The current conventional wisdom states that people won't pay for content on-line. Even the Wall Street Journal, once cited as the model for premium content, appears poised to trade subscriber revenue for more advertising impressions.
The conventional wisdom is wrong, though, when it comes to online diet and fitness programs.
Look at Carmichael Training (promoted via Chris Carmichael's columns in Outside), Rodale's magazine-related fitness plans (including the Men's Health Personal Trainer and Prevention's Flat Belly Diet) and Waterfront Media's stable of branded sites (including South Beach Diet, Andrew Weil and Dr. Laura Berman).
What do these sites have in common?
The last point is the key to getting people to pay, linking the online models to the personal trainers, health newsletters, self-help books, and diet programs that generate billions of dollars offline.
On the flip side, the danger is that the content is increasingly generic or commoditized, dragging these models down to the same place that online magazine and newspaper content is today-free.
The New Year, though, is a time for optimism. So put down that donut, pull on your running shoes, and offer your online customers a branded program that they will want to pay for.
Google's announcement last week of their new Knol product sparked speculation about which online publishing models were marked for death. Post-bubble comeback kid Henry Blodget mused on Silicon Valley Insider:
"Google continues to take a page from the early Microsoft play-book: Take someone else's cool idea, do it better, and steamroll the competition. Next up: a human-generated Wikipedia and About.com (NYT) killer."
Google is taking aim here at two sites that combine enormous traffic (mostly driven by search-engines) with user-generated content that ranges from marginally helpful to totally false.
You can picture Larry and Sergey as they circle the globe in their private jet:
Larry: "Why do we send millions of our users to these jokers every month?"
Sergey: "You're right! We could do the same thing they do, and keep all the page views and advertising revenue to ourselves."
[Cue evil chuckling and rubbing of hands.]
For publishers, the news highlights the vulnerabilities of two cornerstones of many online strategies: user-generated content and search engine optimization. The content is cheap but easily commoditized. The traffic comes from someone who is also an ad sales competitor.
If Google succeeds in dominating this space, it will reinforce the premium on site content that is high-quality and hard to duplicate, whether it comes from editors or readers.
I was recently wading through the innards of Times
business section when I came across this item:
"Video sites need to draw a minimum of 50,000 views a month
before getting serious interest from advertisers, Dina Kaplan, a founder of the
video-sharing site Blip.tv, told Daisy Whitney of TVWeek."
Inspired, I took a brief, unscientific
survey of magazine Web sites and YouTube channels to try to figure out which
monthly magazines are gaining online video traction.
Here are some leaders:
And some laggards:
In my capacity as Discover magazine CEO, I had lunch last week with a leading environmental scientist and blogger. After a brief but stimulating chat about the climate crisis, I steered the conversation around to my more parochial concern: Can I dramatically increase my Web traffic by adding more blogs?
He was skeptical to say the least. Incumbents in this market have significant first mover advantages. My friend launched his environment blog in 2004, a year before the Huffington Post but a good five years after Boing Boing. Since then, if you believe Technorati, literally tens of millions of new blogs have been created. At the same time, blog users' bookmarks and RSS readers have been filling up (not to mention other blogs' blogrolls), leaving less real estate for new entrants.
A quick look back to early 2007, though, shows that a magazine site can launch a new blog using a time-honored tactic-poaching from its competitors. In January, Atlantic Monthly signed Andrew Sullivan's blog away from Time, and whatever they paid him was probably a bargain compared to the ad inventory he generates.
There's a lesson here for magazines looking to expand their
blog platforms. Instead of coaxing your overworked editors to blog more, look around your competitive space for established but undermonetized blog sites who might see the benefit of hooking
up with your brand.
If that doesn't work, you can always go with the LOLCats.
First off, I have not seen the new Amazon Kindle in person. (Note to self: send nasty note to Discover tech editor after finishing this blog entry.) From the pictures, though, the thing looks like a fantastically expensive Speak & Spell.
The reviews from tech geeks, however, have been generally positive, and the first run sold out on Amazon in five days.
So what does this mean for ink and paper purveyors? The classic print magazine argument goes something like this:
Magazines provide the best venue for long-form journalism. Reading the magazine version of The New Yorker on the train tonight is going to be a lot more pleasurable than reading a bunch of articles printed out on copy paper.
Ink on paper also works better for beautiful photography. The collective weight of the fall fashion magazines shows that advertisers clearly agree.
Finally, magazines are more portable than even the lightest laptop. Anyone who has used a laptop on their actual lap can attest that it quickly gets uncomfortable.
The Kindle points out the shakiness of the first and third legs of the proverbial stool. The Kindle is lightweight, easy on the eyes and presumably doesn't burn your lap. The wireless connection provides access to
scores of books or magazines, anywhere, at any time.
Sure it's $400, but you have to believe that a $99 version with color photos will be on Amazon by Christmas 2009. With the way ink and paper prices have been going, that might not be a bad thing.
You can't swing the proverbial dead cat without hitting an industry panel discussion about the death of print, the transition to digital or some variation thereof. This has been true now for the better part of a decade. The panels just come with different titles:
1997: "Avoid Becoming Roadkill on the Information Superhighway"2007: "The Magabrand Revolutionâ€ť
Cycling through a number of failed strategiesâ€”homegrown portal sites, blockbuster acquisitions, digital editionsâ€”most publishers still have a hard time getting over the fact that branded, high-quality content doesn't seem to have the same value on-line as it does off-line.
Intuitively, established magazine brands should have an advantage over competitors they perceive as underwear-clad, basement-dwelling overachievers. Magazines have loyal audiences. Their content is professionally reported, edited and fact-checked. Longstanding brands connote a certain level of quality.
But it doesn't work that way. Perez Hilton competes on the same field as People, Drudge with Newsweek, TVNewser with Mediaweek, and on and on. On top of that, advertisers pay a significantly lower CPM online than they do for print, hurting magazine publishers in the tradeoff.
At the risk of getting sucked into the same repetitively lame dialogue I just mocked, this is what I want to blog about. As someone who started in the online world (LendingTree.com circa 1999) and then transitioned to magazine management, I hope to bring a perspective that cuts through a lot of the doomsaying and navel-gazing.
I'm going to highlight what works from the print, integrated or exclusively on-line perspectives. And if I plug my own magazine (Discover) and online product (http://discovermagazine.com) along the way, so be it. At least you don't have to sit through another integrated media panel discussion.