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Bill Mickey

Too Radical?

Bill Mickey emedia and Technology - 12/18/2006-03:00 AM

Chris Anderson, Wired editor, Long Tail author and Folio: cover subject, blogged about his ideas on ‘radical transparency’ in magazine publishing: “If the key word is ‘participation’, how could we encourage that to the fullest? If trust comes come from transparency, how might we open the entire process?”

Anderson takes the ideas of reader participation and transparent, ‘open source’ journalism to the wall, setting up a scenario where, among other ideas, writers expose their stories during the development stage and readers get to help – with downside comments, too. For example:

2) Show what we're working on. We already have internal wikis that are common scratch pads for teams working on projects. And most writers have their own thread-gathering processes, often online. Why no open them to all? Who knows, perhaps other people will have good ideas, too.

Upside: Tap the wisdom of crowds

Risk: Tip off competitors (although I'd argue that this would just as likely freeze them; after all the prior art would be obvious to all); Risks "scooping ourselves", robbing the final product of freshness.

3) “Process as Content”*. Why not share the reporting as it happens, uploading the text of each interview as soon as you can get it processed by your flat-world transcription service in India? (This may sound ridiculous, but it’s exactly what wire services such as the AP have long done--they update their stories with each new fragment of information). After you’ve woven together enough of the threads to have a semi-coherent draft, why not ask your readers to help edit it? (We did it here, and it worked great). And while you’re at it, let them write the headlines and subheads, not just for the site but also the punchier ones for the RSS feed and the one that has to work with the art for the magazine.

Upside: Open participation can make stories better--better researched, better thought through and deeper. It also can crowdsource some of the work of the copy desk and editors. And once the story is done and published, the participants have a sense of collective ownership that encourages them to spread the word.

Risk: Curating the process can quickly hit diminishing returns. Writers end up feeling like a cruise director, constantly trying to get people to participate. And all the other risks of the item above.

When you’re brainstorming, it’s always best for someone to present scenarios in one extreme or another – it’s one way of meeting in the middle. But it’s been interesting to see industry reactions. Some agree with Anderson, for different reasons. Others aren’t so sure.

I guess I’m in the second camp. I’m all for finding ways to ratchet up reader and user participation wherever possible. Any way a magazine can get its readers to further absorb the brand and content into their daily lives is essential.

Yet I can’t get my head around opening up content that’s historically been created by a magazine’s editors to public participation for fear of two risks that Anderson already cites, but I find fatal:

1. There’s no way I’d want my story ideas and sources exposed to the competition. Something Business 2.0’s editor, Josh Quittner, is drooling over at the expense of Wired.

2. If I, as a reader, participate in the creation of a story, whether by contributing ideas, sources or simply tweaking subheads, I’ll be burnt out on it by the time the story is finished. The novelty of participating is one thing, but what happens to the informational value of the story once it’s finally done if you’ve already been exposed to every creative nuance?

Some of this is ideal for certain areas of online content creation, something Quittner points out. Yet, Anderson proposes his ideas for the whole operation – print and Web.

Bill Mickey

Integrating Print And Online

Bill Mickey emedia and Technology - 12/11/2006-03:00 AM

Rodale announced today that they’re making some big changes in their org charts. Namely, by giving individual publishers their own dedicated online sales staff while simultaneously training print staff to sell online.

They’re also reassigning online editors to their respective editors in chief—this is particularly interesting to me because it puts online content control squarely in the hands of a magazine’s editor. It eliminates the content divide that separates the two editorial realms. At the end of the day, if you’ve got enough editorial staff to rationally support the operation via print and online, why not unite the vision under one content and policy guru? In Rodale’s case this seems to be not just the editor in chief but also a brand editor assigned to oversee brand initiatives across the entire media platform.

For more on Rodale’s integration efforts:
-Rodale Moves to Integrate Online, Print Staffs, via MediaWeek

Bill Mickey

Nussbaum To Penton Staff: 'It Has Been Decided That I Will Be Leaving'

Bill Mickey B2B - 12/06/2006-03:00 AM

It was announced today that Prism CEO John French will become CEO of the soon-to-close merger of Prism and Penton Media.

Penton CEO David Nussbaum has decided that he will leave the company when the merger is complete sometime during the first half of next year. Until today, the b-to-b industry was abuzz with speculation about which exec would get the new CEO spot. Given Nussbaum’s hefty golden parachute, it’s not terribly surprising he’s decided to move on.

Penton filed an 8-K form with the SEC today that included copies of the press release announcing French’s CEO appointment, and a letter from Nussbaum to Penton’s employees announcing his planned departure. Here’s what he had to say:

Hi Everyone,

As you know, the merger process with Prism Business Media is continuing as Penton is awaiting SEC approval on our proxy statement. Once that proxy is approved, we will go to our shareholders and ask them to vote the transaction. It is anticipated that the deal could close between late January and late February.

Once the deal closes, it has been decided that I will be leaving the merged company and John French will become the CEO. First let me congratulate John, and wish him the best of luck and success. As a former Penton executive, he understands our culture and people well and thus should be positioned to lead our company successfully.

Secondly, I’d like you to know that Wasserstein/MidOcean and I had many long discussions about my role with the company, and came to the same conclusion — that I am anxious and excited to try a new path of discovery and thus it was best for the business that we part ways. I have pledged to the new future owners of the business that I will be available to help in the integration when called upon. I make the same pledge to each of you, if you need to talk, brainstorm, or simply chat—I am available to you as well.

It is important to note that I still, and always will, care very much about each and every one of you. We have been through a lot together as we revived Penton and returned it to its place of glory in the business media industry. I have told everyone who would listen that we have the best team in the business. You are resilient, strong minded, creative, passionate and have a hunger to win. I feel honored and privileged to have had the pleasure of leading this team for the past several years.

Thank you for all your contributions, for your friendship and for your support.

And please stay in touch. I won’t be leaving until the deal closes and will get you my future contact information then.



Bill Mickey

Mags And 'Web 2.0'

Bill Mickey emedia and Technology - 12/01/2006-03:00 AM

The Bivings Group, a Washington, DC-based Internet marketing and information firm, released a study Wednesday called “Analyzing the Presence of Magazines on the Internet,” which follows up an earlier study on newspapers.

The magazine report examined the top 50 circulated titles in the U.S., benchmarking their progress in “Web 2.0” initiatives: RSS, mobile content, podcasts, blogs, and message boards among others.

It’s a shallow study, interesting for, well, what the 50 widest circulated titles are up to on the Web. Nevertheless, the report falls victim to broad conclusions: “After finishing the research, it became clear that magazines are not making use of Web 2.0.” Granted, the titles examined in the study were indeed coming up pretty short in the benchmarked feature set, but it’s a stretch to assume these results represent an industry-wide pattern.

But, hey, who has the time or resources to survey the many thousands of consumer, b-to-b, association, regional, and custom titles out there anyway?

Some results:
-Message boards/forums are offered by 46 per cent of magazine websites.
-38 per cent of the magazines require registration to view all of the site’s content.
-38 per cent of the magazines offer at least one reporter blog.
-Video is an offering on 34 per cent of websites.
-14 per cent of sites offer podcasts and bookmarking
-Eight per cent of sites allow comments on articles
-Six per cent of magazine websites use tags for organizing and searching articles.

And poor Playboy, despite cracking the top 20 circulated titles and having a pretty aggressive digital strategy, was shut out of the report. According to the study’s authors, the magazine is “considered inappropriate for professional research.” Ouch. I guess Folio: and the other trades should think about making our research and reporting more “professional.”

Bill Mickey

Online Edit For Sale

Bill Mickey emedia and Technology - 11/27/2006-03:00 AM

Another article covering in-text ad links recently ran on It’s one of those radioactive subjects that gets its fair share of love-hate coverage. The technology is not new, and allows advertisers to buy keywords within an article that are hyperlinked via mouse-over to a pop-up text or video ad. Advertisers pay a prearranged price when a user clicks on the ad.

There are several vendors that broker this service between publisher and advertiser, selling keywords on a pay-per-click basis – anywhere between $5 and $20, according to the report. In fall 2004, Vibrant Media’s IntelliTXT product caused a minor sensation at when the editorial staff rejected its brief implementation.

There’s a place for this technology, for sure, but I fall on the “intense dislike” side of the fence. As a writer, I’d hate to see my stories appear online peppered with hyperlinked keywords that have been sold to a vendor. It’s product placement. And the unmistakable odor of sell-out is there, and even if editors and writers have no prior knowledge or input on which words are selected and sold, readers will inevitably notice. And publishers simply shouldn’t even go there for fear of tainting the edit brand.

Other disheartening points the article makes:

Hyde Post, vice president for the Internet at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says the paper restricts in-text ads to soft-news sections such as entertainment and sports. The paper hasn’t received any reader complaints, he says. “You have to try new things,” Mr. Post says of the paper’s decision to start running in-text ads earlier this year. “I look at the medium as very evolutionary.”
I realize papers often get knocked as Internet neophytes, and perhaps the AJC closely examined the implications of using the service – I don’t know and the article doesn’t say. But, no, you don’t have to try new things just because the medium allows it. And just because the experiment is in the “soft-news sections” doesn’t mean a negative brand impact will extend into the “hard news” sections.

Still, in-text advertising is gaining traction, in part because it appeals to many sites on the Web that don’t focus on hard news, such as feature magazines, trade publications and blogs.
Since when do feature magazines and trade publications ignore hard news? Or blogs, for that matter? Magazine publishers have used their Web sites as the platform de jour for news-focused content. And, again, I don’t get this hard news vs. soft news distinction. It’s all content critical to a publication, both online and off. The implication here is that “soft news” is somehow less deserving of ethical oversight.

Update: Paul Conley abhors in-text ads even more passionately. Check out today's post at his blog, where he makes two excellent points: 1) that the story's author concludes consumer and trade publications are somehow responsible for the practice's traction (see second grab); and 2) VNU has also been there and back again.

Bill Mickey

Time Starts New Ratebase Fad?

Bill Mickey Audience Development - 11/10/2006-03:00 AM

Time Inc. has announced that Time will be reducing its ratebase from 4 million to 3.25 million. The magazine will also boost its newsstand cover price by $1.

The statement takes an overtly gushy tone, billing the move as a “bold attempt to revolutionize the way mass magazines sell advertising.” Ed McCarrick, Time’s president and worldwide publisher assures the public (read: advertisers and train wreck enthusiasts) that they’re making a “groundbreaking move from a position of strength.” Freshly installed managing editor Richard Stengel says it’s a “bold step.”

There’s a reason for all the hyperbole: cutting ratebase has traditionally been seen as sign of weakness – or the result of a circulation snafu discovered by an auditor. So Time has to come out on the offensive, and this may just be the move that starts a new ratebase reduction fad.

Observers, namely, Dan Capell, have noted that it will take one of the big guys – Time Inc., Hearst, Conde Nast, etc. – to make the first move before others take the step. They have also said that ratebase has become an increasingly ineffective audience measurement tool for an ad buy and that magazines should be measured in a way similar to other media.

Plus, reducing ratebase can pay dividends in distribution efficiencies. What remains to be seen is if other publishers can break their ratebase habit and if media buyers will make the leap along with them.

Find more coverage here, here and here.

Bill Mickey

Folio: Show 2006 And Blogging

Bill Mickey Editorial - 10/27/2006-02:00 AM

We’re all back from the Folio: Show, which concluded on Wednesday in New York. And we’ve more or less decompressed from an event that, by all accounts, was a home run -- despite the fact that there was another magazine event in sunnier Phoenix.

Interestingly, and gratifyingly, this was the first year that the show picked up a fair share of blog coverage (FishbowlNY in particular). This is a good thing, because while we could have blogged from the event in realtime, we obviously didn’t. Which goes to show that yes, we all know there’s a place for blogging in our content mix, yet actually organizing our time around all the other behind-the-curtain event responsibilities – from moderating panels, introducing speakers, writing a show daily, covering sessions for the newsletter, networking, cruising for news tips, and helping out where we could with event logistics – is another story altogether. Old habits die hard. Time management: a fundamental, yet critical, skill in an editor’s ever-widening set. This might seem duh-worthy, but when you’re caught up in the day-to-day production of an event, details like that are easy to miss. We’ll surely incorporate realtime communications from future events.

Like I said, the show was a bell-ringer, and if you couldn’t make it, here’s what we, and some others, have observed:

Folio: Show Keynote Roundup (Folio: Alert)

Eddie and Ozzie Award Winners (Folio: Alert)

Folio: Show Photos (Folio: Magazine Seen)

Folio: Awards Photos (Folio: Magazine Seen)

What I Didn’t Say (Paul Conley)

Folio 2006: Newsy Bits (FishbowlNY)

Bill Mickey

I Just Lost An Awesome Pr Contact

Bill Mickey Editorial - 10/20/2006-02:00 AM
We’re having a tough week with our pr contacts, and fellow editors and writers, I know you can empathize with this one. A pr contact I’ve come to depend on frequently for corporate sources, a rarity, I know, is leaving his job. This guy was always accommodating, often in the 11th hour, securing savvy contacts who consistently contributed usable stuff.

While unsolicited pitches sometimes do work, and those kind are certainly appreciated, he never pitched with merciless regularity and sent releases sparingly. He implicitly understood how the pr-editor relationship with Folio: works –- he didn’t sell, he cooperated, fully recognizing that a productive relationship with a trade pub can elevate his colleagues’ stature in an industry that habitually looks in on itself.

Perhaps he didn’t pursue this tactic with other outlets, I don’t know. But he knew what worked best with Folio: and didn’t force the issue.

The real value of the relationship was he was confidently enthusiastic about having his colleagues participate in a story. When I’d call, usually on the verge of a deadline, he’d quickly grasp the angle of the article and sniff out the right contact at his company, get it set up and get out of the way. It showed real confidence in Folio: and our eternal quest for an informative peek behind the magazine-publishing curtain. He never badgered, worried about who else was being quoted in a story, fretted about previewing quotes, or set me up with useless, pandering lunch meetings. He showed a keen understanding of the editorial process and always appreciated the coverage. He will be missed.

Bill Mickey

New Mag For Meredith [Al]Readymade

Bill Mickey Consumer - 10/05/2006-02:00 AM

Meredith, a company with deep enough pockets to launch their own title, has foregone that route in favor of acquiring ReadyMade, a do-it-yourself lifestyle magazine for the nesting-friendly 25-39 set.

As a target for a company like Meredith, ReadyMade’s circ is comparatively small. Meredith’s titles are generally around the 1 million range and up – though some are closer to what ReadyMade’s will soon be. Meredith publishing group president Jack Griffin says they’ll shortly bump the circ to 200,000.

The deal – described to me by a source as an "earn-out situation with an initial payment and a rather large back end" – is interesting to me for two reasons: It plays into an idea that’s gaining traction that larger publishers may be scaling back costly launches; and it’s a classic strategic play. I have nothing against the financial guys, but this was kind of refreshing to see. Private equity money has been all over the place lately. And sure, why build when you can buy? Especially when a title like ReadyMade comes complete with a robust Web site with an active community base, and a younger demograhic that Meredith has specifically expressed interest in.

Bill Mickey

How Much Life Left In Life?

Bill Mickey Consumer - 09/26/2006-02:00 AM
Why, if Keith Kelly is correct in his reporting that it’s losing $35 million per year, is Life magazine still around? As shareholder and bottom-line pressures mount for Time Warner’s magazine division, Anne Moore’s Time Inc., which resurrected the magazine in 2004 as a startlingly thin newspaper insert, has been slicing off huge pieces of itself for the past 9 months. With the latest announcement that 18 titles in the enthusiast group Time4 Media are up for sale, another 560 jobs will be added to the 500 that have already been cut. Yet, as Skip Zimbalist, current CEO of enthusiast publisher Active Interest Media and likely bidder on some of the Time4 titles, noted, “If you look at most of the magazines they are number one or number two in their special interest area – they’re very strong magazines in their fields.”

Life, published weekly to 12 million circ through 70 papers, is a distant fourth behind Parade, USA Weekend and New York Times Magazine. The magazine has earned $84 million in PIB revenue through August.

By contrast, Time Inc. couldn’t shut down fast enough, which couldn’t have been losing anywhere near $35 million.

As Moore focuses on proven money-makers like the Golf properties and the other mass-market titles, it won’t come as much of a surprise if Life is soon put on the block or shut down, again.

Not that the magazine necessarily deserves to be shut down or sold off, but why continue to support Life as you lop off a $300 million group of market leaders?

Someone explain the priorities here.

Bill Mickey

On The Value Of Web Portals

Bill Mickey emedia and Technology - 09/19/2006-02:00 AM
In the October issue of Folio:, we’ll be running a story on magazine publishers developing destination sites that corral multiple titles under a new online brand. For the story, we take a peek at two sites, however there are plenty of examples out there, both b-to-b and consumer.

We’ve touched on this subject before. It’s easy to fault publishers for finally jumping on a bandwagon that made the rounds many years ago when ‘portal’ became yet another hyped concept. Yet it’s a strategy that’s both a leap of faith and one that I think makes a lot of sense—especially for publishers who’ve mined a niche for every possible opportunity.

It’s a strategic leap because you’re essentially taking two or more brands you’ve spent years, even decades, developing separately and subordinating them behind a new brand. As a destination, the new site inherently hogs the brand emphasis. There’s an opportunity for a great brand debate here—whether to continue to highlight niches of niches or bring them together under one, overarching brand.

But the potential of such sites seems significant. You’re not only consolidating content, you’re consolidating the audience—at once reaching critical mass in both scope and reach, elevating brands that were divided and endlessly niche-ified. Readers can still get their core needs met within each brand’s section of the portal but, importantly, can also graze in the areas where niches overlap. It’s a marriage of the broad and focused.

Content is broken out of brand silos and advertisers are given efficient and varied access to the entire span of the audience. Publishers can harness a greater exponent of their community in a shared arena.

Jeff Jarvis recently riffed on the popular what-if scenario that Time Inc. is next on Time Warner’s chopping block (they’re already selling most of Time4, a group of titles that are generally one or two in their markets). The thinking is that the Time Inc. magazines are a drag on performance and they got burned with their portal attempt called Pathfinder back in the day.

Though more recent efforts have been made with the destination concept: collects Fortune, Money, Business 2.0 and Fortune Small Business under one umbrella. And Time4, by the way, just days prior to the announcement that the bulk of the group would be sold, announced the launch of SkiNet, a destination site backed up by Ski, Skiing and Warren Miller Entertainment. All three are now for sale. Too little, too late, for Time Inc. perhaps.

And what’s to stop a non-magazine competitor from recognizing this same opportunity and developing a market-spanning site, stealing the thunder—and audience—from an established, and, increasingly, ‘traditional,’ media company? For Jarvis, this may have already happened for some:

The strength of these brands is that they had—note the tense—a headstart. They could have used their promotional clout and reputations to enable these communities to form around them. But they didn’t. Too late? Maybe.

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