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Publisher, Know Thy Niche



By Jonathan Scott Feit
10/03/2007

Modern consumers use all available media. That reality is good news. It means publishers can let go of their obsession with paper—unless that’s where they need to be. No single publisher needs to be every medium to every person, because consumers will find a way to move you into the mix if you offer what they need.

Over the past decade, readers have discovered so many media channels that they are confused and amazed by their power to choose which to consume, when, and how. But rest assured: They do so, more voraciously than ever. Despite the heralded denouement of print, the Magazine Publishers of America’s latest Handbook counted 6,734 extant magazines this year—a 6 percent increase over 2006.

What has changed, however, is the onus upon the publisher. Consumers no longer need to approach publications inquisitively, peering at tables of contents to see which stories editors consider newsworthy. The balance has tipped: Search and on-demand content let readers follow their fancy, while we’re left shouting, “Pick me!”

Bigger Bandwidth, Bigger Pie

Yes, there is more competition for our readers’ “bandwidth.” Publishers face pressure to accommodate readers’ immediate gratification-entitlement complex. And, yes, the advertising world is becoming divvied across new media options.

As always, though, there is a silver lining: The size of the pie itself has increased. It’s slow and steady, but it is growing. To prove the fact, Mediapost’s Joe Mandese cited forecasters from agencies Universal McCann and Magna Global in a June newsletter article. Year-on-year, marketing spends (like corporate revenues and the economy as a whole) are expected to grow; 2007 is no exception. But the rate of growth, which Mandese pegs at 3.1 percent, is smaller than the prior period. Most critical is that with the media mix in flux, those fewer-than-expected dollars are ever more finely divvied up.

That’s because agencies and their clients understand that grabbing dollars and readers alike requires an intuitive knowledge of one’s niche. Be where your readers are. Statistics are lovely, but they cannot substitute for talking to consumers, watching them live and work and play. The key to success in our supersaturated industry is deceptively simple, yet so often unachieved: Make your readers need you, thus becoming indispensable.

Consider the case of Paste, a Decatur, Georgia-based independent magazine that launched in 2002 to celebrate the best of independent music. When every city with a vital music scene has its own alternative-rock paper (or magazine), how to stand out?

To entice new readers, Paste decided to seek local help. It so happened that a large neighbor in downtown Atlanta—namely, CNN—was looking to rejuvenate the entertainment section of its internationally broadcast “Headline News” channel. In exchange for a minute or so worth of branded content, Paste received worldwide advertising, something they could never have afforded on a startup’s budget.

As a member of that coveted younger generation, take my word: Only when we feel your concern for us as people, rather than ratebase targets, will we open our wallets to prove our brand loyalty.

Consumers don’t choose among media when they don’t have to. Print, digital, mobile, conferences, sky writing—each serves a different purpose. Do the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times really compete with BlackBerry?

Perhaps better than anyone, The Knot has mastered the cross-media conundrum. It started online (with funding from AOL), and grew into the most highly trafficked and highly interactive wedding Web site.

But on the whole, women (and some men, too) don’t plan weddings online. They still read bridal magazines by the stack. So early in 2001, The Knot bought Weddingpages, a network of more than a dozen local editions. Overnight, The Knot became a national magazine company. It launched a 500-plus page, self-titled semiannual directory a year later.

 

Jonathon Scott Feit is president and CEO of Feit Family Ventures Corp., a new media and technology development consultancy, home to Citizen Culture and With This Ring magazines. Co.

By Jonathan Scott Feit
10/03/2007







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