There was a time not too long ago when the magazine publishing industry seemed a bit confounded by how to best utilize the newfangled delivery option called the Internet. Now, publishers are ramping up their content and output to be in multiple places and multiple formats, from Facebook to Twitter and Web sites accessed from various devices such as the iPhone. In fact, there have been 171 new digital initiatives across all available platforms announced by the consumer magazine members of the MPA so far this year, according to the organization.
With all of these distribution channels, which seem to be expanding daily, publishers have to figure out a way to reach readers in all platforms efficiently while staying true to the brand and core competencies. It’s no small feat, yet many publishers are having great success and capturing new readers along the way.
Take for example, the September issue of Golf, which marks its 50th year in publication. The magazine has put together a multi-platform content package that includes special content throughout the magazine, a special gatefold in the back of the magazine, as well as unique content available on the site such as the PGA Tour Confidential and free video lessons from the magazine’s top 100 teachers that can be viewed from Facebook, the Web site or an iPhone.
The group has launched two mobile efforts that it feels are both relevant to its audience and relevant to its advertisers. It launched the mobile version of Golf.com, which can be accessed from any device, though it’s optimized for iPhones, says Ken Fuchs, VP of Sports Illustrated Digital and the Golf Group, and general manager of Golf.com. He calls it a slimmed-down version of the Web site with live reader boards, instructional videos and course guides with a 16,000-course database. Secondly, from a game-management standpoint, it offers a deep layer of scoring stats, the opportunity to upload photos, get golf news, communicate with friends, set up game times and compare stats, which cuts across mobile, Facebook and Golf.com, he says.
The Golf group, through SI GOLFNation, also provides users with a back-end searchable database for golfers to track their game and their friends in the game. This can be done whether the reader is on the golf course with a phone, on the computer using Facebook or online, Fuchs says. The players can compare data and share stats from any of these platforms. “It’s allowed us to take our core competency—producing content—and share it across different media,” Fuchs says. “We’ve embedded a video player within the product that ties back to a specific issue about fixing the player’s game which makes their golf game better and lets them take control of the content and match it up to their individual game.”
The function of the app that allows users to search golf equipment has driven traffic up more than 60 percent this year alone, based on the tools SI GOLFNation provides, coupled with strong editorial, Fuchs says.
No Real Tech, Cost Barrier
Golf tries to use all of the distribution technology that have open APIs (applications program interface, essentially, the building blocks of programs) to take its core content and its proprietary system to work with partners. “SI GOLFNation is a wonderful product application, but it’s really built out of our core competency. Recognizing that and building new products across that is what’s valuable,” Fuchs says. “The trend is everything is getting cheaper to do from a publishing standpoint. With open APIs and not much cost, it’s easier to take this and reach customers in new ways.”
The barrier to entry is around distribution, he adds, noting there’s not really a cost barrier to entry or a technology barrier.
“It’s less about new technologies and more about learning the appropriate ways of using already existing platforms to distribute content,” says Ashley Parrish, senior Web editor at Marie Claire.
The publication uses several different outlets to expand the reach of its content. For example, with its Web site, it posts content in a variety of forms in order to reach a variety of users, from posting content in article format, to blogging about an article or linking to it, or even creating video content around the theme of the article, Parrish says.
Marie Claire also relies on its syndication partnerships to distribute content out to larger pools of people and individuals who might not normally search for Marie Claire content.
Finally, the magazine uses social networking tools, from Facebook to Twitter. “We make it very clear that there is a personality behind our brand accounts,” Parrish says. “It is about connecting with the community—asking them questions, responding to their queries and creating a conversation about the user, the brand and the content.”
Marie Claire accomplishes all of that by looking at pieces of content from a 360-degree view and identifying the key components of content that will work for some audiences and other parts that will work for others, Parrish says. With a magazine story that may have two to three sidebars, it will link back and forth between them and publish them in a number of ways, she adds.
Magazines aren’t just using these platforms and devices to get the typical payoff but new goals such as consumer data and opening the lines of communication between readers and the publisher to gather new story ideas. Though publishers can capture valuable consumer information with the different platforms, it is also possible to delve much deeper into the interests of the consumer to create a broader picture of them to understand their content consumption and also to provide useful information to sponsors and advertisers.
Users of SI GOLFNation often provide information beyond a general user profile to include what kind of golf clubs they play with, which tour is their favorite and which shoes they wear when they play golf. “We learn more about them to create more compelling information and it provides a lot of interesting information for clients and partners in the ad space,” Fuchs says. “They gain insight they otherwise wouldn’t get and that reinforces what we do on the Web and with mobile.”
Meanwhile, Seventeen implements various applications to drive users back to its Web site by providing key information for giveaways, such as a necessary code that can only be obtained on Twitter, for instance. “Many will retweet friends to alert them that we’re is giving away something awesome,” says editor-in-chief Ann Shoket.
Seventeen currently has more than 30,000 followers on Twitter, which is steadily growing. “We want to be where people are. It’s never about the technology, we’re in the people business.”
The magazine also has several multi-platform programs in the works that are having a far reach among its young and tech-savvy readers.
In its August issue, it launched a program called, the “Beauty Smarties.” Ten real-girl beauty experts created beauty looks for the magazine.
Seventeen found the contributors because they were already “stars” on YouTube and brought to the table thousands of followers and millions of video plays, Shoket says. The girls are creating looks on Seventeen.com, on the Get Advice portion of the site, and they’re also using Facebook, MySpace and YouTube videos to drive users back to the site.
Boosting Reader Satisfaction
The payoff of multi-platform content can be great for publishers if done well. “Satisfaction hasn’t been this high with the magazine in a long time,” says Golf’s Fuchs. “The Web site is growing, and with specific channels with the Majors, the site has been much more active. We’ve seen phenomenal growth with mobile and social media platforms.”
The next big thing? To continue to think about content production as a platform, not just putting it in one place, but distributing it broadly and widely, Fuchs says. “It’s about thinking about your content as a platform itself.”