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Josh Gordon

Social Networking is Hot, But is It a Business?

Josh Gordon Sales and Marketing - 04/01/2008-10:25 AM

In earlier posts I have cautioned against adding online products to your magazine's brand portfolio because other publications seem to succeed at using them. There are strategic reasons for all online products but they may not fit your requirements. For example, blogs are fantastic web site traffic builders that can lift site traffic and thus rates. But trying to monetize blogs directly by selling sponsorships on them is typically much harder.

This week's Economist turns that same analysis to social networking and comes up with a similar cautionary tale:

"The big internet and media companies have bid up the implicit valuations of MySpace, Facebook and others. But that does not mean there is a working revenue model. Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder, recently admitted that Google's “social networking inventory as a whole” was proving problematic and that the “monetisation work we were doing there didn't pan out as well as we had hoped.” Google has a contractual agreement with News Corp to place advertisements on its network, MySpace, and also owns its own network, Orkut. Clearly, Google is not making money from either.

Facebook, now allied to Microsoft, has fared worse. Its grand attempt to redefine the advertising industry by pioneering a new approach to social marketing, called Beacon, failed completely. Facebook's idea was to inform a user's friends whenever he bought something at certain online retailers, by running a small announcement inside the friends' “news feeds”. In theory, this was to become a new recommendation economy, an algorithmic form of word of mouth. In practice, users rebelled and privacy watchdogs cried foul. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder, admitted in December that “we simply did a bad job with this release” and apologised.

So it is entirely conceivable that social networking, like web-mail, will never make oodles of money. That, however, in no way detracts from its enormous utility. Social networking has made explicit the connections between people, so that a thriving ecosystem of small programs can exploit this “social graph” to enable friends to interact via games, greetings, video clips and so on."

Read the whole article here ...

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Dylan Stableford

Newsweek's Statement on Buyouts

Dylan Stableford Consumer - 03/31/2008-16:27 PM

I just got an e-mail from a spokeperson for Newsweek confirming that 111 of the 150 staffers offered buyouts are leaving the magazine. They're calling it a "voluntary retirement program."

Here's Newsweek's statement:

"Confronting the challenges in today’s media climate, we recently offered a voluntary retirement program to some of our employees. We were fortunate to be able to provide generous packages for eligible staffers who wanted to move on, while also saving on some of our existing expenses. A number of the familiar faces who accepted the offer, including David Ansen, David Gates, Cathleen McGuigan, Mark Starr and John Barry, will continue to contribute to the magazine and Newsweek.com. And, of course, Newsweek remains home to Jonathan Alter, Sharon Begley, Ellis Cose, Chris Dickey, Howard Fineman, Daniel Gross, Mark Hosenball, Mike Isikoff, Melinda Liu, Johnnie Roberts, Evan Thomas, Fareed Zakaria, Anna Quindlen , George Will and many other star journalists. New voices will be joining Newsweek too. We will continue to invest in Newsweek, newsweek.com and other new ventures, which collectively will strengthen our company’s long-term health and vibrancy. We are committed to producing the compelling, innovative and news-breaking journalism that has defined Newsweek for its 75-year history."

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Bill Mickey

Time Inc.’s Environmental Impact

Bill Mickey Consumer - 03/31/2008-14:50 PM

When you're a $5 billion publisher like Time Inc., you can afford to hire someone like David Refkin as director of sustainable development. Indeed, the company has been studying the impact of its entire production process. At the MPA's 2008 Retail Conference in Tampa, Florida today, Refkin discussed Time Inc.'s efforts in environmental sustainability, offering up figures that give some insight into the company's impact:

  • The company buys 500,000 tons of paper each year from 53 mills.
  • 75 percent of the company's fiber meets certified sustainable forestry (CSF) standards, up 25 percent from 2002.
  • The carbon footprint of producing one issue of Time is equal to 160 people flying an airplane around the globe.

Refkin also said that only one out of six magazines in the home get recycled, and that Time Inc. has partnered with Verso Paper to increase consumer awareness, spending $5 million on outdoor advertising and another $6 million in magazines to push recyclable messaging. To learn more about the publisher's efforts, keep an eye out for its sustainability report due out in April.

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Dylan Stableford

Cover Critique: New York's Spitzer Cover

Dylan Stableford Design and Production - 03/31/2008-10:22 AM

New York magazine is no stranger to controversial covers (see its Lindsay Lohan cover and accompanying, server-melting photo shoot a few weeks back). But when the story of New York governor Eliot Spitzer's shocking involvement in a prostitution ring broke early (Monday) in the magazine's print cycle (New York publishes on Mondays), it put the magazine in a tricky spot: it would be six days until it had its turn—six days of New York Post covers, blog posts, tabloid headlines and late-night joke fodder—to weigh in with a cover of its own. And it delivered a memorable, edgy one.

We asked some of our design friends to critique New York's Spitzer cover. First up, Tim O'Brien, the illustrator behind the subject of our last cover critique—Rolling Stone's Obama.


NAME: Tim O'Brien
TITLE: freelance illustrator; VP, the Society of Illustrators
CRITIQUE: The March 24th cover of New York Magazine is a funny and effective catharsis for the shocked New Yorkers. Swept into office with a wave of hope and enthusiasm, it was all undone by lust and hypocrisy. The cover image, an awkward shot of Spitzer shot from above making him look small is effective in shrinking a small man even smaller. Not knowing where to put his hands he forms a halo over his crotch; completely unintentional I'm sure but there it is. The use of white isolating his figure adds to the look, one that is reminiscent of the famous George Lois Esquire cover of Muhammad Ali pierced by arrows. The cherry on the top is a Barbara Kruger-esque sign and arrow that sends it over the top. Over the top is what this story is and the cover is perfect.

NAME: Laura Wall
TITLE: design director, Pace Communications
CRITIQUE: Wow. What a good reminder to NEVER run for public office. New York magazine held nothing back on this cover. It’s clean, powerful and probably award-winning. I’d hate to be Spitzer—how completely humiliating!

NAME: Anthony Ficke
TITLE: creative director, CAB Communications
CRITIQUE: Well, I must say I'm pretty open-minded when it comes to design, but to put it bluntly ... this is pretty ballsy of a cover. The power created from this cover is that you were able to sum up an entire nation's exact same thought with only one word! Nothing else needs to be said on the cover, yet you are compelled to read the story, if only to see what lines the author might have crossed. Most importantly, the goal of intriguing the reader has definitely been achieved. On another note, I really like that the New York logo breaks away from the edge to give a photo-negative feel.

NAME: Marco Turelli
TITLE: art director, Wine Enthusiast
CRITIQUE: Image and concept is brilliant! Will it sell magazines based on lack of cover lines and starkness of image? Who knows. Do I see it winning awards? Probably. Does Mr. Spitzer want to get away? You bet he does.

NAME: José Reyes
TITLE: creative director/Principal Metaleap Design
CRITIQUE: I appreciate how they showed a photo of Eliot in a way that was not disdainful, disrespectful  or shaming—that would be too easy. Instead, they showed how everyone knew him—for better or worse—which makes for a much more compelling cover. An argument for the internal battle of personal restraint and what we allow the world to see vs. what we are capable of doing and hiding from others seems to also be a subtle statement that the editors are making with the smiling Spitzer. If so, well done. The cover, in my opinion, is provocative, clear, succinct, humorous and timely—perfect.

What do you think? Drop me a line [dstableford AT red7media DOT com] or add your own critiques in the comments section below.

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Mark Newman

Is It Wrong to Borrow From Other Magazines?

Mark Newman Editorial - 03/30/2008-21:09 PM

I wanted to broach the subject that I’m sure many editors, writers, art directors, et al. have come across over the years, and that’s the influence of other publications. I’m not talking plagiarism, just borrowing a good idea.

In the two years that I’ve been at the helm of Southern Breeze I haven’t been trying to reinvent the wheel, but I have been slowly nudging the magazine into a different arena with a more cutting edge, contemporary, and, yes, even urban feel. As a regional/lifestyle publication with Deep South roots, it would be far too easy to continue down the path of least resistance. But the South is changing. So, too, should its magazines.

Yes, we still have recipes, shopping, home fashion and all the things that make for a perfectly comfortable fit with our affable and affluent audience. But I felt the magazine could do more to truly reflect the diversity along the Gulf Coast.

Homage on the Range

I came up with the idea for our most recent cover [pictured above, right] while at a photo shoot for a piece on New Orleans pride as part of our new “Southern Breeze Hot List.” In previous years Southern Breeze has had a “Best Of” issue but trying to fit almost 30 topics into six to eight pages resulted in scattershot, albeit eclectic, feature. After seeing the photos at the shoot, I suggested using this as a cover option when my art director, Catherine, was not overly enthused by the other shots she had in her canon.

Once she sent out cover comps to me and my staff, we took a look at all 12 of them, and I picked the one above as my favorite [the one to the left is a typical cover from before my reign]. As my staff and I looked at the printouts, my assistant editor noted that the one I chose was just like a Time Out New York cover.

And then it hit me: Hell yeah, it looked like a TONY cover because that is my all-time favorite magazine and I’ve gleaned ideas from inside—and now, outside—its pages for a while, even before coming to Southern Breeze. For example, while managing editor at the late, great Lighting Dimensions we instituted a redesign and I suggested a “5 Questions With …” for the front of book, similar to TONY’s “Three Questions For …” in its FOB. It was included and proved to be a popular featurette. (The “5 Questions With …” survived Lighting Dimensions’ merger with Entertainment Design to become Live Design, which is more than I can say for the managing editor!)

So I guess my question is: Is it wrong to borrow from other magazines? It’s certainly not due to a lack of original ideas on our part, but I feel that if you see something that another magazine is doing that you think would work in your own publication, then why not? Besides, when I look at some of Southern Breeze’s competitors, it’s obvious they’ve borrowed a fair amount from us. Thankfully, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

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Dylan Stableford

1978: The Year Sports Illustrated's Covers Got Weird

Dylan Stableford Design and Production - 03/28/2008-16:59 PM

The Sports Illustrated's recently-launched SI Vault is a treasure trove of weirdo vintage covers, as Gawker recently discovered. Just how weird? That cover above is merely the tip of the wack iceberg. (I wonder what the people who are criticizing Vogue for its Lebron and Gisele cover would've said about this one.)

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Joanna Pettas

Greenspun Looking to Hire 30 to 50 New Online Staffers

Joanna Pettas emedia and Technology - 03/28/2008-15:33 PM

It’s true! Greenspun is planning to hire a veritable army of 30 to 50 new online staffers over the next six months for its “category crushing” Web site, the company’s president Michael Carr wrote in an e-mail FOLIO: today.

The tip came from this comment, posted to our original story earlier this week:

There is a rumor that seems pretty credible that they are hiring close to 50 new web people in 2008. I saw a couple of folks from the [Las Vegas] Sun speak in San Francisco this week, and it was definitely the most impressive local news site I've seen. If those are the folks who are building the sites that this guy is talking about, then I have got to believe that they are going to do something interesting.

And this despite Greenspun’s decision this week to shutter its monthly Las Vegas Life and transition its content online, although that move may have had more to do with the fact that LVL was rubbing up against Greenspun’s other luxury glossy, Vegas.

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Dylan Stableford

Rolling Stone's Obama Illustrator Responds

Dylan Stableford Design and Production - 03/28/2008-09:13 AM

After reading your critiques of the Rolling Stone Obama cover, Tim O'Brien writes:

I'm the illustrator who painted Barack for the cover of Rolling Stone. It seems you've selected a group of designers with a lack of understanding of what Rolling Stone was doing here.

[Rolling Stone makes] no bones about viewing Barack in the most hopeful light. At the time of publication, the newsstands were brimming with photographs of the man, so in this instance, they chose illustration to push the cover out there to get some buzz. I seem to get used when the art director or editor is trying to make a serious point about a person. Sometimes it's a mocking image, such as a golden glow around a portrait of Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro, and sometimes it's reeled in a bit to showcase a person in a respectful tone. I happen to like the cover and know that the ADs at Rolling Stone were thrilled.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: To check out more of Tim's work, including a detailed account of what went into executing the Obama cover, click here ...]

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Aaron Gell

Radar’s Spencer for Hire

Aaron Gell Editorial - 03/27/2008-15:14 PM

For awhile, two stories in Radar’s April issue were contending for the coveted title of Most Buzzed About. One was John Cook’s no-holds-barred examination of Scientology’s recent struggles with anonymous hackers, outspoken ex-members and leaked internal videos featuring Tom Cruise’s steely-eyed reveries. The other was the 350-word debut of a new advice column, “Yo Spencer!,” in which Hills heel Spencer Pratt helps readers grapple with their personal quandaries.

On the surface, the pieces—a hard-hitting investigative feature and a cheap blog-baiting stunt—couldn’t be more different. But they spring from the same basic impulse. In both cases, the aim was to go where other publications generally fear to tread (I don’t know what’s worse, being on the Sea Org’s bad side, or on Lauren Conrad’s). As a new magazine in a crowded marketplace, Radar has no real choice but to take risks whenever possible. Otherwise we duplicate what’s already on the newsstand, in which case, why bother? We’ve published nine issues under our new owners, but there are still plenty of potential readers out there (millions, by my count) who have never heard of us. The cheapest, most effective—and frankly the most fun—way to reach them is by assigning and running stories that foment these little media frenzies we all love so much.

At the moment, it looks like Spencer Pratt is pulling into the lead in that regard. Even the Associated Press covered his foray into magazine journalism, which turns out to be, to my mind, one of the more enjoyably frank advice columns available. Nevertheless, the idea has been a bit controversial around the Radar offices. Some colleagues wondered if Spencer could really write. (He can.) Others decried the idea of soliciting advice from a guy most of America is convinced is nothing but a Machiavellian hustler. (Who better?) And then there were the hardcore haters, who crinkle their noses at the merest mention of the new addition to our writing stable.

Of course, most of this last bunch are card-carrying members of Team Lauren, still fuming over Heidi’s “betrayal” of their doormat diva. To them I can only point out that we put their Hollywood heroine on our March cover and declared her the most influential fashionista of the moment. After all, we always strive for balance.

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Joanna Pettas

Time Out Chicago Punks Crain's with 'Huge' Trump Tale

Joanna Pettas B2B - 03/27/2008-14:40 PM

Time Out Chicago issued this press release Tuesday:

DONALD TRUMP TAKES OVER TIME OUT CHICAGO

CHICAGO, March 25, 2008—Time Out Chicago announces that real-estate titan Donald J. Trump has purchased a controlling interest in the where-to-go, what-to-do weekly.

Starting next week, readers of Time Out Chicago will notice several significant changes.

Most prominently, the magazine’s logo will be modified—in Chicago only—to include the signature glitzy T that adorns Trump’s properties, including the new Trump International Hotel & Tower here.

Time Out founder Tony Elliott, who long has resisted selling off the publishing empire he launched in London 40 years ago, says Trump’s premium bid will enable the company to more quickly expand into multiple new markets in North America and the U.K.

In a meeting held with Time Out Chicago staff Tuesday outside his new downtown hotel, Trumped stated, “I am hugely excited about what is a truly huge opportunity for Trump Entertainment and an even huger opportunity for the people of Chicago.”

Launched in 2005, Time Out Chicago is recognized as a leading source of information for arts, entertainment and culture. The signature of Time Out Chicago is its comprehensive listings sections and irreverent features, offering both insight and information on music, clubs, film, theater, dining, drinking, books, shopping and more – all written and edited by a passionate staff of locals who are experts in their respective fields.

###

Crain's Chicago business took the bait.

Time Out called Crain's, then issued another press release admitting the hoax.

Despite the ridiculous quote from Trump (three "huge"s?—c'mon, Crain's!) don't be too hard on 'em—this was, after all, released on March 25th!

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Henry Donahue

Google’s March to World Domination, Part II

Henry Donahue emedia and Technology - 03/27/2008-10:34 AM

As noted in the Times earlier this week, Google users can now search deep into content sites without leaving Google, bypassing publishers' own search functions entirely. Publishers, contemplating the resulting page view migration from their sites to Google, have reacted negatively and some have asked Google to stop providing the extra search box underneath the results for their site.

Here how it works: I'm looking for an article I saw recently in Scientific American on particle physics so I google "SciAm." The first search result contains a search box incorporated with the SciAm.com links, so I type in "particle physics" there and get a page of relevant results from just SciAm. I see my article on click on it. Voila! Google creates one additional page view for Google (the second search results page) and at least two fewer for SciAm (their home page and their own search results page).

To most publishers, this probably seems like piling on. Google is already probably your number one source of external traffic. They may also be your fallback ad network, selling inventory on your site to blue chip advertisers and keeping most of the revenue. You don't want to antagonize them, for fear of losing your hard-won SEO gains (I'm getting a little skittish even writing this post).

This latest move highlights the strategic necessity of growing organic traffic and internal sales ability, reducing your Google dependency. A good role model is ESPN who announced this week that they are ditching ad networks entirely. Google may be "doing no evil" to your business, but they're not interested in giving you any help.

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Josh Gordon

Why Hillary Clinton's 'Red Phone' Ad is Perfect for Magazine Ad Sales

Josh Gordon Sales and Marketing - 03/25/2008-15:27 PM

Many credit Hillary Clinton's presidential primary wins in Ohio and Texas to her controversial "Red Phone" ad designed to raise doubts about Barack Obama's experience on national security.

Despicable sleaze? Clever politics? Love the ad or or hate it, what I saw was a common sales tactic that every media sales rep uses at some time in their career.

When you sell a product where the outcome cannot be predicted, like a presidential candidate or a media buy, raising doubts about your competition, a.k.a "playing the fear card," is an effective way to win business.

On your next sales call:

If you are in a competitive sell where you have the more established, better known, or widely accepted product you can ask "what if" questions to raise doubts about your competition in the mind of your media buyer. Clinton's ad raised asked "what if" an inexperienced president got a 3:00 AM Red Phone crisis dropped in his lap.

Media questions you can use to raise doubts about competition:

"What if your ad campaign fails because you did not cover a key demographic (that my media covers better)?"

"What if your ad campaign fails because you bought the cheaper media whose circulation is poor?"

"What if you ad campaign fails because you bought the cheaper media upstart instead of the media with the proven track recored?"

And if the media buy is very high profile:

"This is an important media buy. If it fails a lot of people could get hurt. Hey, remember the old saying from the 80's computer industry , "No one gets fired for buying IBM."

Don't push too hard. If your "sales technique" shows you will be branded as a manipulative huckster. To play the fear card you stoke the latent anxieties of your buyer but never overtly say the anxiety is totally justified. After you leave their office you just want them to worry about their media buy if it isn't with you.

Click here to read Larry David's take on the red phone.

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