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Vanessa Voltolina

Preparing for Change 25 Years Too Late?

Vanessa Voltolina emedia and Technology - 05/21/2009-14:11 PM

NEW YORK—At the Bryant Park Hotel last night, a discussion sponsored by Bluewolf, a technology consulting company (with the generic sounding title “Future of Media: Preparing for Change”) kicked off with a video clip from 1981 about the San Francisco Examiner’s first experiments putting print content online.

It’s a bit disconcerting that a few of the same major issues that media companies were grappling with in 1981—like paid content models and the Web putting print employees out of jobs—are plaguing the industry today.

During a Q&A session—with media executives from Google to the Buffalo News weighing in—keynoter Clay Shirkey, technologist, professor of interactive telecommunications at New York University and “the provocative voice of all things Internet,” said this: “Media companies keep talking about paid content, and as a result are really just restating the problem.”

Shirky believes that the next step in the publishing model is paid content through online subscriptions, something which, he says, has been “unexplored.” He cited magazines like Cook’s Illustrated and Consumer Reports as examples of this success. “The model is easy enough that anyone can implement it by next Thursday…but in order to get readers to pay for online subscriptions, you have to offer something on their behalf, like no advertising.”

Vanessa Voltolina

Mr. Magazine Says Now is the ‘Best Time’ to Launch a Print Magazine

Vanessa Voltolina Editorial - 05/20/2009-10:15 AM

In a recent interview, University of Mississippi professor Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni—always good for a provocative sound bite—discussed a number of sensitive industry issues, including publishers committing “mass suicide” by prematurely folding titles (read: Hallmark) and the disadvantages of giving away content online.

Yet, despite everything that is “crazy about this industry,” Husni considers now “the best time” to launch a print magazine. That’s right—now.

“It’s going to take one to two years for that magazine to evolve and establish itself. Then you hope in two years, the economy will pick up and you’re ready for that marketplace,” he said during the interview. “Historically speaking, some of the best magazines in this country were started in the worst of times. Fortune started in the midst of the Depression in 1930; Reader’s Digest and Time Magazine in the ‘20s; Esquire and BusinessWeek in the ‘30s during the war.”

The industry‘s uptick in new launches of late (including Interview’s launch of lifestyle title Modern, Blurt and and the L.A. Times’ spin-off LAetcetera) has been tempered by some big losses, like Portfolio, Blender and Best Life.
According to Mediafinder, there have been 140 new launches so far this year, and Husni’s, which tracks month-to-month launches, reports that 167 new magazines in the first quarter of 2009.

Husni said he anticipates half of the 715 new titles launched in 2008 to fold before the end of 2009. He predicts another 700 or 800 magazines to launch in 2009. “It’s a cycle,” he added.

While Husni has faith in the cyclical nature of the industry, others aren’t as optimistic. As Hearst Magazines’ Cathie Black told the UK Telegraph in a recent interview: "Do I think 7,500 US magazines–many of them are duplicative–will survive? No."

Vanessa Voltolina

Are You Putting Your Blog on the Kindle?

Vanessa Voltolina emedia and Technology - 05/18/2009-10:28 AM

Last week, launched a self-service platform for its Kindle e-reader, allowing bloggers to publish in the Kindle Store using standard RSS technology.

Anyone can sign up for a blog vendor account and point Amazon to their blog’s news feed. In return, Amazon says it will pay bloggers for each active Kindle subscription to their blog.

Before you say, “Yay! Free revenue stream!” keep in mind the returns may be impossibly small for most blogs. According to PC World, Amazon says it will take 70 percent of all subscription sales and deliver 30 percent of the revenue to the blog publisher. At a rate of $0.99 to $1.99 per month per blog, biggies like Huffington Post may generate a decent roll, but most won’t. (Some notables currently on board include Gawker, TechCrunch and O'Reilly Radar.)

Still, it’s about expanding your audience, right? Right?

Vanessa Voltolina

New Publisher Takes Criticism of Cover to Heart

Vanessa Voltolina Design and Production - 05/07/2009-10:03 AM

Criticism, particularly the “constructive” kind, can be brutal. But one publisher swallowed his pride to produce a better cover.

With an eccentric self-portrait of CEO William Tincup, Strategy, a bimonthly startup targeted at 25-45 year-old “Type A” MBAs, was featured in FOLIO:’s November Face Up, a monthly profile of magazine covers, which includes a panel of judges who offer criticism.

Strategy was trying to find its niche as a “360-degree on business,” said publisher Matt Pettoni. Strategy's design team took the critiques seriously and retooled the cover for its subsequent issues.
“The biggest thing distracting me is the masthead and the tagline above it,” Brian Taylor, design director at National Defense Magazine, said of Strategy. “It’s all very crowded and the two trademark symbols just aren’t needed.” In response, Strategy decided to remove this tagline (something that the staff had been considering) and use the space above the logo for its strongest coverlines. “That’s valuable real estate on the newsstand,” Pettoni said.

The two trademark logos next to the tagline and coverline have also been eliminated. “We now just put a registered symbol next to the magazine title and since tag is gone,” he said.

Like many magazines, Strategy struggles with the decision between producing “people” covers or “concept” covers.
“This is the magazine’s first year,” launched two weeks before the economy plummeted, Pettoni noted. “It was really a test year.”

Vanessa Voltolina

The Influx—And Economics—Of All-Type Covers

Vanessa Voltolina Design and Production - 04/28/2009-15:27 PM

All-type covers are everywhere. Thinking of producing one?

Pros: No photoshoots and the costs associated with them.

Cons: They may not be as easy as they look.

With publishers scurrying to cut costs wherever they can, it’s no surprise that the art departments have felt the strain of cutting back on photoshoots and finding creative, low-cost solutions to effective cover art. Increasingly, magazines across the newsstand spectrum—Scientific American, New York, Money, Communication Arts, Strategy and Business, Consumer Reports, Real Simple, Foreign Affairs and Forbes—have gone the all-type route [view a sampling here]. And let’s not forget Wired, which wins the award for most type-plus-stock art covers in 2008 and 2009.

The cost savings are clear, with a publication saving thousands of dollars per issue or more, depending on the scope of the celebrity personality or photographer/stylist/handler fees.

I asked FOLIO:’s own art director, Dan Trombetto, to weigh in. He warns: “It's more important than usual that you work with the editor in coming up with the exact cover lines that lend themselves well to an all-type cover.” Translation: while slapping some text and stock images on a cover may save you money, it isn’t a guaranteed home run when it comes to design and message.

“I'm sure a lot of people think ‘oh, this will be an easy cover—I'll just pick a cool font, choose a nice color, and drop my cover line on and I'm done,’” he added. “You can get away with less than perfect typography if there is a really amazing photo on the cover—but with an all-type cover, the photo crutch is not there. All the focus is on that type.”

And one successful all-type cover doesn’t necessarily lead to another. Trombetto considers “The End of Excess” [above] effective, but he “doesn't care for the type used in ‘The List Issue.’ The cover is way too hectic and cluttered.” In general, good keywords  “that you can focus on” are increasingly important, particularly in choosing a provocative statement, like Esquire’s 1966 cover, he said.

Vanessa Voltolina

What Teens Want from Their Web Sites

Vanessa Voltolina emedia and Technology - 04/20/2009-14:35 PM

It’s a question that has puzzled parents—and online publishers—for years: What do teens want?

The Media Management Center at Northwestern University and Newspaper Association of America Foundation recently got 96 teens to stop texting for 20 minutes to find out how online news sites are engaging—or disengaging—them.

Click here for a PDF of the report.

The general consensus—if there ever can be one when dealing with fidgety teens: content engagement, not bombardment, to be key. Said one 16-year-old participant: “I just don’t like how there’s so much stuff on one page, like it’s so confusing to look at and there’s like, so many words. I like it simple.”
Here, from the study’s findings, are the 10 commandments of teen-friendly Web design [above image is a mock prototype of the results]:

  1. Don’t overload. If you jam-pack info onto your site, teens will likely feel overwhelmed. Reduce the volume by featuring fewer stories, words and photos, spending more time and space explaining the remaining stories.
  2. Enhance the media mix. Homepages should provide not only headlines, but brief overviews and images that quickly convey the content so they can engage in stories that peak their interest.
  3. Make it eye-catching. Draw them in, but be sure to provide more than a teaser—the “why should I care?” editorial motivation and images.
  4. Summarize headlines. Add a 1-sentence dek to Web stories to offer teens a sense of a story’s content; for unfamiliar topics, add a bit more.
  5. Use visuals. Both home and secondary pages with art rated higher than those without, the survey found. But keep it simple, as teens conveyed too many visuals as “clutter.”
  6. Add a hierarchy. Teens need help understanding what content is most important. Do this through images and stories that are positioned based on importance or relevance.
  7. Ease up on scrolling and clicking. Maybe it’s lack of time, maybe it’s laziness, but teens only want to click and read full stories that genuinely peak their interest. Mislead them with a headline and they’ll feel cheated.
  8. Create multiple entry points. When you finally get a teen interested enough to click on a story, provide them with a mix of info in one place, which can include images, explanation, context and related links.
  9. Make it manageable. Use headlines to break up longish stories as well as different elements to engage them, like photo galleries, video, pull quotes.
  10. Keep white space. Filling any open spaces with video clips, pictures or ads makes the page cluttered and is a turnoff for teens.


Vanessa Voltolina

Vibe Enlists Eminem to Boost Traffic, Users

Vanessa Voltolina Consumer - 04/16/2009-14:47 PM

Last week, Vibe launched Vibe Verses, its third annual online rap battle (think American Idol meets hip-hop). This year’s installment features the “No. 1 Stan Contest,” giving aspiring rappers a chance to be judged by artist Eminem.

While Vibe has produced a number online events and promotions—such as its recent online experiment, the Vammys—the magazine is banking on Eminem’s popularity to boost traffic, users to its social network  and, yes, subscriptions to the magazine.

So far, the contest is on track to have three times the number of user sign ups, Vibe says. Likewise, page views have increased by almost 300 percent compared to what it averages in a “non-contest” month.

Meanwhile, it’s a marketing play for both sides.

Eminem is a key component to the title’s June/July “Real Rap” print issue, which coincides with his new album, Relapse (the above is a 2006 Vibe cover). “He’s a friend of the [Vibe] brand, so we want to support his release,” Vibe Media Group associate publisher of marketing Olivia Scott-Perkins said. (Eminem’s lastest album, 2004's Encore, has sold around 5 million units in the U.S., a far cry from its earlier album, The Eminem Show, with upwards of 9 million U.S. sales.)

But with Vibe’s paid and verified circulation sliding 8.6 percent during the second half of 2008 according to the ABC and ad pages falling 17.7 percent, according to PIB, can the Real Slim Shady boost Vibe’s print?

While its June/July print issue may already have competition—like XXL’s recently debuted June cover—Scott-Perkins told FOLIO: that “no one else has a contest featuring [Eminem] and a quote [from him] thanking Vibe for bringing the battle off of the street corners and to the online space.”

Vanessa Voltolina

Michelle Obama Not a Newsstand Slam Dunk

Vanessa Voltolina Consumer - 04/08/2009-11:07 AM

First lady Michelle Obama isn’t helping magazine sales at the newsstand as much as originally thought.

AdAge recently reported that Newsweek’s December 1, 2008 cover story on “The Meaning of Michelle” sold 90,000 copies on newsstands, 15 percent below its average for the second half of 2008. More’s October issue with cover story “Michelle Obama at 44” sold just 154,000 copies on newsstands, 23 percent below the second-half average.

Exceptions to this rule were titles like Ebony, which sold 261,000 newsstand copies in September of 2008, up 26 percent from the six-month average. January’s Essence, which split its print run between a cover featuring the president and a cover showing the first lady, also recorded sales up 458,000 from 250,922 copies in 2008.

Successful Strategy or Hype?

To date, O, The Oprah Magazine, is the only general interest magazine cover to see Michelle Obama’s presence increase sales. So far, the issue, which hit newsstands on March 17, has seen sales up 25 percent. In 2008, single copy sales for Hearst’s title fell 25.2 percent.

So what made O the only general interest title to reap the benefits? Maybe the sales boost had less to do with Obama, and more to do with the hype surrounding Oprah’s first time cover share. As for Oprah’s second planned cover share, we’ll have to wait and see…

Vanessa Voltolina

Oprah’s Cover Share, Take II

Vanessa Voltolina Consumer - 03/31/2009-12:32 PM

The April issue of O: The Oprah Magazine generated some hype for being the first issue in the magazine’s nine-year history to have not just Oprah as the sole cover subject. (Oprah shared the cover with Michelle Obama.)
An anonymous comment on the story (“Oprah Shares Cover Magazine First Time”) read: ”It's all about ego. Do you really think she would share the cover with anyone else? Doubt it.”

Apparently, O is shedding the ego in favor of sales.

On March 19, comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres announced via her Twitter feed: “Oprah just asked me to be on the cover of O magazine!”

DeGeneres, who had initiated an “O, Yes I Can!” campaign for the spotlight, previously phoned HARPO studios on air and put herself on mock covers, all in the name of being an O cover girl.

With single copy sales falling over 25 percent during the second half of 2008 and overall circulation slipping 1.7 percent, does O think that sharing will up sales?

“We expect the current issue featuring Oprah with Michelle Obama—the first cover Oprah has shared since the magazine's launch—to be a big success and have similar expectations for her cover with Ellen," an O, The Oprah Magazine spokesperson told FOLIO:.

A decision hasn’t been made yet on what issue cover DeGeneres will grace.

Vanessa Voltolina

Did Another Magazine ‘Lighten’ a Dark Woman?

Vanessa Voltolina Design and Production - 03/31/2009-09:00 AM

What do Beyonce, Michelle Obama, and Kim Kardashian have in common? They’ve all gone under a magazine’s Photoshop knife and come out looking lighter.

Most recently, Complex mistakenly released a pre-retouched image of socialite-model-actress Kim Kardashian on its Web site with (gasp!) cellulite on her thighs. The photo was only up for a few hours, and quickly taken down when the mistake was realized.

The cellulite, however, was less disturbing than the fact that the photo’s background—and Kardashian—got visibly lighter from pre-touch to retouch.

In 2005, Radar claimed that Vanity Fair lightened singer Beyonce’s skin color for its cover. And in the past few weeks, Michelle Obama’s airbrushed makeover on New York’s cover received its share of criticism. (Not as much as her husband’s Rolling Stone cover, which some alleged made the then-president-to-be look “whiter” and downright angelic.)

While some, like Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, believe that “any respectable magazine should be doing a little retouching,” how far is too far?


Vanessa Voltolina

Print Forecast is Bleak—But at Least It’s Pretty

Vanessa Voltolina Consumer - 03/13/2009-16:23 PM

It’s not news that ad page numbers are falling, magazines are becoming thinner and at least one folds every day (today? Tennis Week).

But the has figured out a way to show a spectrum of 96 magazines (a nice, round number) or the winners, losers, and even those already-folded, in a fun, interactive format.

Now, they need one for newspapers.

Vanessa Voltolina

On Mac-Wielding 23-Year-Olds, Infuriating Freelancers and the End of Free News

Vanessa Voltolina Audience Development - 03/09/2009-10:17 AM

Maybe it’s the economy. The volume of comments on have been at an all-time high lately.

Here, a few of the more funny, insightful and controversial …

On "24 Observations from the Magazines 24/7 Conference" and Rodale executive vice president and group publisher MaryAnn Bekkedahl’s claim that 23-year-old on an iMac in the café may not produce great content:

“I don't have the answer but I think that a good starting point would be to peek over the shoulder of that 23-year-old with his iMac in the cafe. I don't picture a newspaper or magazine near him. Now look over the shoulder of 33-year-old, 44-year-old, 53-year-old. What tools are they using? What is their information mix? How quickly are they migrating to the social media that the 23-year-old uses because he doesn't know anything different? And I suspect that the general content/advertising business model will be defined largely by companies like Facebook and Twitter (which eventually need to define their own revenue models) will do it by listening, understanding, and reacting to their customers.”

On “Freelancers Call for Boycott of New Reader’s Digest Association Magazines”:

“I assumed any decent freelance writer with strong enough critical thinking abilities to actually write for a top-flight magazine group like RDA would dismiss [Meg Weaver’s] crazy ramblings out of hand. RDA pays some of the highest per-word rates available to freelancers today, and I can only assume that the freelancers writing the original content for these publications in Australia and Canada are benefiting from those rates. How very isolationist and short-sighted of Weaver to attempt this ridiculous ‘boycott.’ If you offer a service that is superior to that of others in your industry, you will always have work. RDA treats its freelancers well, and I hope their ventures are successful and they are able to continue publishing their product.”

On Penton’s most recent layoffs (“Layoffs Hit Penton’s Technology Group”):

"The writing was on the wall when the smoking lounge was closed. Now we have to smoke by the RTA bus stop and it feels so dirty. I guess this is what they mean by market-facing strategy."

On “CSM Editor: ‘News is Free’ Era is Over”:

“News is free—that cat is already out of the bag. Once an event happens—once it's news—details and facts will flood free media to the point that the idea of charging for those same details and facts will look, feel, and be laughable. Analysis? Well, that's a different story. There you may be able to provide a value add, you might be able to charge a premium, provided free media isn't doing as good or better job at it. The jury is still out on the likelihood of that. Does Mr. Yemma [CSM editor] not see that as ‘real’ journalists are turned out of work by legitimate news sources they will turn to the web they will become ‘bloggers’? So forget about the age of free news. We're entering the age of entrepreneurial journalism.”

On “Airline Takes Heat Over SI Swimsuit Promo on Side of 737”:

“As a former Pacific Southwest Airlines flight attendant from the late 60's to the mid 70's, sex was what sold the airlines. As those who bore the brunt of the jokes and harassment, we were glad to see our efforts to bring some dignity to our jobs pay off. We need to bring the fun back to flying, but not at the expense of the dignity of women. Let's try another ‘hook.’”


“Have these people been to a beach in the last 50 years? Who cares if SWA wants to put a picture of a woman in a bikini on their air plane. It might only be offensive to those who are far, far too sensitive or are led to feel guilty by looking at an attractive woman on the side of a plane. I say good job to SI and SWA.”

[IMAGE via Flickr]