribe to access the bulk of the content. Video clips of recipes being cooked are being tested.
- DVDs: In addition, ATK offers DVDs (a business that is being studied for serious expansion) and a free e-mail newsletter.
ATK uses research to find the best recipes and cooking equipment, test its findings with its customers and find out how successfully customers use its products. The whole approach is as scientific as publishing can be.
It also uses a sophisticated marketing and delivery system. Information is packaged and repackaged in different formats. No matter how you like your information, ATK can deliver.
Computerworld's Lead-Gen Foundation
The brand's Web sites are lead generating machines, with brand advertising a minor presence.
Computerworld's Web sites are very different in approach from typical consumer sites. They are not designed to sell products directly. They are not designed to maximize "impressions" on a general target audience. They are more of a "matchmaking" service.
The Web sites have taken this lead-generation function to a whole new level. It is now the primary function of the advertising. Several techniques are used, but the general rule is to frequently provide specific information in as many formats as possible, including articles, blogs, columns, newsletters, reports, white papers, RSS feeds, video and audio. The amount of information is staggering and most of it is free, sponsored by advertisers.
Computerworld.com is designed to get qualification information from everyone who visits, so that they can sell it to advertisers. A variety of media products are employed to gather and disseminate information:
- Weekly newspaper: The Web site is a major generator of print subscriptions and data about would-be print subscribers.
- White papers: Either vendors supply white papers;usually on highly technical subjects;or Computerworld writes them for the vendor. They are then offered free to those who qualify themselves. Vendors are willing to pay a great deal for these highly qualified prospects;from $5 to as much as $500 per qualified lead.
- Buying guides: A Web-based guide can be much more complete and current than one produced in print.
- E-mail: Computerworld.com offers more than 50 free e-mail newsletters, some on relatively arcane topics.
- Recruitment: Most recruitment activity has moved to the Web, where it is more complete and more current, to say nothing of interactive.
- Database strategy: All Computerworld sites are in the business of collecting data. Their database of e-mail names is huge and relatively well qualified. And it is all for rent.
Based on Mequoda estimates, Computerworld generated approximately $121.5 million in 2006, with print leading the way at 40 percent of total revenue and online following closely behind with 35 percent.
Don Nicholas is managing director at Mequoda Group, LLC, a 27-person research and consulting firm dedicated to helping publishers master the Internet. For more information, visit www.mequoda.com.