How Indies Can Organize Their Staffs for a Digital Push
Translating a mindset into practice.
Most magazine publishers realize now that publishing isnâ€™t about all-knowing editors disseminating information to their groundling readers anymore, itâ€™s about establishing and fostering communities. Most know now that maintaining a Web site is not about uploading magazine articles each month and that anything less than daily updates is not enough. Most know they need to have videos, podcasts, photos and a truly multiplatform business where the Web site is valued at least as much as print. What still remains ambiguous, though, is how to make this happenâ€”how to best organize and manage staff to execute a successful digital push. It can be especially tricky for independent publishers who donâ€™t have extra resources and overhead to play with. Here we take a look at some who are making it work.
Separate or Together?
When launching a new digital strategy, print publishers need to decide if they want a separate e-media â€śSWAT team,â€ť as Eric Shanfelt, executive vice president of online media at Aspire Media/Interweave Press calls it, or an integrated plan that incorporates everyone. Shanfelt and his team at Aspire chose the former, at least to start.
â€śThree years ago, when Aspire Media acquired Interweave Press, there was one Webmaster,â€ť says the companyâ€™s CEO Clay Hall. â€śWhen we decided to make an investment in building out these hubs, we felt we needed to silo e-media from the rest of the organization or we would never get out of development.â€ť
â€śUp to this point we have been organized exactly as we should have been,â€ť adds Shanfelt. â€śWe needed to have focus to get this thing off the ground. We finally reached that tipping point where we realized the segregation was becoming more of a liability than an asset.â€ť Now the company is planning to reintegrate e-media functions like marketing and content development back â€śinto those groups where they really are the experts in those areas. And then my role,â€ť Shanfelt says, â€świll be overall strategic planning in moving us forward, working with the various entities of the organization to make them as successful at e-media as possible.â€ť
Ogden Publications, publisher of Mother Earth News and Utne Reader, chose an integrated approach, requiring all staffers to work â€śin most of our media,â€ť says publisher and editorial director Bryan Welch. â€śI think itâ€™s harder to implement your Web development plan in this way than with a separate Web team but I think itâ€™s more rewarding in the long run.â€ť Ogdenâ€™s total online audience is now 10 times larger than it was three years ago, Welch says, andâ€”at an estimated 6 million unique visitors per yearâ€”is twice the size of its print audience.
That strategy didnâ€™t work quite as well for Paste, though, according to president Tim Regan-Porter. â€śA couple years ago, editorial and marketing personnel handled online in addition to their print duties, and online definitely got the short end of the stick,â€ť he says. â€śThen we hired dedicated editorial for the Web site. As traffic and sales picked up, we shifted the business team to focus online. We now have a dedicated Web editor, multimedia team [audio and video engineers for podcasts, online video, online streaming radio and a (terrestrial) radio show] and new media marketing manager.â€ť Since then, traffic has increased roughly 112 percent, he says, and revenue has gone from virtually nothing to a â€śsignificant portionâ€ť of Pasteâ€™s P&L. Now, the magazine may supplement its integrated sales team with dedicated online salespeople. â€śDespite increasingly integrated proposals, weâ€™re still finding the contacts, vocabulary and skill set in general to be so different that specialists are needed,â€ť Regan-Porter says.
According to Welch, one of the hardest parts is getting his staff to redefine themselves as content aggregators and community builders. â€śHistorically, we as editors have exercised sort of God-like powers over what is in our magazine,â€ť he says. â€śNow that we can watch traffic on the Web sites and survey our audiences, we are having to step back and admit that we have a lot to learn.â€ť
Ogden editors are now responsible for conducting and analyzing about 10 online reader surveys a week and are held accountable for the traffic they bring in. â€śThe editors understand that their evaluations will include a big component related to the traffic on the Web sites they oversee,â€ť Welch says.
The other hurdle is convincing editors to do the â€śless glamorousâ€ť work of content proliferationâ€”repurposing material from the magazinesâ€™ archives into blogs, Web pages, e-books, landing pages, newsletters and so on. Ogden has a number of editors solely focused on this, which offers a wealth of â€śnewâ€ť content for the Web site with relatively minimal investment in time and manpower. â€śWeâ€™ve gotten there because editors and writers love bigger audiences,â€ť Welch says. According to him, too many publishers donâ€™t speak â€śeditorâ€ť fluently and therefore miss this opportunity. â€śThe best method is to focus the editorsâ€™ attention on building bigger audiences. Train the editorsâ€™ attention on the total number of people in our community and making that bigger, and then show them the tools that are available to help us do that job.â€ť
The strategy is paying off. â€śThree years ago we were being coaxed into the new mindset,â€ť Welch says. â€śToday the new mindset is leading the charge.â€ť