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How to Get Out of the Traffic Ghetto

Magazine publishers will try anything to ramp up page views.



By Dylan Stableford
04/04/2008

As most publishers know, there always seems to be a precipitous amount of bad news hanging over the magazine industry (newsstand and advertising numbers down, paper prices up). Yet, if trade magazine box scores are to be believed, online traffic for all magazines—both consumer and b-to-b—continues to grow.

But, like all industry trends, the numbers tend to be skewed by the rarified air of magazines above, say, 10 million monthly page views. Indeed, unless you have photos of Lindsay Lohan as Marilyn Monroe, chances are your traffic is sitting somewhere far below that figure—in, for lack of a better term, the “traffic ghetto.”

“‘Every magazine tells me great things about their Web strategy,’” wrote Discover Media CEO Henry Donahue, quoting a reporter with whom he was eating lunch, in a recent post on FOLIOmag.com. “‘Then I go back to check their Nielsen traffic and they’re too small to be measured.’”

Magazine sites “have grown in the past few years by executing against the basics-unique online content updated multiple times per day, blogs, photo galleries, video, podcasts, user-generated content,” Donahue, a former CFO of Primedia’s Lifestyles Magazine Group, continues. “At this point, though, those features are just the price of admission.”

The challenge for magazine publishers now, he says, is to take a step up out of the magazine site ghetto into competition with the real Internet players.

Perhaps the biggest trend in publishers’ online playbooks these days is social networking—that is, building their own Facebook or MySpace communities within their urls. Fast Company announced in February the relaunch of its site with user profiles—representing a full-blown stab at social networking. “Our aim isn’t to create an impersonal business social network,” proclaimed Mansueto Digital president Ed Sussman, “but to greatly enhance the level of business conversation in the nation.”

Also in February, Variety launched the Biz, for better or worse its attempt at a Facebook-style community. And Martha Stewart added social networking features to marthastewart.com last year.

New Tools

Wikis have clearly made an impression on magazine publishers—even if some admit they still have no idea what one is. Sports Illustrated launched an ambitious archival project, the SI Vault, opening up its 54-year archive to users for linking video, photos, statistics, and, of course, the obligatory Wiki-ing. SI executives hope all the cross-linking and search engine optimization inherent in the Vault will add 5 million monthly unique visitors to the 6 million it currently averages.

Like SI, other publishers have stripped away the paid or subscriber walls surrounding their archives, and have seen a healthy bump in traffic for their efforts. The Atlantic opened its archive to non-subscribers in January, and has seen a 15 percent increase in page views. Newsweek opened its archive last fall. The New York Times made headlines in September when it ended its premium archive subscription program, TimesSelect, and opened up most of its archive to the public. According to the Times, search traffic to archive pages has more than doubled since doing so.

Donahue points out that other sites have eschewed the traditional—and complex—navigation in favor of a stripped-down, reverse-chronological, bloggy approach. Popular Science, ReadyMade and a slew of other sites have made such a transition in recent years. Other magazines, like Complex and the Fader, have abandoned the traditional magazine Web site altogether, replacing it with a single blog.

Other magazines have gone with a simpler—decidedly less sexy—approach. Publishers in the food category, for instance, have retrenched to build out their recipe sections—what Donahue calls “a proven strategy built on the original user generated content play”—and it’s paid off. Reader’s Digest’s AllRecipes.com gets 30 times the page views of rd.com. BHG.com is also above 100 million page views, while Epicurious and MarthaStewart.com lean on recipe content to drive top tier traffic.

 

Traffic-Driving Trends

Social Networking.
Fast Company is making a notable attempt to supercharge its user profiles into a full-blown social networking site. Though not a consumer site, Variety is also trying its hand at being Facebook-ish.

Blogification.
Several sites are jettisoning old-fashioned magazine navigation in favor of a stripped-down blog approach. Check out PopSci.com and ReadyMade.

Recipes.
Not as sexy as social networking or blogs, but a proven strategy built on the original user generated content play. Reader’s Digest’s AllRecipes.com gets 30 times the page views of rd.com. BHG.com is also above 100 million page views. Epicurious and MarthaStewart.com are also in the topmost tier of magazine sites.

SOURCE: Henry Donahue, FOLIOmag.com

By Dylan Stableford
04/04/2008







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