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Jason Fell

The Value of Online Content: Practically Nothing

Jason Fell Editorial - 10/28/2009-12:56 PM

I was thumbing through the November issue of Wired recently when I stumbled across an article on Demand Media, penned by senior writer Daniel Roth (one of my favorite Wired writers). It’s a detailed look at how the online network has successfully leveraged a user-generated content model and become the largest supplier of videos to YouTube. According to the report, Demand rakes in roughly $200 million a year and was valued in a recent round of financing at $1 billion.

Demand is reportedly the 15th-most-visited online media property, attracting 52 million visitors in September—bigger than, and It seems like Demand is kicking butt.

But what jumped out at me while reading the Wired piece wasn’t Demand’s soaring profits. It was how co-founder Richard Rosenblatt (former CEO of Intermix Media, the company behind MySpace) thinks other media companies, which have been trying to increase the value of their content to at least match the cost of producing it, have the equation backwards. As he’s done with Demand, Rosenblatt said the trick is in cutting costs until they match market value for your content.

Demand utilizes an algorithm system it developed that mines search data, internet traffic patterns and keyword rates to commission stories/videos based on what online users want to know and how much advertisers will pay for it. The company has all but eliminated actual people from the process, other than to make sense of terms the algorithm spits out. (“Demand uses editors in its process, too” the Wired story says, but “they just aren’t worth very much.”)

Another way to cut costs: Pay your content producers squat. Rosenblatt’s massive stable of freelancers earn just $15 per article and $20 per video produced, on average. Some writers opt to earn nothing upfront instead to participate in a profit sharing program, although the story said it can take months to earn even $15 that way. Copyeditors take home $2.50 per article, fact-checkers get $1 an article and headline proofers bank a whopping 8 cents a headline.

Fifteen dollars a story? Granted, the stories are far from 4,000-word investigative pieces, but as a writer you’d need to crank out an insane amount of copy in order to earn anything close to what some think is a reasonable commission. Only a few years ago I was freelancing for a Boston-area newspaper, writing 300-word lifestyle/entertainment stories at about $100 a pop. That’s more than six times what Demand pays today.

To be fair, the pittance Demand pays its freelancers multiplied by the volume of content it produces has added up to $17 million in expenses so far. But even so, the idea that online content and its creators have been devalued is astonishing. As a content producer myself, it’s scary.

But as much as I don’t want to admit it, Demand’s model is something some publishers might want to take a hard look at. Making money online isn’t a no-brainer.

Jason Fell

Boating Industry, Magazines Less Buoyant This Year

Jason Fell Sales and Marketing - 10/22/2009-11:57 AM

In this down economy, it isn’t any big surprise that automotive and financial have been two of the hardest-hit markets. Out of the 12 advertising categories tracked by the Publishers Information Bureau, they saw the steepest declines through the first nine months, with ad pages falling 47.3 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

Another industry that’s taken a beating this year is boating. I was reading the editor’s note yesterday on boating trade publication Soundings Trade Only’s Web site, written by Bill Sisson (he was my editor when I worked as a staff writer at Trade Only’s consumer-side sister Soundings magazine a few years ago—he now oversees editorial for both titles). In it, Sisson looked back over the last 12 months, detailing the dramatic impact the down economy has had on the boating industry.

One takeaway I found, well, astounding:

The job loss estimates are staggering for an industry our size. By some accounts, as many as 200,000 jobs—perhaps 75 percent of the work force—have vanished since 2005, with the vast majority of those coming from manufacturing.

And, inevitably, as that industry declined, so has the consumer boating magazine market. Through the first three quarters, the seven titles tracked by PIB averaged a 38.1 percent loss in ad pages. (I didn’t include Power Cruising since it folded in March). The industry average in ad page declines was 27.2 percent.

“When demand evaporated and wholesale credit became difficult to get, builders and dealers did their best to hold onto their cash,” Sisson told me of the declines in the boating industry. “Companies went into survival mode, shutting or slowing production lines, furloughing workers, cutting costs wherever they could, including their advertising budgets.”

Sounds a lot like what’s happened in magazine publishing. While Soundings has felt the same declines as other boating magazines (“we’ve held up as well as most, and better than some”), Sisson said magazine publishers in his market will need to keep a careful watch over expense control, as well continue to diversify their product portfolios beyond the printed page.

“Boating titles will need to develop a broad strategy for maintaining their current audience, winning new readers and viewers, and offering advertisers and other partners a 360-degree program for reaching target audiences,” he said.

Looking forward, Sisson hopes new products will help jumpstart demand in the boating industry. He said the industry is looking at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show next week as a barometer of sorts for how sales might fare in the coming months.

But are people actually budgeting for a new 40-footer this year? Maybe an Average Joe like me isn’t, but a die-hard boater might be, right?

Ad Page Totals Through the Third Quarter:

 20092008% CHNG
Boating Life
Cruising World
Power & Motoryacht
Sailing World

Source: PIB

Jason Fell

Condé Nast Layoffs: A Roundup (So Far)

Jason Fell Consumer - 10/19/2009-16:30 PM

In his memo to staffers announcing the closure of Gourmet, Cookie, Elegant Bride and Modern Bride, CEO Chuck Townsend said that workforce reductions were “underway throughout the company.” He wasn’t lying. What he didn't mention was that the cuts would be made at a painfully slow pace.

The first to be let go, of course, were those employees who worked at the affected magazines. But then came news that its surviving bridal title Brides reduced its workforce by 12 people. Before the week was done, Condé Nast Digital was said  to have cut 15 positions.

And the layoffs continued to roll. The following week, 14 people were let go between Vogue and sister fashion magazine W. Vanity Fair reportedly lost “a handful” of staffers and Glamour was said to have “trimmed staff,” too. Cuts also came from the company’s corporate sales efforts under the Condé Nast Media Group. The most recent layoffs came last week: Condé’s Golfing Group cut 19 people.

UPDATE: Another day, another layoff story (or two). Now, news comes that Wired has been hit and that Glamour is suffering more losses. is feeling the pinch, too.

When I spoke with Townsend on October 6, he said 180 people had lost their jobs. That number is climbing.

It’s like Condé has taken a page out of the Time Inc. playbook. Jaws dropped late last year when the mega publisher said it was axing up to 600 jobs as part of a major restructuring. After the announcement, news of more and more and more layoffs were unveiled in slow motion. It must have been a killer for employee morale.

The same is happening this year at Condé Nast. While the story(ies) are a boon for some media reporters, I can’t imagine working there and anticipating a pink slip today. Or maybe tomorrow. Or perhaps—well, no one really knows when.

And the cuts might continue. A Condé Nast spokesperson told me the company is "not commenting on specific reductions or overall numbers." She also declined to comment when I asked if Condé was all done reconfiguring its workforce structure.

Oh boy.

Jason Fell

November Cover Model: The Turkey

Jason Fell Design and Production - 10/16/2009-16:11 PM

It’s that time of year again. That’s right—turkey time.

I sat down at my desk this afternoon and began opening the stacks of magazines that are delivered here to the FOLIO: office daily. First on the pile was Condé Nast’s Bon Appetit, with a delicious-looking turkey resting gently in a roasting pan on the cover. Next came the herb-crusted masterpiece on the cover of American Express Publishing’s Food & Wine. Then I unwrapped the new issue of Martha Stewart Living, with its “simple and sensational” bird with glazed carrots and roasted vegetables, accompanied by a sweet potato casserole.

OK, I can’t go on. I’m starting to salivate.

Newsstands this time every year are overflowing with magazine covers featuring this succulent bird. But the cover that takes the cake (and the cranberry sauce, and the stuffing) this year is Hearst’s Food Network Magazine. The November issue features what the publisher says is the “first” triple cover in the U.S. (go on, share my hunger pangs—see the covers below). The first cover features the turkey dinner while cover two shows side dishes and the third follows up with dessert. The entire cover package was sponsored by Cargill's Truvia, a natural sweetener.

If that wasn’t already too much, the issue has nearly 140 recipes for creating more than 288,000 variations of the culinary wonder known as Thanksgiving dinner.

Have these covers triggered your taste buds? Not to worry. Turkey day is only a little over a month away.

Jason Fell

‘Serious’ U.K. Publications Band Together for Marketing Push

Jason Fell Sales and Marketing - 10/12/2009-13:37 PM

Is there a shortage of people reading “serious” magazines across the Atlantic?

Fifteen U.K.-based magazine publishers think so. They’ve formed the Cultural Publications Group, a joint marketing venture tasked with showing “the breadth of titles that are available at the more serious end of the market.”

The idea behind the initiative, so the group says, is to expose their magazines to a wider audience. Magazines participating in the collaboration include BBC Music, The Spectator, New Scientist, and The Week, among others.

Over the next several weeks, more than 1.3 million leaflets will be distributed (800,000 inside the group’s magazines, the rest in other magazines and newspapers) directing readers to a Web site where they can browse the group’s magazines and order subscriptions.

And, depending on how many issues are ordered, some subscription prices have been discounted more than 70 percent. One offer, for three issues of Lonely Planet magazine, for example, costs roughly $1.60. Another offer, for six issues of The Week, is free. That’s right. Completely free.

Haven’t we seen enough evidence that discounting subscriptions, especially during a time when advertising dollars are evaporating, doesn’t work? Sure, publishers get a few extra subscribers for a short time but what does it matter if they can’t turn those numbers into ad dollars? Selling a sub for pennies on the dollar (or a pence on the pound) doesn’t do much for a publisher’s bottom line.

To be fair, though, not all of the Cultural Publications Group’s subs are at bargain basement prices. For instance, while a three-issue order of BBC Music costs less than $5, a 39-issue order will cost more than $180.

And, the folks at Cultural Publications Group seem hopeful the effort will result in considerable ROI in terms of data sharing. “The value to the publishers is that it (should) help them gain more subscribers at a very low cost per order,” group co-organizer Don Brown wrote in an email to me this week. Brown—who serves as business development director for ThreePM, the company that built the group’s Web site and manages the subscription operation—was involved in an earlier iteration of the Cultural Publications Group from 2002 to 2005.

“All the magazines taking part are very savvy sub marketers and derive most of their revenue from their subscription income,” Brown continued. “The promotion allows them to cross sell to the other group members and to have visibility in media that they may not ordinarily be able to afford … The related benefit is that because all response data will be shared among the group, titles will be able to target the third party media that has been most successful for them.”

Interesting. So, might we expect to see a similar group pop up on this side of the pond, made up of magazines like the Economist and the Atlantic? I doubt it.

Jason Fell

What to Expect of a Playboy Repositioning

Jason Fell Consumer - 10/08/2009-13:25 PM

Recently-appointed Playboy Enterprises CEO Scott Flanders told me during a phone conversation this week that he is planning to announce a “strategic repositioning” of the company before the end of the year. While he was mum on sharing any details of the repositioning, Flanders’ promotion of Alex L. Vaickus from executive vice president and president of global licensing to the newly-created position of president, overseeing all of the company’s business operations, shows his commitment to the licensing portion of the business. (In a Q+A I did with Flanders when he took the helm as CEO, he said licensing, globally, is the company’s fastest-growing and most profitable segment.)

That means Playboy t-shirts, home wear, alcoholic beverages, and possibly lunch boxes (who knows?), sold globally. Maybe even Playboy-branded night clubs, like the one inside the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

In terms of the flagship magazine, I recall a Playboy earnings call this summer when interim CEO Jerome Kern said the company was considering “radical changes" to its print business model. Those changes included price increases, a frequency reduction and lowering its rate base of 2.6 million. The company also said it would combine Playboy's July and August issues into a double issue.

A lot of these changes would make sense, especially price increases and a rate base reduction. Of the more than 30 big-circ. consumer magazines—including AARP, Reader’s Digest, Maxim and Newsweek—only Playboy fell short of fulfilling its rate base through the first half of the year, delivering a total paid and verified circ. of 2,453,266, compared to its 2.6 million rate base, according to ABC’s most recent FAS-FAX report.

And in terms of revenue, selling ad pages isn’t cutting it, either. The magazine saw ad pages fall 30.2 percent compared to the same period last year, according to PIB figures. Hopefully increasing cover and/or sub prices should help there.

Flanders told me he is “absolutely committed” to keeping Playboy in print. But if some if not all of these “radical” changes are still on the table for Flanders’ forthcoming “strategic repositioning,” might it also be assumed that layoffs would be associated with those changes? Presumably, fewer people would be required to publish a smaller magazine fewer times per year.

I wouldn’t doubt it.

Jason Fell

Condé Nast CEO: No More Magazine Closures

Jason Fell Consumer - 10/06/2009-09:55 AM

Ever since Condé Nast hired consultants McKinsey & Co. this summer to help the big consumer magazine publisher rethink its business strategy, news trickled out about all of the dramatic changes that were unfolding.

At first the changes seemed, well, trivial. The stocks of Poland Spring bottles vanished. Weekly deliveries of company-bought fresh flowers on editors’ and publishers’ desks disappeared. Vanity Fair chief editor Graydon Carter was seen—gaspeating in the cafeteria.

More recently, reports speculated that some Condé managers would be told to reduce their budgets by roughly 25 percent. Some magazines would be folded. Then, reportedly, they wouldn’t fold.

But yesterday, a few weeks after the McKinsey consultants were said to have wrapped up their report, the big bomb dropped at 4 Times Square: Condé Nast shuttered Gourmet, Cookie, Elegant Bride and Modern Bride. The news, especially in regard to Gourmet, sent shockwaves around the industry that spilled over into the mainstream media. Roughly 180 people lost their jobs.

Monday evening, I spoke with Condé Nast president and CEO Chuck Townsend over e-mail about the magazine closings. He said the McKinsey consultants weren’t tasked with determining which magazines to shut down, but rather to concentrate on the “businesses with the strongest potential for growth for the long term.” In regard to Gourmet—which launched in 1941 and was acquired by Condé Nast in the early 1980s—Townsend said it had less potential for strength and long-term growth than its sister food title, Bon Appetit.

Editorial content aside, I think it made some sense, from a business standpoint, to close those affected magazines. Townsend said the company will reinvest the money it saves from no longer publishing the titles into its remaining magazine products.

More Closures/Cutbacks to Come?

But couldn’t there be additional targets for closure? Fashion title W, with a 450,000 rate base, saw ad pages plummet 44.2 percent during the first half, according to PIB figures. Architectural Digest (800,000 rate base) saw pages fall 49.5 percent, pages decreased 47.6 percent at Wired (700,000 rate base) and Condé Nast Traveler (800,000 rate base) saw a 42.4 percent drop. Details (450,000 rate base), which shares some of its market with sister Condé title GQ (875,000 rate base) saw pages fall 37.3 percent during the period. Although it carries a 1 million rate base, Teen Vogue saw ad pages drop 40.8 percent.

Despite those steep losses, Townsend said he is convinced the titles are still “strong contributing businesses to our company.” When asked if any more Condé Nast magazines will be closed, Townsend’s simple answer was “no.”

That’s some good news for the paranoid (and rightly so) Condé Nast staffers. However, if the speculation is right, more cutbacks are coming, and could roll out in waves over the next several months. Unfortunately, Townsend declined to tell me about any of those pending changes.

Jason Fell

Loyalty Shown the Door

Jason Fell Consumer - 09/30/2009-16:29 PM

Brian Nutting showed his loyalty to the wrong group of people—or at least that’s what his bosses thought.

Following the round of 44 layoffs at the CQ-Roll Call Group—associated with parent company the Economist Group’s merger of recently-acquired Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call—the 27-year CQ editor sent an e-mail to CQ-Roll Call Group executive vice president and managing director Laurie Battaglia, editorial director Mike Mills and the entire newsroom, demanding an explanation from top brass in regard to the cuts.

“We were told that the people in the company were highly valued,” Nutting wrote. “And now this.”

That e-mail, or apparently not showing remorse for writing it, landed him a pink slip. In a memo to staffers Tuesday, posted by Mediabistro’s FishbowlDC, Mills wrote that Nutting had left the company “effective today.”

That same day, Nutting told Politico’s Michael Calderone, who has covered the acquisition and subsequent merger extensively, that he was fired for “insubordination.” “I guess I was given one last chance to say I was sorry, that I’d done something impulsive, and I apologize," he told Calderone, indicating that he refused to apologize. “I didn’t feel like I could turn my back on the people I worked with," he said.

It’s a tough time in magazine publishing right now, and I’m sure there are A LOT of people in the industry who aren’t, and won’t, speak up about management missteps for fear of losing their jobs. Don’t get me wrong, though—I’m not saying that the CQ-Roll Call Group layoffs were necessarily the result of mismanagement.

What I am saying is that this isn't the first time we’ve seen a passionate editor stand up for what he/she believes—even with their job on the line. And I hope it isn’t the last.

Jason Fell

Johnson Publishing Moving Away From Magazines?

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 09/28/2009-13:06 PM

Magazine M&A has been rife with rumors and speculation over the last several weeks. One such report came from Newsweek on Friday, indicating that Chicago-based Johnson Publishing is shopping its flagship Ebony, the general interest African American magazine it launched in November 1945.

According to the Newsweek story, Johnson CEO Linda Johnson Rice—daughter of founder John H. Johnson—has approached a number of private equity firms and media companies, including Essence publisher Time Inc. and BET owner Viacom, about them buying the ailing monthly. Through the first half, the magazine saw ad pages tumble 34.7 percent, according to PIB figures.

I contacted a Johnson Publishing spokesperson this morning to find out the company’s stance. In an e-mail, the spokesperson wrote: “As we’ve indicated previously, we are exploring a range of options to support our core media business. However, we are not in discussions with Time Inc. and Viacom.”

OK, so Time Inc. and Viacom might not be in the picture, but the response doesn’t deny that Ebony is indeed on the block. If Johnson is hawking Ebony in an attempt to support its “core media business,” does that suggest the company is moving away from magazines?

Might Johnson consider selling its sister title Jet, too? It didn’t fare much better through the first half, with ad pages declining 39.5 percent. Earlier this month, Johnson pulled the plug on this year’s Ebony Fashion Fair—the company’s fund-raising annual traveling fashion tour—citing “overall economic challenges.”

Lots of publishing companies have struggled to stay afloat this year. The idea, however, of Johnson selling off its flagship magazine is one to make you take pause.

Jason Fell

Celebrity Byline Hunting: Glamour Taps Katie Couric as Contributing Columnist

Jason Fell Editorial - 09/24/2009-20:35 PM

Another magazine publisher has tapped the power of the celebrity byline.

The latest: Katie Couric, anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News With Katie Couric, was named a monthly columnist at Condé Nast’s Glamour magazine. Each month, Couric will write a Q+A on a subject—an athlete, musician, politician, you name it—who she thinks is inspiring to women and girls.

Couric [pictured] is going straight to the top for her first column, to be featured in the December issue: First Lady Michelle Obama.

"It's not just that she's a dominant figure in news to them, which she is,” Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive said of Couric, “it's that she has the human touch it takes to get into the personalities behind the news, and that makes her perfect for Glamour readers."

Glamour isn't the only magazine to turn to a celebrity editorial contributor in recent weeks. Earlier this month, O, the Oprah Magazine named regular Oprah Winfrey Show guest and health expert Dr. Mehmet Oz as a contributing editor.

Like her or not, Couric, who also recently launched a new Web show, is an award winning journalist. Dr. Oz, for his part, is a cardiac surgeon and a trusted voice in the medical/media world (Dr. Oz landed his own TV talk show, too).

But to what extent are these appointments about editorial substance and credibility? Or, are they about making money?

I mean, celebrity sells, right? (Or, does it?)

The most egregious of these recent appointments, without a doubt, was OK! magazine’s naming Kim Kardashian a contributing beauty editor. They even threw the celebutante (what is she famous for, anyway?) a swanky welcome party at New York City’s Griffin lounge. (See pictures here.)

The OK! editorial team isn’t really going to let Kardashian write anything, is it?

Jason Fell

Hallmark’s ‘Anti-TMZ’

Jason Fell Consumer - 09/23/2009-15:55 PM

South Carolina Republican representative Joe Wilson’s outburst during President Obama’s speech to Congress on health care. Tennis player Serena Williams’ on-court, expletive-laden tirade. Kanye West’s aggressive—however not altogether unusual—behavior during MTV’s Music Video Awards.

They all make good headlines. But the Hallmark Channel, a division of Hallmark Cards, wants to know: Has civilization lost its civility? In an affront to all the vitriol that continually makes up news headlines and TV news programs, the Hallmark Channel has created, a site devoted exclusively to positive news about celebrities—from Hollywood to sports, to politics and beyond. features content from chief correspondent-bloggers Delaina Dixon, who is based in New York, and Daisy Whitney, who is in Los Angeles. The site is live now but is eyeing October 23 for its official launch.

With the tag line "Cleaning Up the Red Carpet," Hallmark is calling the site the "anit-TMZ." " will bring only positive news to the masses who are tired of the mudslinging,” Hallmark said in an announcement. “Whether the news is love and marriage, children, chivalry, dream home, dream vacation, enlightenment, or benevolent altruism, Dixon and Whitney will shine a light through every sector of show business, putting deserving entertainers in a favorable spot.”

How nice! (Earlier this year Hallmark Cards shuttered its flagship Hallmark magazine. According to spurned subscribers, the way Hallmark handled the shut down wasn’t so nice.)

A Hallmark Channel spokesperson told me the site hopes to get to at least 50,000 uniques within the first two months and eventually wants to host paid advertising. Right now, the home page looks like an overt plug for Hallmark’s upcoming film, Always Forever, with a large banner ad and a series of five promotional videos at the bottom.

It’s true, there is a lot of negative news in celebrity-dom these days. The same can be said for magazines. We've made a big effort to post as many positive stories during these difficult times as we can. But the reality is that negative stories get A LOT more reader/user/viewer attention than the positive ones, even on

Jason Fell

‘You Should Be Able to Come to Work and Be Safe'

Jason Fell City and Regionals - 09/15/2009-11:07 AM

I know it’s a wild time in magazine publishing, but this is just crazy.

Lori Lippman, publisher of Tuscon, Arizona-based Fitness Plus magazine, is said to be considering shutting down the nearly 25-year-old free monthly after one of her employees was violently attacked outside the magazine’s office—twice.

On September 3, Lippman’s receptionist was stabbed in the parking lot by a man she said was trying to break into a co-worker’s vehicle. The receptionist was apparently attacked again on Monday, but was not harmed. The attacker, who she said again had a knife, ran off after she sprayed him with pepper spray. Police weren’t able to locate him.

Hours after the attack Monday, Lippman sent her staff home and locked the doors to the magazine. The receptionist, understandably, quit.

Lippman apparently is thinking about relocating but said she may shut down the magazine altogether. "I just think you should be able to come to work at 9 in the morning and be safe," she told the Arizona Daily Star. "But instead, we are here with the doors locked. It should not be that way. It's not like we have big secrets in here—we're a fitness magazine."