Last fall, I commended CondĂ© Nast on its partnership with Amazon, but also suggested that we keep an eye on the retailer and not give them too much power. Now, Hachette is doing just that, as it and Amazon engage in public fisticuffs over royalty payments.You're familiar with it now, but Iâ€™ll recap: Amazon and Hachette are in a fight over royalties. Hachette refused to cave to Amazon's allegedly crappy deal (the talks are happening behind closed doors). As a result, Amazon has discouraged customers from buying Hachette titles, including saddling them with up to month-long delivery times, offering alternative lower-priced titles, and, bizarrely, encouraging people to purchase Hachette titles from its competitors. As Jack Shafer at Reuters wrote, â€śBy essentially banishing many Hachette titles from its stock, Amazon, which ordinarily puts its customers first, has put them last.â€ť Hard to argue that it's being customer-centric. Way to let your freak flag fly, Bezos.All I can say is: Go for it, Hachette. I'm into it. It's one thing to partner with a giant company that is well-liked by customers and quite another to be asked to submit to a monolith while they squeeze out the competition. In fact, it has the look and feel of an anti-trust lawsuit waiting to happen.On some level, customers are complicit. The notoriously pro-consumer company is acting to the contrary. And customers need to demand a better business for all involved, if for nothing other than to enhance their experience. Pressure from one of the big five book publishers will help. Weâ€™re not talking about customers losing access to Susie Down the Blockâ€™s chapbook or someoneâ€™s published grad school thesis; Amazon customers are going to lose access to writers like James Patterson, Malcolm Gladwell and Americaâ€™s golden child: GMAâ€™s Robin Roberts.Tim Worstall, a blogger for Forbes, suggests that we just let them fight it out themselves. I understand why other publishers are loathe to get involved, and to instead wait it out on the sidelines, hoping for Hachette's triumph, particularly since Amazon has proven to be a no-holds-barred negotiator. As Jonathan Mahler wrote in his piece for the Times: â€ś[Other publishers] have their own relationships with Amazon to protect, and they do not want anything they say to be construed as antagonistic, all the more so now that Amazon has demonstrated its willingness to punish booksellers when negotiations become contentious.â€ť Publishers are wary, and rightfully so, but where is the FTC on this? Some judge has got to be dying to write the definitive opinion on Amazon v. Hachette.As companies consider the odds, I'm hoping more get involved, not less. Do I want my company to throw down? I'm not sure. As a struggling independent publisher that relies on Amazon for a source of revenue, I'm not certain I can make it up on our own, particularly because Amazon owns the customer, not me. Amazon customers appear beholden to Amazon, but this past month has proven that even Amazon has a breaking point.Then again, isn't a bar fight much more fun when every drunk joins the fray? Sure, the whole place is gonna get thrashed, but it's probably time to gut the thing anyway.
I've touched on this before, but I'll say it again: American attention spans, as tiny as they were before, are getting tinier. We are device-agnostic. We text, Twitter and Flipboard our lives away. We don't mind switching brands to get at the meat of a matter. We're like a nation of channel surfers with eight different TV sets and remotes in every corner of our lives: on our desks, nightstands, kitchen counters. Even as I wrote this, I checked my email four times, my texts three; I searched three different websites for mains, brunches, breakfasts and sides; I opened five different articles referencing five different industry studies; and I'm watching (don't judge) â€śCastleâ€ť on mute.So it was no surprise to learn that according to a new study by the Media Insight Project, when it comes to news, our attention spans jump from story to story. The project was an examination of people's behavior as it relates to news consumption, and it specifically focused on whether people distinguish between the news organization (â€śwho gathered the newsâ€ť) from the discovery (i.e., social media or search engine) and via what device (smartphones, print, television). Not surprisingly, people cared less about device and more about the source of news and how they get it. Technology is a tool of convenience, a vehicle for the stories that people want to read. Of smartphone owners, 78 percent used their phoneâ€”a tool of convenienceâ€”to get news.
Almost half of US adults have zero preference in specific device or technology for following the news. That same number of adults, approximately forty-five percent, have signed up for news alerts, including text, email or app notifications.Which perfectly exemplifies the way we should approach our business. The point is to be a media companyâ€”not a print media company, not a website, not an app library, but an actual media company encompassing change. I can't say it any more clearly than Peter Houston, of The Drum: "People born to the Internet age don't describe things as digitalâ€”cameras are just cameras, not digital cameras.â€ť
Houston is spot-on. We're in a world looking for more distraction, not less. At the Digital Innovators' Summit in Berlin, Buzzfeed VP Scott Lamb chalked up his company's success to monetizing people who are bored: at work, at home, in restaurants.Gone are the yesteryears when we relied on one man (Murrow, Cronkite, Brokaw, and in my case, Jennings) to deliver our news. And fading quickly to yesteryear is our reliance on even one news networkâ€”or brand. According to the Media Insight Project, the news dictates how we learn about it. For breaking news, television still dominates, with half of survey participants saying that they first learned of a breaking story on TV. But after hearing of the story, people broke with the medium, and fifty-nine percent turned to the Internet to follow up. Of those people, 37 percent went to TV websites, while only 9 percent went to sites of print outlets and 10 percent went to online-only sites.So how does a news brand remain relevant and, well, branded?Start by considering your own habits. Do you wait to hear about breaking news from the TV or radio? Of course not. Most people get (and prefer to get) news throughout the day, which means you always have to be on with your brand. Test the timing of your emails, test subject lines, test your social media ins. Set your tweets to at all hours of the day and night. Gauge what works and what doesnâ€™t. Encourage participation throughout the entire day about a story. Keep pushing for actual engagement with your readers. Give them surveys, quizzes, and polls. Donâ€™t ask open-ended questions; offer them A or B and then follow up on their choice. People like to think they have a lot of freedom in what they're deciding, but offering a banana or an orange is not really like giving them a choice of fruit. Always remember to control your message; tailor the offer based on what's going on in the news cycle and on what your internal data show, but be in control of your own message.You know what the most interesting point in the study was for me? Generational gaps are fading away. People young and old are exhibiting similar behaviors in that they go to multiple sources for news.
Social media use continues to be a major outlet for American news consumption, and maybe your 15-year-old (or press-hungry nerds) told you that Facebook is dead, but it's still growing among older people. This means that when it comes to news sources, it doesn't matter that your readers skew old or young. At publications where audiences skew older, it's easy to â€śblameâ€ť revenue loss on older people not wanting to engage with social media outlets. Guess what? This study debunks that. What matters is that you hit your readersâ€”old, young, and in-betweenâ€”across a spectrum of outlets, discovery and devices, because they're reading on everything.
I love to celebrateâ€”I am always looking for a good party, and I even moonlight as a caterer for fun. My love affair with the celebratory extends to publishing where I've been working to gear up for The Nationâ€™s 150th anniversaryâ€”that's 150 years as a continuously published weekly. We've been around since the year that Abraham Lincoln was shot. Pretty wild.What is unique about the majority of publicationsâ€™ anniversaries is that they celebrate a publication mostly rooted in printâ€”most places didn't have a major online presence until 10-15 years ago. Now that tech has grown so quickly in such a compressed time, it can be quite challenging to prove that old printed content can be still relevant in a digital environment. Successful anniversaries engage with their readers across multiple platforms, including social. They surface archival content with new commentary; they do not just regurgitate content. They remember why they were excited to launch the publication and that they've maintained that excitement through forty, 100, and yes, even 150 yearsâ€”and they remind us. They create editorial products to appeal to all sorts of readers: from the hardcore fan to the occasional retweeter. But most importantly, they package their content in such a way that it deepens the engagement between people interacting with their brands across the board.After perusing a slew of anniversaries, I discovered some terrific and some terrible, even for brands I love. Here is my list of anniversary Doâ€™s and Donâ€™ts:Do know your intentions. Are you using the anniversary as a relaunch of the brand? Are you reinforcing an older message? Are you trying to increase subscription sales? Boost overall revenue through events? Or merely paying tribute to a 100-year-old brand? Treat the anniversary like any business planâ€”do the research and let the objective inform the venture so you don't get stuck worrying about the allocation of resources and prioritization. You should know before you begin.Do know your audience. Are you targeting subscribers only, high-ticket donors, tradespeople, Internet browsers, industry insiders, Christian fundamentalists, Millennials, boozers, shakers, earthquakers? Know this before you start planning. The audience for different aspects of the anniversary may vary, and that's okay: as long as the cord tying the audiences together remains tight. In January, The Sun launched its 40th anniversary issue quietly and offered exactly what it knew would appeal to Sun readers: a free download of the first issue, printed by Sy Safransky in the '70s.Don't assume that subscribers are the end-all, be-all. They're awesome, but they won't be around forever. Consider using your anniversary as a way to entice new readers. Even if they don't subscribe, you're engaging them with your content and cultivating a seedbed of future ambassadors of your brand.Do surface archived content in a meaningful way. Your readers don't want to slog through lists; they expect you to do the heavy lifting for them, and you should want to do this because it allows you to control your message. Curate content, and make it relevant. Use images. Well-chosen photo galleries, especially in a Tumblr-like environment, are shareable magic. Vanity Fair and W both did this exceptionally well. Offer easy share links, and incentivize sharing. Anchor content to a current event or touchstone, and you'll be surprised at how meaningful that is for people, particularly young people on Facebook and Twitter. They won't retweet a story about reconstruction in the South, but connect it to Yeezus, and you get more traction (plus a culturally relevant refresh, which you can repackage in any number of ways).Don't overcrowd your anniversary with junk. Just because it exists, doesn't mean it needs to be highlighted. This is the perfect time to let your editors do what they do best: edit. Do produce an anniversary issue, but don't make it boring. Make it available across multiple platforms, punctuated with images and videos. Sell it at a premium, and continue to offer it as a back issue. Vanity Fair put Kate Upton on its 100th anniversary cover with accompanying behind-the-scenes video footage. And another Upton-friendly pub, Sports Illustrated, celebrated its 50th anniversary of the swimsuit edition with a covers gallery and interviews with former cover models. And use the content to move throughout the digital space, donâ€™t keep it insular. The Atlantic had great content for its 150th but I couldnâ€™t find anything beyond the issue. Blow it out! Do as much as possible without losing focus of audience and objective.Do create products to sell. Some brands are better suited for this than others, but be creative! For its 125th anniversary, National Geographic sold everything from premium archive access to collectors' editions to maps to week-long excursions.Do leverage partnerships. These could be writers, experts, celebrities, schools, or other likeminded organizations. Nat Geo, a powerhouse of photography, leveraged its relationship with the Annenberg Center for nearly 6 months. List the people who you think or know would be interested in working with you, and use the list. A lot of people will get on board with a brand ONLY during an anniversary or celebration, so know exactly what it is you are asking of them. Ask people to do specific tasksâ€”if you want John Stamos to tweet for you, write the tweets.Do keep it fresh. Do use timelines, but consider different â€śways inâ€ť to the content. Nat Geo went with famous firsts, but WWD cataloged â€śmomentsâ€ť to celebrate its 100th. The Advocate enmeshed its own history with that of the greater LGBT community, in many ways because the two went hand-in-hand. New York went with important events. I'd say the best timeline belonged to Wired, which alphabetically cataloged technological and cultural 'hits' of the past two decades (ie: Reddit, Sheryl Sandberg, Science).Do encourage reader participation. In the age of selfies and overshares, people want ways to self-promoteâ€”give them the platform, even if itâ€™s silly or quick. Esquire is always on the cutting-edge of reader interaction, but it hit the nail on the head with its 80th â€śLife of Manâ€ť anniversary issue. Not only did it issue its trademark â€śtrailerâ€ť for the issue, but it gave readers an easy way to become a part of the â€śLife of Manâ€ť history by uploading a photo and bio to its digital collageâ€”and it donated $1 for every photo uploaded to the United Way.Do make it last beyond the anniversary year. Think about how the content is attracting new people and what you want to say to those people. Are you asking them for money? To become an advocate for your organization? Maintain the anniversary content on the site so that it is searchable. Keep a clear head about future tie-ins. You can celebrate as many anniversaries as desired, but only if you keep it fresh. Don't dilute the message.
I work for a small title, and we use one of the biggest fulfillment service bureaus (FSB) in the US. We could never fulfill in-house. Our business would come to a grinding halt. The sheer quantity of services that the FSB provides is staggering: all that boring nonsense you can't think about because you're too busy actually trying to acquire subscribers. They manage your renewal and billing schedules, your subscriber database, your banking deposits, your efforts, your customer service, and in some cases, hosting your webpages and transactional emails.Fulfillment has solidly managed to do what it does well but it has been slow to adapt to digital, relational, and customer needs. Back in the good old days when a publisher had subscribers' names and addresses, and all they needed was to mail renewals and bills and keep track of expiration dates, one database was sufficient.
But like all things, publishing grew. There were lists to be rented, emails to append, credit card numbers to store. Advertisers wanted to sell ads by state, by region, by household income, by gender and circulators needed to provide. We turned to our fulfillment houses to collect and store that data.The problem is this: many FSBs spent so many years designing a system made for the primary focus (names, addresses, payments) that they can't go back and amend the system. The systems they built are big and outmatched by newer, sleeker technology. There exist marketing databases and customer service databases and list rental databases, all which talk to each other through APIs and add-ons, and all which cost stupid amounts of moneyâ€”stupid amounts of money for information that we pay the FSB to house the first place.And FSBs know that we have no option but to pay stupid amounts of money for stuff like that, so they remain reticent about sharing what other publishers are doing. I'm not talking about giving away company secrets; I mean sharing practical experiences with connecting to an FSB's system. How are other publishers handling bogus agents? Who is so-and-so talking to at Amazon to get their needs met? How seamless was that publisher's integration with Apple's software? Which API has worked the best with the FSBâ€™s systems? Why canâ€™t an FSB authenticate a subscriber and lift the paywall based on number of articles read? Which company did another client use to append political affiliations onto their files?
Where fulfillment houses should be the conduits for these conversations, instead they create a runaround effect: they need to find out how another publisher is doing something, then they approach that publisher and ask to share what they've found, then report back to me. This process could take two or three weeks, and the results are usually a basic statement that Publisher X isn't comfortable with sharing information, which makes me reluctant to share when I'm approached. It's a frustrating cycle, and it's boring.
Publishing is constantly changing, and we shouldn't be at each other's throats; we should be helping each other understand the best ways to navigate. A rising tide lifts all boats and all that.There are some houses that 'get' it: that is, theyâ€™re newer, with better tech, and have built relational databases that are ready to rock. Remember ARGI? They got it. But what they understood in tech, they missed in basic fulfillment: most of their fulfillment services were farmed out to other vendors. As a result, they cost a fortune.
ARGI was ultimately merged with iPacesetters, but other FSBs can prevail: by modeling themselves on ARGI in reverse. Big FSBs have fulfillment down; what they need is better tech. Unfortunately, that's the catch-22: bigger publishers are less likely to sign with a smaller fulfillment house because they don't have other bigger clients, and smaller fulfillment houses have a difficult time attracting big clients because they don't have any. So, the onus really lies with the publishers to trust a smaller FSB. The publisher has to weigh the merit of industry experience against the perceived demerits of a smaller operation: which is worth more?Increasingly, as mail volumes continue to ebb and flow, and processes become more mechanized, publishers need relational databases. The whole reason we've become obsessed with Big Data is not because it's a new thing to want; it's because itâ€™s been such a pain to get. Everyoneâ€™s information is available onlineâ€”Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Twitter. The digital realm has become niche and personalized. Simply using a recipientâ€™s name in a subject line increases open rates. Itâ€™s no surprise that publishers wantâ€”and expectâ€”to be in on the action. But Big Data isn't worth anything if we can't use it in concert with our own subscriber database.So publishers have struggled to become more active, and FSBs have become reactive. It's a classic defense move. Iâ€™ve worked with a number of people at fulfillment houses who have told me: "I don't know how to do that." "No one has ever asked for that before." "I've never encountered that problem." That's it, end of discussion. They ask their buddy in the next cube if anyone has ever synced a subscriber and nonprofit database, for instance, and the answer is a tentative "maybe we could build an API, but it's gonna cost you." Again with the API! Fulfillment houses are great because they've been able to negotiate cheaper mail rates for all clients with the USPS. Many are even banding together to fight postal hikes. FSBs have buying power in their vast mail volumes, and it's a model that they could apply to so many aspects of their business.
I work in a 3-person circulation department. I barely have the time or influence to gain the attention of an B&N rep in a way to discuss meaningful changes to my contract. That's where my FSB should step in. It's already working on behalf of other major clients with Amazon, Apple and Google. They should be working as advocates for all of their clients, exercise the power of numbers, and use their volume as leverage. Amazon, Apple and Google can't sell a magazine that's gone out of business; it's in their interest to have products to push. Fulfillment bureaus should advocate for those products.Maybe this sounded like a rant, and maybe a little bit of it was. But the truth is, I like fulfillment houses. They've been around for a long time because they're good at what they do, and they have a lot of smart people working for them. They make my life infinitely easier. But I also know they can be better. I know they're our best allies in the fight with the USPS. I know that they're the springboard for innovation as it relates to all publishers, and that if they'd just loosen up a bit, we'd all benefit from a nice, casual conversation about how to improve DM response or finally nail those fraudulent agents. I know that there's life beyond the Scotch-taping of systems, and that in the future we won't need a â€śdata overlayâ€ť because the data will all exist in one place.
But the big FSBs need to change fast if they want to stay viable, because the first time a big publisher moves from a large FSB to a small one, an exodus will follow. If the big guys don't move quickly, those little guys are going to outpace them triple time. Remember Prodigy? Or Netscape? No one wants to be remembered as the loser company that mailed CDs of free hours of service.
I was at a rest stop off the Atlantic City Expressway on Saturday when I noticed something peculiar: On sale at a Starbucks of all places, right next to baskets of limited edition coffee beans, was a commemorative reprint of the Dallas Morning Star from the day President Kennedy was shot.I am intimately familiar with the headline. My father saved the copy of the New York Times from 1963. It is now framed and hanging in the basement of our house. This is something I have inherited. I keep print clips. I have an unsettling fear that I will forget a moment if I bear no tangible evidence of it. Moments were documented as chosen flashpoints in time, important events that we could remember even when we forgot. They help to form both our national and individual identities. Now, with the advent of social media and reality television, we document everything and anything, from bombings to breakfasts. We have created hyper-detailed accounts of our mundane lives, marking them â€śmomentous.â€ť But what happens when we saturate our world with details of our everyday lives? Do newsworthy moments even count anymore to the formation of identity, or do they become cultural jetsom, byproducts on our way to becoming the next Snooki or Honey Boo Boo? What makes a President's assassination any more important than, say, buying a prom dress or taking your first cab ride?How do we determine what is meaningful?Obviously, magazines struggle with this. At The Nation, we are in a constant uphill battle against a glut of information and practices. Our competitors in the digital space aren't even our traditional competitors anymoreâ€”we're competing with Mother Jones and The Atlantic, sure, but we're also competing with non-print media (MSNBC, Alternet), YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, BuzzFeed, Netflix, and Google News. And we're no longer competing in a niche universeâ€”because of the aggregated nature of online content, our stuff is out there. EVERYONE'S stuff is out there. But what can we put out there that people can only get from us, by paying us? We're not competing for eyeballs; we're competing for eyeballs that will pay for the privilege of seeing.What's interesting is that though people have amped up their newsfeeds, they haven't stopped looking for intelligent information. TV and books have become smarter, and people have proven that they will commit to long series or writing if it holds their interest. eReaders have created a space for longer books, because people don't mind reading long pieces that they're not lugging around. The length itself doesn't bother people, as long as they can commit to it on their own time.The trick is to create meaningful experiences for people living in a world glutted with information, through carefully selected (buzzword alert: â€ścuratedâ€ť) content and longer, more introspective pieces. Long form journalism in digital outlets? Absolutely. We've seen a return to long form narratives, in literature and journalism, which may seem anachronistic in a world dominated by short attention spans. Even BuzzFeed and Business Insider recently started their own investigative journalism units, focusing on long form. As Tom Junod wrote for Esquire, â€ś...taken as a trend, the persistence of long form at a time when it's been declared dead is a hopeful thing, not a trend at all but evidence that humans, as a race, are at last learning how to take our own complexity into account as we stumble into infinity, digital and otherwise.â€ťIn a world humming with â€śmeaningful moments,â€ť how do we maintain that meaning? How many shootings before we rally for gun control or just forget it's a problem altogether? How many natural disasters need to decimate a country before we start thinking critically about global warming or we decide it's â€śjust one of those thingsâ€ť? It's no longer media 's job to just deliver meaningful moments; instead, we need to deliver meaningful commentary and analysis on those moments.In 1963, my parents were both ten years old, and I was not even an imagining. Yet I understand the importance of marking that storied day that â€śAmerica lost its innocence,â€ť particularly for the media. JFK's assassination was a betrayal of national consciousness, a curtain slashed through to reveal a dark underbelly of reality. A moment, a heartbeat, in a gunshotâ€”we were a nation young, smart, and cavalier, ready to take on the worldâ€”and then, we were not. People wept openly in the streets. Walter Cronkite famously teared up.
What I don't understand is my reaction to the commemorative paper. I wish I'd bought a copy, only to prove it was real, but it felt wrong. It didn't feel right to share the assassination of a president from 50 years ago with no context, no handholding, no exposition. Seeing it now, in print, pretending to be just another part of my everyday news cycle, made me feel more of an outsider, a person sharing a memory that isn't her own, like I was some interloper, a person who didn't have a right to someone else's memory.Yet, how do we learn, if not from sharing memories and stories? Since the dawn of civilization, history has been preserved through story-telling. But what will it mean when we no longer have physical artifacts from a story, when there is no newspaper clipping, when a URL is tweeted in one second and lost a second later? How will we record time and memory? How will we build lasting identities? We will need directionâ€”content and analysis that helps us discuss meaning, since we're too saturated to create our own.President Kennedy's assassination is a story worth re-telling, and the media has been all over the fiftieth anniversary. Has it only been fifty years? To me, it feels like a century ago. To my folks, it could have happened yesterday.
Last month, Monica Ray, VP of consumer marketing for CondĂ© Nast, spoke in Des Moines at the annual summit that CDS, one of the major magazine fulfillment companies, hosts for its clients. Monica Ray on Amazon? Des Moines in Autumn? Crab Rangoon pizza at Fong's? Of course I was there.Ray was likeable and smartâ€”you could practically hear her brain whirringâ€”and it was obvious that she is deeply creative. She also seemed very conscious about what it means to work for one of the biggest magazine companies in the U.S. and still maintain a sense of serendipity.If you've been living under a rock, Ray was the force behind CondĂ© Nast's groundbreaking deal with Amazon. No one should be surprised. In 2011, she told Wired magazine, â€śWe believe strongly in Amazonâ€™s buy-once, read everywhere model, too,â€ť when CondĂ© Nast at the time partnered with Amazon's newsstand on the Kindle Touch. The latest Amazon deal was right around the corner (or maybe not right around the corner, but it was within view). Ray and Amazon are right. Consumers want a simple model, they want freedom to read anytime, anywhere, in part because of the culture that Amazon (and its spin-off, AmazonPrime) has created. It's the reason that Amazon has thrived, and it was smart for CondĂ© Nast to hop on board.But at what cost to smaller publishers?As touchy-feely as Amazon's Jeff Bezos pretends to be, he's a down-and-dirty businessman. He's notorious for being cutthroat, and good for himâ€”clearly it's working. But it means that the stringent Amazon policies, the bullying contract, that deep cut of publishers' profits, make it difficult for small publishers to exist, let alone thrive, in Amazon's marketplace. It is my opinion that Amazon's typical â€śfeeâ€ť of 30 percent created a norm where there's no more room for publishers to budge in other marketsâ€”indeed, 70 percent net has become an accepted standard. This may not be bad for larger companies which may pay out even more for new business acquisition, but it does pack a punch to us smaller ones, especially when we don't get to own the customer relationship. Amazon's longstanding argument is that a magazine subscriber who comes in via Amazon is an Amazon customer, not the magazine's customer, and as such, Amazon retains the right to the relationship.But that doesn't mean we won't exist in Amazon, and it doesn't mean we won't try to thrive. Iâ€™m not interested in a world where Amazon is all there is. But if Amazon is giving consumers something that no one else can, or no one else can at this scale, then we should comply on some level. Let's face it: Bezos has created a culture around online buying that is unparalleled to any other, to a devastating effect on the little guys: where there were 4,000 independent bookstores twenty years ago, there are now only 1,900.No wonder Monica Ray wanted in.In that conference room in Des Moines, Ray described her vision of a checkless society (meaning physical checks). She wanted one-click marketing; Amazon was a natural partner. It was a smart move, and one I'd absolutely do if I had the money, the clout, or the array of CondĂ© Nast titles to even get a meeting with Amazon. I'm sorry, does that sound a little jealous? It was meant to.Ray cut the ultimate deal, at least in principle (I am not privy to her numbers). Each of her titles' sites offer subscription pages where a consumer can use Amazon to purchase either a print or print + digital bundled edition (according to Ray, CondĂ© Nast still offers the choice to subscribe via an old-school offer page, but when I tried subscribing to Vanity Fair, I could only do so via Amazon. If there was another option, they did a great job of hiding it). This is not a Kindle sub; this is that same sub you've been buying for years online at a magazine's website. It's platform-agnostic. And because most people have Amazon accounts, it's easier than managing a separate database of user names and passwords on different title's content management systems.In short, it's pretty genius.But Ray developed her vision further, describing a world where you build a community within your brand, offer an action that's pleasing to interact with, gain an experience or insight with the brand as provided by the publisher, and stick with the brand in the long-term. It's what we know as consumer marketers; it's the whole basis of traditional circulation retention models. I mean, we do it already. But what's different is that now the level of intimacy with the brand is expected by a consumer in a way that requires that level of engagement by the publisher. It's not time for us, small or large, to pull back from ways to reach our audiences; it's time for us to push further.Monica Ray is doing it. CondĂ©'s doing it. Amazon has been doing it consistently for years, and if you think AmazonFresh is not going to be a major contender in the food delivery space, think again.Many months ago, I was at a dinner with a very famous and very old writer. He was telling me about his vision of bodegas in Manhattan: he wanted to buy them and house curated bookshops so that people could immerse themselves in the beauty of reading books and magazines again.It was sweet but naĂŻve. What he failed to grasp was that we still live in a world where people immerse themselves in the written word, it just may not have pages or covers, but it's there. And if it's there, and people want it, then publishers need to be there too. We just need to be smart about it and not give Amazon more power than we'd be willing to give any other agent.
Weâ€™re doing something revolutionary at The Nation: weâ€™re finally testing different paywall strategies. Sharing this is like dumping my purse on the table of a restaurantâ€”itâ€™s a mixed bag of embarrassment and pride. Why havenâ€™t we done this sooner?Itâ€™s a little tricky, of course, being a subscription-based publication with a 150-year history of an audience allied to very strong editorial content. We have become increasingly forward-thinking with our approach to advertising, but at the core of it, our subscribers fund the magazine. At The Nation, Editorial Rules. Weâ€™ve been slower to test for all the reasons you think: less money; limited staff; an audience of truth-seekers who find paywalls a moral hindrance if nothing else; a founding prospectus that emphasizes our role to engage open, critical discussion of political and social issues; a staunch belief in the freedom of the press.Though it may seem anti-climactic to you, given the rigorous discussion and testing around other publicationsâ€™ paywalls, this is giant for us. Weâ€™ve finally moved from discussion to doing, and I, for one, could not be happier. Movement and experimentation, not standing still and hiding, is how smart business decisions are made.Previously, half of our content was behind a paywall that pushed people to subscribe. Now, the majority of our new content will be paywalled for at least a day or two, as itâ€™s released. Editors will gradually rotate all pieces in front of the paywall during the week, so that every single piece will get its chance to circulate for free. This allows editors to better control the timing and PR strategy surrounding the release of content, but especially helps the efforts of the marketing team. Because our issues go live each week, the impact of our paywall is to encourage people to pay for instant access to our content.One of the most unanticipated pushbacks has been not from readers, but from writers who worry about cutting off eyeballs to their page. Our editorial staff has done a good job of communicating the necessity of testing, and I hope that my points below help other publications open a constructive dialogue about paywall strategy with their writers.1. Our financial vitality is necessary in order to further our editorial mission. Being a subscription-based publication, we rely on money from our readers in ways that other places do not. Iâ€™m not giving away free copies of The Nation at the dentistâ€™s office; our basic annual rate for a printed magazine is $79 (a pittance compared to $138 for The Economist). We are not beholden to advertisers or a ratebase, leaving us to refreshingly cover what we want how we want. News media across the board have been fighting an uphill battle against free news on the web for years; The Nation is not immune. But I sense a shifting of the tides, and the industry has been teaching readers, little by little, that good, factual journalism costs something. Sending a reporter to Egypt or Russia or a photo-essayist to Detroit costs more than travel feesâ€”these reporters are in Syria or Russia or Detroit, and readers should expect to have to pay people for the work that surrounds these issues. Believe it or not, solid, rigorous reporting isnâ€™t done from a desktop or pieced together from a bunch of Wikipedia facts. Real journalism, like a crane operator or a chef, requires nuanced skill, time, and expertise. Writers know this. But itâ€™s easy for them to lose sight of this in a vacuumâ€”especially in an era weâ€™ve created where we make clicks and pageviews count more than actual content, which practically demands a reversal. What needs to be reiterated is how, in order to avoid becoming a slogfest of half-truths and online â€śfacts,â€ť we need money to fund their work. If weâ€™re not relying on advertising, then we need to rely on circulation. And in this day and age, a paywall is just another type of circulation.2. Our readers, not our advertisers, are our future. I liken our readers to Packers fans. Green Bay is the only community-owned sports franchise in the country. Cheeseheads are rabid about their Packers because they have a psychological stake in the team (no dividends are paid out; extra monies go to a variety of non-profits throughout Wisconsin). The structure is different, but the sentiment is similar: The Nationâ€™s writers give readers a point of view they donâ€™t often read. We need them both on board to continue our work. As long as we push affordable business initiatives to a new audience, we can build said audience with a greater psychological investment in our content provided by the writers. The readers and writers work in tandem, walking along a tightrope of limited funds, and without those funds, both will falter.3. Leverage the exclusionary aspect to inspire a bigger audience. Itâ€™s not rocket science: the glut of crap on the internet is astounding, and we all read it, but we donâ€™t remember it (when was the last time you quoted a Yahoo News statistic at a meeting?). Everything has been bit.lyâ€™ed to the point where news has become trivia questions, not actual substance. But the writers can fight that, with their own followings and via their own audiences, by talking about their â€śexclusiveâ€ť content on The Nation. Itâ€™s a way to leverage money for the paywall, but also for readers of their content. They want more eyeballs, not less; their resistance is to the general idea that a paywall will reduce eyeballs. This may be accurate on the outset. But the ownership is on everyone at the magazineâ€”from the PR team to the writersâ€™ own connectionsâ€”to emphasize the importance of their pieces, offer teasers, and establish a firm stance that there is a reason we are asking you to cough up some money (in our case, $9.50) to read content. Weâ€™re like an exclusive club that costs next to nothing to join.4. Finally, this too shall pass. This is only temporary. This is only a test. Remember: it will either work or it wonâ€™t. If it works, then youâ€™ve got the eyeballs, and weâ€™ve got money to pay you. If it doesnâ€™t, we experiment with something new and try a different angle. I promise you, itâ€™s not in my interest to pour money into a continually failing strategy. Trust that your business staff is doing the best they can in your interest and in the publicationâ€™s, and that we wonâ€™t do something that will hurt the future of magazine.
I am [spoiler alert!] a woman. But womenâ€™s magazines have nothing for me. Theyâ€™re great when Iâ€™m in the salon, but when it comes to reading magazines with bones, with guts, with something to say, the men take it every time. Iâ€™m not talking about lad mags, those British imports from 15 years ago. Iâ€™m talking about â€śgentlemenâ€™s magazinesâ€ť: namely Esquire and GQ, but I also love Details, the dandier kid brother of the other two.I have subscribed to these Big Three for years. I first started reading my fatherâ€™s Esquire when I was a teenager. Its commentary on music, film and literature was second to none, and its tone was hilarious. Plus it was so cleverly wrapped: a high-end glossy chock full of honest, no-nonsense stuff that I felt smarter for knowing. Sure, it was peppered with self-indulgent photos of female celebrities barely concealing their ladyparts. But to me, it was an obvious statement on American consumerism: that to get people to read smart content, youâ€™re going to have to sell it with sex.
My girlfriends were engulfed in the world of Self, Glamour and Marie Claire. Some of us even dabbled with Sassy, and later, Jane and Bust. They were the cool smart chicks of the bunch, but I always felt they were just...lacking. Sassy and Jane fell under (but Jane Pratt is going strong on xojane, and though Bust is still chugging along, its voice has gotten younger, cheekier and hipster. It may be the major magazine for a good pop-feminist read, but Iâ€™ve outgrown it.Consider the sequence of a typical womenâ€™s magazine: letters, trends, fashion spreads, maybe an interview with a celebrity, more on trends (fashion, beauty, exercise), some obligatory group of â€ślightâ€ť recipes, along with a longer editorial on A Serious Topic like genital mutilation or being catfished by a prisoner. Itâ€™s content crafted to make women feel guilty for not knowing whatâ€™s hot, smart for knowing that this magazine will reveal it, then ashamed for not being able to afford whatever this magazine has revealed. Itâ€™s cyclical, and itâ€™s boring. I thought perhaps I was in the minority, being a woman who loves menâ€™s magazines. All of the Big Threeâ€™s media kits boast audiences with 30 percent women, so Iâ€™m clearly not the only one. Do women read menâ€™s magazines differently from men? In a very unscientific survey (of my two brothers in their twenties and my friend Greg, in his forties), I asked what they liked about Esquire and GQ. My brothers prefer GQ and its fashion tips, the profiles of the women and food. Greg only reads Esquire. As he puts it, â€śEsquire is not about being a well-dressed, cool man. Itâ€™s about being the best man you can be. And even though you can't necessarily glean any of that knowledge from a magazine, it does a valiant job of trying.â€ťMenâ€™s magazines revolve around cultivating taste: fashion, music, film, books, food, celebrity, sports, cars and (in Detailsâ€™ case) design. They review where weâ€™ve been and where weâ€™re going, culturally speaking. Theyâ€™d do better to incorporate more female writersâ€”Stacey Grenrock Woods is a shining example of excellent menâ€™s writing by a female and Jessica Pressler has pushed out some decent profiles for GQ. They donâ€™t always get it right, but the point is: they dare. Yes, they, like womenâ€™s magazines, often commoditize gender and make money on reinforcing certain gender stereotypes. But theyâ€™re just so glib about it. Where womenâ€™s magazines champion us, trying to help us channel our inner sisterhood and answer our Burning Questions, menâ€™s wryly acknowledge that, like most Americans, theyâ€™re just stumbling through this crazy mixed-up world, and even they donâ€™t have all the answers. I have plenty of female friends who read womenâ€™s mags because theyâ€™re mindless entertainment, and I get that. More than anything, Iâ€™m an advocate of reading what you enjoy.But thatâ€™s just the point that menâ€™s magazines make: entertainment neednâ€™t be mindless.Menâ€™s magazines donâ€™t curate culture; they curate content. They tell me whatâ€™s going on culturally and how they feel about it. Womenâ€™s magazines ignore whatâ€™s going on, because they themselves donâ€™t know how to feel about it. They seem stunted, like the world is just too big for them to comment onâ€”or worse!â€”that we wonâ€™t appreciate a woman magazineâ€™s commentary on larger cultural paradigms. So womenâ€™s magazines overcompensate for telling us nothing by telling us everything about nothing (the healing powers of purple fruits! animal prints!). Menâ€™s magazines have their share of frivolity, but they give me the thought stuff tooâ€”the national budget, war and PTSD, robotics, a profile of the Vice President. One of the best articles I read was Chris Heathâ€™s coverage in GQ about the massacre of the escaped exotic animals in Zanesville, Ohio. It was a tragic story brilliantly told; and the story of the war between GQ and Esquire competing for the story was just as good. Both magazines published accounts of tragedy; both had writers (Chris Jones for Esquire) on site in the same hotel chasing the same story; both ran in eachâ€™s March 2012 issue. I read both articles voraciously, and came out in favor of GQâ€™s coverage. To my happiness, GQ got an ASME nomination for its story; Esquire didnâ€™t. Thatâ€™s the other thing I like about menâ€™s magazines: theyâ€™re nominated for awards for their journalism, like actual awards, against giants such as The New Yorker, the Atlantic and Rolling Stone. GQ and Esquire are for literary-minded people, for people who care about the actual words on the page. Womenâ€™s magazines donâ€™t say anything interesting about the state of culture, they just buy into it. They donâ€™t have a sense of humor about themselves.Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m sticking with the menâ€”theyâ€™re funny, self-effacing and have some of the best editorial content around. None are offering the keys to the universe, but they have a good time trying.
Here's the thing with Lauren Green's interview with Reza Aslan about his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth that aired on FoxNews.com, which you've absolutely seen passed around Buzzfeed and Facebook like a cheerleader's slambook post-prom: It's 'gotcha' journalism. It wasn't meant to inform or engage (that is still the goal of journalism, right?). It wasn't meant to be thought provoking or to inspire debate.
FoxNews.com brought Reza Aslan on for an interview to boost ratings, period. He was asked that first question: â€śYou're a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?â€ť because it was incendiary. FoxNews knows who is not its audience as well as who is its audience, and if theyâ€™re not going to make money off you for clicking a story because you like them, then they may as well make money off you for clicking a story because you don't like them. The network wanted a viral story, something with bite even if it had no teeth, because crazy press is bad journalism, and bad journalism equals good press, and all press leads to clicks, which leads to those sweet dollar bills, y'all. I mean, the first thing I thought was, â€śCraaaap... is Rupert really losing that much money?â€ťAslan has over twenty years of experience researching religion and history. He is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, putting him the ranks of those other rabble-rousers, Horatio Alger and R.W. Emerson. Saying Reza Aslan, a known scholar of religion, shouldn't write a book about Christianity because he's Muslim is like saying Paul McCartney shouldn't write a book about vocal harmonies because he's a guitarist. [Did that make sense to you? No? Good.]Let's be honest: No one really cares that Reza Aslan wrote a book aboutÂ Jesus even though Aslan is a Muslim. Murdoch doesn't care. Ailes doesn'tÂ care. Lauren Green didn't even care enough to read the second page ofÂ Aslan's book where he notes his Islamic faith. And the bravado with which she goes after him is alarming, considering that she herself is a Christian who, as noted by Eric Hananoki at Media Matters, frequently reports on Islam.The people who care about the Aslan-writing-about-Jesus bit are those easily-manipulated, fear-mongering Americans, because FoxNews has told them to care, and it's spent a decade building an empire that depends on a good chunk of its audience being afraid of Muslims.In an interview with John Oliver on The Daily Show, Aslan talked about who Jesus really was, in the context of his time: â€ś... [he] stood up for the weak and the powerless, the outcast and dispossessed... [Jesus] went to the cross on behalf of these outcasts he was fighting for...â€ťAccording to Aslan, Jesus was a rebel badass. And FoxNews can't have you agree because FoxNews doesn't make money if you agree. Jesus loved the underdogs so much, that he went to bat for every single one of them. Itâ€™s pretty hard to find controversy in a selfless Jesus, regardless of your religion. So instead, FoxNews switches the focus to the seemingly incongruous notion of a Muslim writing a book about Christianity. Otherwise, the network doesn't have a story, its audience doesn't have anything to get worked up about and the rest of the media has nothing to jump on.So is FoxNews' crappy journalism a pretty genius marketing move? Only their ad team knows for sure. But given that Aslan's book just hit number two on the New York Times bestseller list, I'd bet they're happy to argue all the way to the bank.
"Print is dead." I hear it all the time. People love to say it. "No one reads magazines anymore."Here's the thing, though: Print isn't deadâ€”at least not yet. Digital is growing at an aggressive rate, but it hasn't obliterated print. In fact, according to a recent survey by AdWeek, 98.6 percent of all magazine consumption is still rooted in print. And with the majority of magazine readers reading print, then publishers still need to be concerned with mailing a print productâ€”even if it feels like the U.S. Postal Service can't get it together.It's not the USPS that failed usâ€”it's Congress. The USPS can't make any major moves without its approval. We've all read the storiesâ€”the USPS isn't really broke; it's just been mandated by congress that it pre-fund future retiree health benefits, which costs the USPS over $5 billion per year. This is something no other federal agency is required to do; in fact, even few corporate plans are fully-prefunded. Esquire, Forbes and even my publication, The Nation have all covered it. And Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) are jointly sponsoring legislation which would reverse the mandate.See, the discounted rates to mail magazines weren't created to support the Publishers Clearinghouses of the world. They were set up as a tactical way to honor the freedom of the press and to give a price break to media outlets educating the public. But let's be honest: The way Congress has screwed up its oversight of the USPS does not instill confidence in its commitment to a free press.
Let me be clear: Just because Congress has turned the USPS into a model of inefficiency does not mean that I support privatization (especially considering the economic impact of potentially lost jobs, and also the reliance of private companies like UPS on the USPS for delivery of non-USPS items). What it means is that we should treat the USPS like any other company that is faced with necessary changes. Let's remove the $5.5 billion/year roadblock to let it do its job and grow. Let's support a Congress that values a free press; that isn't focusing on slash-and-burn techniques to save the institution, but rather gives it room to adapt; that reinvigorates the USPS's role in American communities, rural and urban.Publishers need to care because people still read print. At the gym, on the subway, in bed. For every 1 Alec Baldwin who refuses to turn off his cell after being asked by the flight attendant (full disclosure: I'm watching 30 Rock as I write this), there are, like, 800,000 other people who rely on print magazines during take-off and landing. These are people who identify with a brandâ€”print or digitalâ€”and who read whatever is convenient in the moment. For everyone following TSA regulations, that would be print. And it's the publishers' job to engage people with their brand, not with a device.Is print going to be around forever? I have no idea. As long as it is around, it is my responsibility to produce and deliver it as efficiently as possible, and to treat print readers the same as digital and mobile ones. My role with a publisher is to market the brand, not the delivery. And if people want their magazine delivered to their doorstep? Then I need to make sure it gets there.