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Matt Kinsman

Why Do Consumer Stars So Often Fail To Shine In B-to-B?

Matt Kinsman Editorial - 10/18/2011-14:05 PM


Let's face it: b-to-b publishing is considered the weak sister to consumer publishing by many in the industry. So why do so many consumer side vets struggle when they make a go at b-to-b?

Richard Beckman brought a lot of attitude as CEO of Prometheus Global Media, promising to revamp the media/entertainment brands (including Adweek and The Hollywood Reporter) that the company had purchased from Nielsen Business Media with a consumer-mag edge.

That attitude was shared by Beckman's big name editorial hires Janice Min ("I guess it shakes the system out here that a so-called trade would dare to break news that wasn't spoon fed. Well, people had better get used to it," Min told The New York Times last year) and Newser founder and Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff (who told FOLIO: of the revamped Adweek, "All we're doing is going to the marketplace and saying, ‘You were OK with a crappy product, now how can you not be even more enthusiastic about an obviously better product?')

Now Beckman has been relieved of day-to-day duties and Wolff is out at Adweek amid reports of clashes with Prometheus Global Media chairman Jim Finkelstein. (For a former Adweek editor's brutal take on Wolff making a habit of "failing upward," click here. One publisher said to us, "It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.")

Adweek remained an aggressive news breaker under Wolff and walked the line between hard news and vanity publishing (Top 10 Technologists, Top 10 Digital Media Buyers) but Adweek in some ways didn't distinguish itself from the coverage in consumer publications. "Michael created some interesting content at Adweek, and I loved his coverage of Rupert Murdoch," MediaPost's Joe Mandese told The New York Times. "But I could read that in New York or Vanity Fair."

Attempts at "consumerizing" b-to-b brands aren't anything new. Years ago, FOLIO: went through its own failed "New York media scene" repositioning. In 2007, Doubledown Media--headed by journalist and entrepreneur Randall Lane and Jim Dunning, former owner of the Ziff Davis magazine group (who said, "We don't view ourselves as a trade magazine")--took the financial markets by storm with titles like Dealmaker and Trader Monthly that boasted fat books, killer events (such as the Wall Street Boxing Charity Championship, in which traders got to square off in the ring) and legendary parties ("Have you ever been to one of their parties?" a senior publishing executive at a competitive company told FOLIO: at the time. "If you get invited to one, get an invite for me.")

Two years later the market turned and so did Doubledown, which ran out of money and folded in February 2009.

When Beckman first announced his plans to "consumerize" Adweek and The Hollywood Reporter, I thought "Uh oh" but over the last few months I had to admire what he tried to do (and the investment he was willing to make). It was a welcome change from the razor thin margins and assembly line content forced on so many b-to-b titles.

The b-to-b world has plenty to learn from the consumer side in all facets of the game and there is no reason a b-to-b magazine shouldn't be a polished, entertaining read. But you can't escape the fact that the trade magazine exists to help business leaders make business decisions. Useful trumps sexy.

If the b-to-b world can combine the attitude, polish and investment of the consumer side without forgetting its ultimate mission, look out. 

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Matt Kinsman

How Readers Respond When a Magazine Goes Digital-Only

Matt Kinsman emedia and Technology - 08/23/2011-13:20 PM


The number of magazines folding or going digital-only just within the last 72 hours has us flashing back to 2009.

Linux Journal--which launched in 1994 serving the Linux computing market--is yet another publication whose August 2011 issue will be its last in print. "The big computer-industry trade magazines from the '90s have either disappeared or gone digital," writes senior editor Doc Searls in a note to readers. "Of the big three publishers, only IDG is still intact, but relatively few of its old magazines are still in print [EDIT NOTE: IDG is quick to point out that in the U.S., only InfoWorld went digital-only, while Computerworld, CIO, Network World, PC World and Macworld remain in print]. We survived while others failed by getting lean and staying focused. But the costs of printing and distributing continue to go up. We could keep publishing in print if we could raise the number of advertiser pages, but we don't see that happening. What we do see is a core readership that has stuck with us, along with Linux, for a generation. You, our readers, are at the heart of Linux, and always have been. We want to keep that heart beating."

Beginning with its September issue (#209), all subscribers will be offered the Linux Journal Digital Edition, which features a PDF version delivered via e-mail. Linux Journal also says it will have custom iPhone, iPad and Android apps ready by September.

To its credit, Linux Journal is making the discussion around its new strategy public by setting up forums for subscribers and non-paying readers.

While the forum for non-paying readers hasn't provoked much response, the subscriber forum is blowing up. True to form, it's primarily the people who have a problem with the decision who are posting (one reader also set up his own LinkedIn poll saying, "Maybe if the LJ staff sees a graph of their reader's opinions they will realize how wrong they are").

Still, these posts can give other publishers a sense of what they might be facing if they're considering a digital-only jump (and what they may need to do to make it palatable for their audience).

Even a tech readership like LJ's seems reluctant to give up its print.

"I don't have much to say other then I am completely disappointed with the decision to go all digital," posts one reader. "Just because we're techheads, doesn't mean we all walk around with friggin ipads or iphones and read pdfs on the crapper."

Others rebel against the price of a digital subscription.

"This is ridiculous, why would I want to pay $30 for a digital subscription," writes another reader. "I can already view practically all the issues online (all but the last 2). So why would I want to pay to get some silly pdf file which will likely still be full of ads. Frustrate customer, will not be renewing without print.

P.S. HOW is this a benefit of digital over a physical magazine? ‘Off-line reading: you can download one article or the entire magazine and conveniently take with you. You also can print any pages you want.' I can take my whole magazine with me as it is, no need to download anything."

Much of the frustration comes from the current digital format.

"PDF has never been a proper digital format for delivering the magazine. . ." writes one reader. "'Enhanced Digital Edition'? An even worse insult to a paying customer. It's like all the similar bad imitations of print magazines being tried on people in the last 10 years. . . A dedicated app? Yeah right, just what I need. Another app that tries to replicate something that can be achieved without one. . .Just give us a proper ePub version already. I for one do not want an imitation of a paper product. I want something done in a format meant for the eReader / iPad it's going to be read on. In the FAQ you mention more features in the future like interactivity and video. These are things that can be accommodated by a format such as ePub and it can be used by the users in their favorite reader / management apps. It is a format specifically meant for this purpose. Bottom line. PDF or ‘EDE' are not options. It's either ePub* or I'll walk."

Another is a big fan of the content, but not the format:

"While the articles in Linux Journal are excellent, and well worth the subscription prices, the total conversion to 'digital media' negates the worth of the magazine (to me) to the point where the publisher would have to pay me to read it in a digital media format. I paid for a hardcopy magazine, and will not accept a digital-only version."

However, others are welcoming LJ's jump to 100 percent digital:

"I for one applaud your decision to go digital," writes a reader. "Where is it written that we must have books and magazines on paper? Time for a change, and I believe this is a change for the better -- less wasteful, easy to search, active links to resources, bookmarks, etc. And as our digital technology advances, it's only going to get better yet. Your Enhanced Digital Edition looks great! And the pdf, too. It would be nice to have in epub format as well. Keep up the good work!"

Linux Journal seems to have a passionate audience that's heavily invested in its content. Going forward, the publication's success will depend not just on going 100 percent digital but offering a digital version that works. Just as some consumer publishers had to learn that a successful iPad app in these early days is more about quick downloads and easy navigation than self-indulgent design and spasm-inducing rich media, b-to-b publishers have to understand that good content won't excuse a bad reading experience for most readers.

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Matt Kinsman

The Magazine Industry's Top Young Innovators: A Call for Nominations

Matt Kinsman B2B - 08/16/2011-09:33 AM


It's time for the young guns to shine.

As the magazine industry evolves, many of the people leading the charge are part of a crop of young, fresh talent (in fact, at the recent Yale Publishing course, Dwell Media president Michela O'Connor Abrams quipped that only she and one other staffer are over 30).

For the October issue, FOLIO: will be profiling 13 of these rising stars, looking at how they're redefining traditional roles such as editorial, sales,production, design and audience development, as well blazing a trail in new types of positions in social media and e-commerce.

And every one of them will be younger than 30.

Last year's "under-30" stars (who ranged from associate editors to CEOs--last year's cover is pictured on the right) will be tough to top and while we've identified several candidates for 2011, we also want to hear from you. Tell us who you think is deserving enough to make the list and, most importantly, why. Just fill out the form below. Three of these nominees will also be making the cover.

We look forward to your nominations.

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Matt Kinsman

Are Marketing Services a Golden Opportunity for Editors?

Matt Kinsman Editorial - 07/19/2011-10:12 AM


"Content is king" once again, at least when it comes to marketing services (original content for many dedicated publishing brands is largely giving way to more cost-effective options such as aggregation and curation).

"What's interesting is [clients] want our expertise as content producers, not our audience," says Dave Newcorn, vice president of digital and custom media at Summit Media, which earlier this year launched its own dedicated custom media group.

But if marketing services are where the investment is going, does that necessarily mean there is an opportunity for "traditional" editors, many of which have endured stagnant salaries (if not actual salary cuts) and lay-offs, to make a switch to something with a little more growth potential?

Maybe not, according to some experts. "Somebody who's been editing a magazine for 20 years can't do it," says the head of marketing services at a major b-to-b publisher. "The mindset is different."

Smart publishers draw a firm line between the authors of content marketing and authors of dedicated market-focused editorial. And many are simply applying the same bottom-dollar approach they take with freelance to marketing services.

However, there may be an opportunity for editors to morph into a new type of "content marketing specialist." I spoke with Jonah Bloom, the former Advertising Age editor who became executive director of content strategy with MDC Partners Agency Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners (KBS&P).

Granted, as editor of Ad Age, Bloom [pictured] came to his new position with an insider's understanding of marketer life. But he also says that the skill sets for traditional editors and content marketing specialists really aren't that different. As he previously told Ad Age, he, "started to see that all the skills required to be an editor today - the ability to synthesize, filter, make sense of data, quickly create multi-platform content that people will interact with, market that content - might be useful to brands."

FOLIO: Jonah, please discuss the major differences between your role now and your previous roles as a more traditional editor. What does your current position entail?

Bloom: I think the number one difference is that as an editor you're trying to engage and serve the same audience day in, day out. As a content guy at an agency you're looking to engage and serve a whole variety of audiences depending on the client's market and potential market. In other words, one minute you might be trying to plan for and create content that engages hobbyist farmers and the next moment people who want help with, say, financial planning. The good news is that this keeps you on your toes, but it constant research into exactly what the brand stands for and what their potential audience needs and responds to.

FOLIO: On the sales side, publishers talk about how the lead times are so much longer on the sales side for marketing services. What's the biggest difference in creating content on the marketing side?

Bloom: Publishing typically moves faster than marketing in terms of content production, partly because the processes and protocols are established and then repeated at whatever frequency is required - it's a little more like customized manufacturing in some aspects, whereas some other marketing is more like a service business. In marketing, you're often creating new processes and protocols for each content platform or program; you're dealing with many more stakeholders; and you're dealing with people who are used to extremely long lead times and extremely high production values.

FOLIO: What are the different skillsets that are required for an editorial role in marketing services or content marketing? How can traditional editors successfully make that transition? (I've heard some publishers say traditional editors can't do it). What in your experience best prepared you for this new role?

Bloom: I don't think the skillsets are that different. To be either an editor or a content strategist you need to understand your audience and what content or utility they want or need so much that they'll give up their time to engage with it; you need to understand all the machinations in planning for and making that content; and you need to understand the best ways of delivering that in terms of media and technology. You probably also have a decent sense of design, because good content is frequently sunk by bad user experience.

What's most different is the organization or culture in which you're going to operate. While editorial may still have too many tiers of management in places, processes and hierarchies are still typically more linear and flatter than big brand marketing processes. Editorial operations are typically full of people who are focused on current affairs (as defined by the media) and their editorial competitors. Whereas marketing agencies are more interested in culture (as defined by customers and ad shops) and brands. They may not sound that different, but it's certainly worth experiencing the difference before you make the transition.

FOLIO: Just about every editor is tracking metrics today but how is this different in the context of marketing services? What does the editor really need to know and how do they apply metrics to marketing services?

Bloom: Editors are typically focused on audience volumes and engagement metrics. These are certainly useful proxies in marketing too, but at its best marketing metrics are about tangible business outcomes, changing consumer behavior in a measurable way. I certainly don't think it'd take any smart editor long to understand the metrics in marketing, but there are probably more of them.

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Matt Kinsman

Study Says Tablet, E-Reader Users Haven’t Given Up Print

Matt Kinsman emedia and Technology - 06/30/2011-12:27 PM

Few magazine apps in the App Store don't have at least one reviewer clamoring for a subscription package that bundles print and app, and now a new study from GfK MRI suggests that rather than abandoning old media, tablet and e-reader users might still be print's best audience.

According to the study, tablet owners are 66 percent more likely than the average U.S. adult to be heavy users of printed versions of magazines, while e-reader owners are 23 percent more likely to be heavy print users.

The study also says men are more likely to own tablets while women are more likely to own e-readers (although I still dig my Kindle and I'll arm-wrestle anyone at GfK MRI or Yudu who makes fun of me).

While e-reader owners are primarily reading books on their devices (87 percent) with magazines (15 percent) barely edging out newspapers (14 percent), tablet owners are more evenly split, with 57 percent having read a book on the device within the last six months compared to 39 percent who read a magazine and 41 percent who read a newspaper.

So how about you, readers? Are you double-fisting the Wall Street Journal in one hand and the Financial Times app in the other on the way to work? Or have you said sayonara to any print magazines in favor of the digital version exclusively?

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Matt Kinsman

Paywalls Versus Advertising? Why Not Both?

Matt Kinsman emedia and Technology - 06/10/2011-11:01 AM

Advertising and paywalls are typically viewed as a mutually exclusive proposition but they can successfully co-exist, according to participants at a roundtable at DPAC (Digital Publishing and Advertising Conference) this week.

"Why not dual models?" said Andrew Rutledge, vice president and general manager of publisher development at PubMatic. "Who's paying for digital content from more than two providers? The market can only support two or three players with a paywall. I don't think the paywall is THE solution, it's one of many."

However, Brian Hecht, senior vice president of publisher premium services at TheStreet.com, which offers 10 premium content products ranging from $200 to $5,000 per year, thinks the market opportunity is larger. "I don't agree that only two to three publishers can succeed with a paywall but I do agree that it's difficult to sell subscriptions. It's a complex process, we have a significant marketing department, we have people with PhDs running this, but the company would not be where it is without the stable advertising side."

Brian White, vice president of publisher solutions at Vibrant Media, a company that specializes in contextual advertising, agreed that subscriptions and advertising can co-exist online, but only with certain types of advertising [naturally]. "Behavioral and contextual advertising are becoming more valuable," he said. "Display advertising can now target by characteristics but I'm not sure if higher CPMs can mitigate the loss of pageviews."

Paying for Content or for Access on a Select Device?

The panelists cited News Corp.'s The Daily and The New York Times as two publishers taking different approaches to paid content-with The Daily only available on select devices, while The New York Times is charging for content across a variety of platforms. "Is the value simply that you can access it on the iPad?" said Hecht. "Or is there some functionality that makes it different? How do you keep The Daily from being just a novelty item?"

(The Daily may have other issues as well. In a March earnings call, News Corp. said the app was still a "work in progress" and generated a $10 million loss in the last quarter. When the DIGIDAY panel polled the audience on how many attendees downloaded The Daily the first week it came out, maybe 20 out of at least 100 raised their hands. When asked how many read it this week, just one raised a hand, at least that I saw.)

As of April, The New York Times said it had 100,000 subscribers with its new plan (which is roughly equal in revenue as this point to what The New York Times generated from its previous paywall attempt, Time Select, which generated 227,000 subscribers and about $10 million per year).

Creating content that others are willing to pay for also requires significant investment, something that can be at least partially addressed by sticking to an advertising model. Content aggregation and licensing deals are part of any smart content strategy but they are also a symptom of the fact that most publishers (particularly those serving the mass market) just don't make enough money online to cover the costs of creating digital content.

Specialized information providers (particularly those in the financial services space) invest in unique content and have an audience willing to pay for it (The Daily invests heavily in content but again, is it the right model and the right content?). Paywalls are the new hope for some smaller b-to-b publishers seeking an answer to eroding ad dollars, but many of those same publishers still look at content creation as simply a cost center.

Is The Billing Process An Even Bigger Factor?

Beyond content quality itself, publishers have to consider how they draw readers in and perhaps even more importantly, how readers actually pay for that content. (Look at reviews of publisher apps in iTunes--even the ones doing well with app functionality got knocked for the billing process, at least in the pre-Apple subscription days).

The Financial Times has experimented with online content going back 15 years--its current iteration follows a metered model of offering a select number of stories before requiring payment. In 2010, FT saw paid circulation growth of 50 percent.

"Publishers have to think long and hard about what they are," said Hecht. "iTunes used to offer 30-second samples of songs, now they offer 90 second samples. Does that make you more or less likely to buy today? The lesson there is, don't do market research in your head."

Some publishers charge different fees for access on different digital devices. "The biggest factor for the paywall is the back-end," said Rutledge. "If you have to go to different publications or different devices and key in your information each time, the fall-off is huge. Part of the reason iTunes is so successful is that's a turnkey process but publishers don't want to slice and dice revenue with Apple."

However, if it builds TheStreet's paid audience, Hecht would gladly team with Apple. "I'm happy to give Apple 30 percent and I'll take it from there and figure out how to make up that money on my own," he said.

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Matt Kinsman

Liveblogging/Tweeting the 2011 Ellies

Matt Kinsman Consumer - 05/09/2011-10:34 AM


The consumer magazine elite will gather tonight at 583 Park Avenue for one of the biggest events in publishing--the 46th annual presentation of the American Society of Magazine Editor's National Magazine Awards (nicknamed the Ellies).

In addition to the usual hour-long block of power networking (and power drinking), the sold-out event includes a sit-down dinner for the first time in its history, hosted by ASME.

A total of 20 magazines received multiple nominations this year, with Conde Nast leading the pack at 25 (accounting for nearly a quarter of the total nominations--The New Yorker racked up 9 nods on its own). New York, The New York Times Magazine and Virginia Quarterly Review all received six nominations while first-timers include Cooking Light, House Beautiful, Lapham's Quarterly, OnEarth, The Sun and Women's Health). Close to 270 magazines submitted a total of 1,673 entries judged by 359 magazine journalists and journalism educators. A full list of finalists is available here.

Will Conde Nast dominate the winner's circle or will some of the first-timers and smaller publications (including 3,000-circ. The Antioch Review) break through? Who will the surprise celebrity presenters be and will author and New Journalism founder Tom Wolfe (who is receiving the Creative Excellence Award tonight) challenge Anna Wintour for sartorial splendor?

FOLIO: will be there live-tweeting, keeping you posted minute-by-minute. We'll also be cross-posting our tweets here, so keep refreshing this link as the evening progresses (the awards kick off around 7:45 EST).

 

@foliomag.com: The 2011 National Magazine Awards begin. Press seating redefines "elbow room." Fortunately I have six years of Krav Maga.

@foliomag.com: First-time nominee Women's Health wins General Excellence, fashion, service, lifestyle. Follows up on Men's Health's win for General Excellence last year.

@foliomag.com: Los Angeles wins for Best Feature Writing. Editor Mary Melton: "It's a delight working for a company that appreciates journalism." Applause.

@foliomag.com: ESPN the Magazine win Best Feature Photography for "Bodies We Want." Go figure.

@foliomag.com: Dinner break. What lasts longer, an iMac battery or the National Magazine Awards? 

@foliomag.com: Attendees wonder--where is rumored host Katie Couric?

@foliomag.com: Katie Couric in the house! "You magazine people are really fun."

@foliomag.com: Couric :"There's nothing I like better at the end of the day than relaxing with my copy of Garden & Gun. Table 33, I'm looking at you."

@foliomag.com: Winner, General Excellence, literary, political, professional: Poetry Magazine 

@foliomag.com: Excellence in magazine design goes to GQ. Designer Fred Woodward: "I should thank every editor and publisher who let me learn how to do this under their watch."

@foliomag.com: Couric: "No offense, but now I know why none of you guys went into television."

@foliomag.com: Men's Journal wins Leisure Interests. "Five Meals Every man Should Master."

@foliomag.com: Personal Service category. Random dog returns for second time onstage.  Men's Health wins for "I Want My Prostate Back."

@foliomag.com: General Excellence: Special Interest Magazines: Los Angeles takes top prize again! This coming off big win at last week's City & Regional Magazine Awards.

@foliomag.com: Los Angeles editor Mary Shelton hefts Ellie Award: 'The real test will be getting this through TSA tomorrow."

@foliomag.com: Public Interest, The New Yorker for "Letting Go." EIC David Remnick: "There are many ways to have a good day in the mag biz. Ours is to see our app passing 'Angry Birds' on iTunes."

@foliomag.com: The New Yorker wins Public Interest category

@foliomag.com: News and Documentary Photography: The New York Times Magazine wins for "The Shrine Down the Hall."   EIC Gerald Marzorati--"Really excited."

@foliomag.com: Best Magazine Section goes to New York for "Strategist," EIC Adam Moss: "A magazine section that's nearly a magazine itself."

@foliomag.com: Single Topic issue with presenter/magician David Copperfield! National Geographic wins for "Water: Our Thirsty World."

@foliomag.com: General Excellence, Finance, Tech and Lifetsyle: David Copperfield magically opens envelope--Scientific American wins.

@foliomag.com: Copperfield: "Best advice I ever had was to move the show along." No kidding, Dave.

@foliomag.com: Jan Wenner to present Tom Wolfe with "Creative Excellence" award. Jan dons whitish suit in tribute.

@foliomag.com: Tom Wolfe: "I just hope everyone notices how fabulous Jan looks tonight."

@foliomag.com: The New York Times Magazine wins again, this time in the Profile Writing category for 'The Man the White House Wakes Up To." Guessing it's not Couric. 

@foliomag.com: Couric's favorite mag, Garden & Gun, takes General Excellence award in Food, Travel and Design. 

@foliomag.com: Harper's Magazine takes the Reporting category with "The Guantanamo Suicides."

@foliomag.com: W, for Best Photography

@foliomag.com:  New York again, for General Excellence in News, Sports and Entertainment

@foliomag.com: And Magazine of the Year goes to...National Geographic!

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Matt Kinsman

Special Preview: 2011 FOLIO: B-to-B CEO Survey

Matt Kinsman B2B - 04/26/2011-10:21 AM

In May, FOLIO: will release its 2011 B-to-B CEO Survey conducted by Readex Research, tracking everything from revenue performance to profit trends to technology investments and CEO salaries.

In advance of the report, FOLIO: is offering a preview of some of the findings specific to b-to-b publishers in 2010 and 2011. Revenue ratios remain fairly steady, with print continuing to sink as a percent of overall revenue while e-media and events increase (however, publishers tend to overestimate e-media and underestimate print as a part of overall revenue. Last year, publishers said they expected print to account for less than 50 percent of overall revenue in 2010).

                      Revenue Ratio 2010            Revenue Ratio 2011

Print:              53.8%                                      51.3%

E-media:         15.5%                                      17.7%

Events:            8.5%                                       10.6%

Custom:           7.0%                                        7.3%

Paid subs:         6.6%                                       7.1%

Data sales:       2.9%                                        2.5%

Other:              5.6%                                         5%

Not surprisingly, online/e-media is overwhelmingly the fastest-growing part of the business for b-to-b publishers, as it has been for the last six years. Publishers also say events are back and will be the second fastest growing revenue stream in 2011 after a rough go in 2009 and 2010 when many flagship events were either canceled or scaled back dramatically.

Fastest Growing Parts of the Business in 2010

Online/e-media: 59%
Events: 24%
Print advertising: 18%
Custom: 17%
Paid subs: 7%
Data sales: 6%
Other: 5%

Still, print advertising holds it own as a source of increased revenue, with 61 percent of publishers saying they expect to see more revenue from new advertisers (however, just 50 percent say existing print advertisers will be spending more). Thirty-one percent say they'll see increased revenue from custom publishing/marketing services (the media darling of 2011), while 22 percent say they'll see more revenue from paid content, including subscriptions and gated material (respondents could choose multiple options in this category).

Anticipated Sources of Increased Revenue in 2011

Online media: 74%
New print advertisers: 61%
Existing print advertisers: 50%
Events: 40%
Custom publishing: 31%
Paid content: 22%
Data sales: 18%
Other: 4 %

The full 2011 FOLIO: B-to-B CEO Survey will be released with the May issue of FOLIO: Magazine.

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Matt Kinsman

Another Independent Publisher Burned by Photo Mishap

Matt Kinsman Editorial - 04/19/2011-13:28 PM


Photoshop controversies are nothing new among magazines, usually in the context of some celebrity digitally shaving a pound or ten for a cover shoot.

Last week VegNews, an independent vegan magazine, was called out by a blogger for using stock images of dishes with meat and other non-vegan recipes, sometimes photoshopping out the offending images.

"We've always been fans of VegNews, since back in the mid-2000s when we'd wait with bated breath for the US Mail to deliver our copy," the blogger writes. "We'd eagerly flip through, reading all about the latest veg stuff, salivating over the amazing pictures, trying out a vegan recipe, and maybe even discovering a restaurant in our home town through one of their reviews. It's sad, then, that the pictures we've been drooling over for years are actually of MEAT! Veg News has written tens (possibly hundreds) of articles extolling the virtues of a vegan lifestyle, while purchasing rock-bottom priced stock photos of MEAT, EGGS, DAIRY and other completely non-vegan things."

The magazine's initial response was that it was "deeply saddened with the dialogue" that transpired and explained that the photos were a necessary evil. "VegNews is a privately owned, independent publication with no funding or investors," the publishers replied. "Publishing a magazine is extremely costly-with exorbitant costs for printing, postage, paper and production. . .Yes, from time to time, after exhausting all options, we have resorted to using stock photography that may or may not be vegan."

That didn't do much to sway readers, who feel passionately about the topic and understandably felt fleeced. On Monday, VegNews issued a full apology, saying "With regard to our use of symbolic imagery in VegNews, our readers got it right. We wholeheartedly apologize. We assure you that we will never again use non-vegan photographs in VegNews." The publishers say they will also build a vegan photo data bank.

"To give you some background, 95 percent of all photos in VegNews are indeed vegan," associate publisher Colleen Holland told FOLIO:. "In the rare situations that we've had to make the tough call on using a non-vegan stock image, we've taken it very seriously. We exhaust all of our possible options, and ensure that a vegan version looks exactly the same or better than the image we're really considering using. It really is a last resort at that point."

In one example, VegNews photoshopped a plate of barbecue ribs to make them look like their vegan counterpart. "This was an 11th hour decision after an exhaustive photo search," says Holland. "It was a singular case, we knew the vegan version looked exactly the same, and the photo used in the magazine was 2x2 inches. That was an absolute anomaly and something we didn't do before or since. It goes without saying that our goal has always been to have 100 percent vegan photography."

That said, "We never expected this reaction," says Holland. "And had we ever felt that readers would be so strongly opposed to the practice, we wouldn't have done it. But our readers spoke and we listened, and they are happy we're figuring out a way to increase the number from 95 percent to 100 percent."  

Getting a magazine out as an independent publisher these days is no small feat, but there's no excuse for deliberately putting one past your audience; just as there is no excuse for lifting someone else's work (which Countryside Publications was accused of last year for running photos without permission; or the infamous Cook's Source, which did the same with content). No matter how tight things get, you can't do it in the first place. And if you do, in these days of the long tail and readers having their own voices, you're not going to get away with it forever.

On the VegNews Facebook page, readers are split in their reaction, with most seeming to accept the apology, while a minority staunchly reject it. The brand is likely to lose some readers, but overall the magazine probably won't be hurt too bad because it owned up.

As a business, VegNews could be an inspiration to smaller publishers. What started with an investment of $3,000 in 2000 has grown to a company with more than $2 million in revenue and a readership of more than 1 million per month. At FOLIO:, we even recognized them with an Eddy Award for their Web site earlier this year.

Everybody is cutting corners these days; but go too far, and both publisher and reader end up the losers.

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Matt Kinsman

Most Dangerous Jobs: Loggers, Cops, Forum Moderators?

Matt Kinsman emedia and Technology - 04/05/2011-13:31 PM

In the two-way street that is journalism today, most editors are used to readers taking occasional shots at their work (or the editor themselves), often with a fury that makes them wonder if it's the article the poster is really mad at.

However, not many editors (at least in the U.S.) have had a bullet with their initials scratched into it mailed to them because of their work.

That actually happened to Sean Adams, vice president of online communities at Moose River Media, a b-to-b publisher that serves the grounds keeping and agriculture markets with forums such as LawnSite.com and PlowSite.com. Those may not sound as catchy as the Men! Men! Men! message board on Cosmopolitan.com, but Moose River is one of the few publishers--b-to-b or consumer--to turn social media into a real business, with 20 percent of Moose River revenue coming from online (primarily the communities) and advertisers paying well over six figures for select banner placement within those communities. Last night, LawnSite.com (which boasts more than 113,000 members) had 6,000 members participating at one time, according to Adams, who was the keynote speaker during an internal Access Intelligence event on content and community today.

Now, most of us out here in the ‘burbs have probably considered pumping a round through a faulty mower before, but I never would have dreamed it's a topic that could lead to threats against people. But that's exactly what Adams says his moderator duties (normal moderating duties, not antagonizing anyone) occasionally spawn. "I've had 90 pound women tell me they were going to claw my eyes out," he says. "We've been called ‘Forum Nazis.' One group at a trade show somehow found out my address, took a picture of themselves raising a certain finger, then Photoshopped themselves into an image of my front lawn."

Adams says he doesn't share those stories to suggest that people are necessarily wackos in social media land, but that publishers who want to make a real go of social media need dedicated community managers, and those managers need to be prepared for unreasonable behavior. "If you've warned people, you don't need to engage further," he says. "Eventually they just go away. Drama is good for a community, disagreements are good. But someone has to keep it from going too far."

What's the most unreasonable behavior you've seen on one of your sites? 

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Matt Kinsman

VIDEO: Esquire's Mini-Movie iPad Covers

Matt Kinsman Consumer - 03/17/2011-13:09 PM

At the MPA Digital E-Reading event yesterday, several publishers shared "Two-Minute Drilldowns" of some of their best app ideas. Esquire associate editor Julian Sancton shared how the magazine has turned some of its iPad covers into almost "mini-movies," including live action direction of its subjects, such as "Sexiest Woman Alive" Minka Kelly doing her thing and actor Liam Neeson (a former boxer) throwing a couple shots at the cover/screen. (Sorry about the obligatory sponsor message but it's worth the wait.)

Necessary? Probably not. Fun? Absolutely. Esquire, by the way, picked up the Digital Ellie for "Best Mobile Edition."



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Matt Kinsman

The Secret to Digital Growth: Investing In Content?

Matt Kinsman emedia and Technology - 03/08/2011-12:04 PM


At FOLIO:, we're used to having to cajole publishers to share metrics to back up the case they're making for their own success. But every now and then someone lays it all out, understanding that solid revenue, net income and EBITDA figures go a lot further than phrases like "synergy" and "relationship with our audience."

Kudos then to Henry Blodget, CEO of financial news and analysis site Business Insider (which was just named a Top 25 Financial Blog by Time.com), who shared the type of proprietary financials that keep most PR heads up at night in a post making the case for the viability of "digital news" as a business. (The admissions come on the heels of Huffington Post's $315 million sale-or as one talkbacker to Blodget's post wrote, "The headline on this post should be: Dear AOL, For your consideration, we're an excellent Web property too!")

The stats: Business Insider generated $4.8 million in revenue in 2010 (up from $39,495 a couple years ago), mostly from advertising. The company was profitable in 2010 (making $2,127), but Blodget warns it will dip back into the red over the next few quarters, due to aggressive investment, spurred in part by New York State's capital tax. "Making $2,127 feels about 2,127 times as good as losing money," he writes. "And it makes us confident that, if we keep working hard, and we keep getting better, we'll be able to build a successful business and a truly great product someday."

The Costs Of Making Online Content a Real Business

While we're definitely in the "aggregation"-oops, sorry, I meant "curation" age-many online startups are investing in staff and resources in creating original content (which is more than can be said for many of their peers coming from traditional media).

Blodget [pictured] acknowledges the knocks against HuffPo's content (paying a few big name writers while plucking content from low-or-unpaid bloggers, generating SEO-bait) but he also says that with HuffPo expected to grow another $20 million to $50 million in revenue that it "will likely hire a lot more New York Times staffers to go with the ones it has already got. In other words, HuffPo will keep getting better." (HuffPo did just snap up political writer Jon Ward from News Corp's The Daily).

Blodget doesn't reveal what he's paying to generate content, but says "We didn't make that profit because we're a sweatshop, by the way." He claims a 25-person newsroom, (which is larger than many magazines which are generating far more than $4 million and splitting four or five people-if they're lucky--across print AND digital).

He writes

"Our newsroom salaries for full-time employees, for example (which include bonuses and benefits) are now higher than at many companies in the traditional news industry. Because the digital news business is quite different from the traditional news business, we often promote from within, and we've had the huge pleasure of watching folks who joined us as interns grow up to take leadership positions. True, we can't yet toss around the $300,000-$500,000 a year per brand-name columnist that Huffington Post and Daily Beast are now reportedly tossing around. But, in future years, if we keep doing what we think we can do, we should be able to pay our top people a lot more than we do today."

But what's the cost of growing and getting better? According to Google Analytics, Business Insider has seen a steady rise in traffic, generated nearly 8 million uniques in February (comScore has it at 3.5 million-Blodget promises a post addressing the discrepancy in the future).

Meanwhile, financial blogger Felix Salmon estimates that expenses have been growing at the same rate as Business Insider's audience (spending between 23 cents and 36 cents per unique visitor), and points out that Business Insider has moved away from producing premium content for Wall Street "elites," after realizing that there's "no money in micro-publishing."

Revenue hasn't caught up with costs when it comes to creating digital content for mass media (with some exceptions). But BI doesn't necessarily have to go mass market, it just has to siphon off enough readers from the established players.

This isn't meant as a Valentine to BI. Blodget's snarkiness (a prerequisite in the dotcom world), his commitment to tweaking "old media" whenever possible, and BI editors tripping over themselves to attach a cutesy headline to just about every story can get tiresome. But it is good content.

Many traditional publishers--overleveraged and struggling to meet covenants or lose it all--can't invest in content (or real lead gen or real marketing services, etc.) But for the rest--many of which are seeing improvements in print and boasting solid margins even through the worst of the downturn, and who HAVE proven there is money in micro-publishing--continuing to operate on a shoestring across all media (even as they consider a metered model) will leave them wondering why business is going to a digital startup.

Even Google values quality, original content. Do you?

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