Late last month came news that b-to-b publisher Questex was buying FierceMarkets, the online-only publisher best known for its niche, email newsletters. I said then that I thought the deal had some major implications for our industry. Today I'd like to elaborate.
First, I want to make it clear that the FierceMarkets deal doesn't change my opinion of email newsletters. As a general rule, I can't stand the things. I much prefer to get my news and information via RSS feeds. As I wrote on this blog slightly more than two years ago: "With RSS I don't have to worry about annoying "unsubscribe" functions that don't work properly. With RSS I'm not subjected to a never-ending stream of spam and other marketing nonsense from publishers. For a content consumer, RSS is a vastly superior delivery mechanism. And I expect that, eventually, every consumer will demand it."
I still believe that.
But I also believe that this is not the time for b-to-b publishers to walk away from email newsletters. There's still money to made with themâlots of money. That's why publishers love them. But someday soon it will become clear that publishers' love of newsletters will not be able to compete with users' love of convenience and control.
But my dislike of email newsletters doesn't change the fact that I like the Questex/FierceMarkets deal. And here's why: I have a feeling (and it's really just a feeling, I don't have much hard information), that the deal isn't really about newsletters. Nor, for that matter, did Questex buy the company because FierceMarkets also distributes news via RSS. Nor is the deal about FierceMarkets' cash flow or profits.
I think Questex bought FierceMarkets' staff. This is a deal about people ... a sort of large-scale version of what Rex Hammock calls an "acqhire". I think Questex decided to buy a staff that understands the Web.
To understand what I mean, take a look at FierceWireless.
Drill down a bit. Read some pieces. Make note of the Web-friendly writing, short stories, agnostic links and reader-friendly design. Then head over to Questex. Make your way to the page about the company's telecom products.Then try, as I have several times today, to visit Wireless Asia.
What I found was a dead link. You can also try searching for "Wireless Asia" on Google. What you'll find is that the top link goes to Telecomasia.netâthe same dead link. In fact, the only live link I can find to Wireless Asia is to a three-year old media kit from when the product was owned by Advanstar.
And as I made my way around the Questex site today what I found over and over and over again was a series of dead links.
Now I don't want to judge Questex based on what appears to be a bunch of technical glitches. These things happen. But it seems to me that the dead links are indicative of a larger cultural problem at Questex.
I did eventually find some links that worked. Take a look at the site for Response Magazine or American Salon. See if it's as clear to you as it is to me that the sites are afterthoughts ... an endless series of in-house ads aimed at getting people to subscribe to the print products.
I believe that Questexâlike many other B2B publishers and newspaper companiesâhas recognized that it needs a staff that thinks of the Web first. And Questex, like many other publishing companies, has come to believe that its existing staff was never going to get there. So Questex did the right thing: it bought some folks who could help lead the company into the future.
FierceMarkets had been in play for awhile. And I know that some potential buyers thought the asking price was too high. But those folks were looking to add to already sophisticated Web teams. They didn't need to "acqhire" anyone. They just wanted to buy some cash flow and growth potential.
But Questex saw something else in FierceMarkets, something it neededâan editorial staff that could help shape the company's future.
We're going to see more of this. We may see a lot more of this. And as a general rule, I'm likely to applaud such "acqhires" of a Web-savvy staff. But I'd urge caution. FierceMarkets is a fairly rare bird. Not every online-only company is staffed by very bright people. And even the smartest number crunchers won't necessarily recognize brilliance in an online editorial staff.So make sure that whoever does your "acqhiring" or hiring understands Web culture.
Selling in a recession takes a different attitude. I always like to share this test with salespeople to see if they are up for the challenge. The trick is that this test actually comes from the December 1932 issue of Opportunity Magazine, written for salespeople during the Great Depression. If you can pass a sales test written during The Depression, I figure, you are up to sell in a mere recession anytime!
Answer Yes or No to the following:
1. Am I sociable?2. Do I think in terms of success?3. Do I really like selling?4. Do I think of my customers interests?5. Do I read sales literature?6. Do I study my prospects?7. Is my personal appearance a credit to myself and the company I represent?8. Do I realize that success in selling is a matter of study and perseverance and that the element of luck is small?9. Am I cheerful in the face of interruptions?10. Am I always courteous even with unreasonable prospects?11. Am I always scrupulously honest in my representations?12. Do I think of selling as a dignified calling worthy of my best efforts?13. When faced with competition, am I inspired to excel?14. Do I know that my line of goods is the best on the market?15. Do I try to make repeat sales?16. Do I talk quality first and price later?17. Do I stay with a line of goods long enough to give the line a fair trial?18. Do I spend sufficient time perfecting my demonstration to make it convincing?19. Do I take advantage of every modern convenience in selling, such as the telephone, telegraph and letter service?20. Do I canvas systematically and never skip places because they look uninviting?21. Do I work regular hours even when the weather is unpleasant?22. Do I put in the extra time to close a deal when necessary?23. Do I put extra effort into selling after a poor day?24. Do I put extra effort into selling after an unusually good day?25. Am I determined to stick with selling despite the lure of a blind alley, time clock, type of job?Score TableNo. of Questions Answered Favorably Rating:25: Star Salesman20: A Success15: On The WayBelow 15: Need Overhauling
If youâre like me, you follow the travails of Gawker Media with a relatively perverse interest, not unlike how the snarky blog network follows its own collection of preferred media targets. After all, itâs the closest thing the blogodome has to Conde Nast, something founder Nick Denton likes to point out from time to time in his media kit.
Following a mini-exodus of editors at its flagship earlier this year, there was quite a bit of talk about Gawkerâs demise (Exhibit A: âHas Gawker Jumped the Snarkâ published in the New York Times last month, on the heels of Exhibit B: âEverybody Sucks,â published by New York magazine a few months before).
Of course, all the talk was premature. Gawkerâs trafficâthanks in part to its admirably defiant posting of a Tom Cruise Scientology indoctrination videoâset records in January. So enough of that for now.
Whatâs more interesting to me, though, is how scientific their particular brand of snark has become. Below, via New York magazineâs Daily Intel blog, is a memoâcirculated this week to the companyâs bloggers by Gawker Mediaâs Noah Robischonâwith tips on how to match Gawkerâs infamous tone:
---------- Forwarded message ----------From: Noah Robischon Date: Feb 12, 2008 10:27 AMSubject: Valleywag Voice GuideTo: [REDACTED]Excellent post writing tips from Paul Boutin (and Owen) for yourTuesday reading pleasure.----Paul Boutin's notes on the Valleywag voiceFrom EditorWikiJump to: navigation, search
THE RAGE OF THE CREATIVE UNDERCLASSWe need to put back the Gawkeresque angry-creative-underclass glint to our voice. Just one glint of nastiness per post. I loved Carlson's advice to Paultards on their irrelevance: "Don't just take my word for it. Go to the polls and find out for yourselves." Zing, and irrefutably true.
DENTON'S FORMULA: MIX A PLUS AND A MINUSIf someone screwed up in business, find something nice to say about them: "The charmingly incompetent CEO." If someone succeeded, find a way to slap them. "The wildly successful blowhard." Denton says this is a key to Gawker posts about people, and when he got lazy he slipped on it and readers noticed in a roundabout way that the site felt less brilliant.
PEOPLE, NOT COMPANIES OR PRODUCTSWrite about Steve Jobs or Jonathan Ives rather than "Apple" as an actor. Or find out who their VP of sales is if they've had a wildly successful quarter and credit him/her, a nice detail. I don't want to read that the Zune is a flop, I want to read that Wink Twinkerton, head of the Zune division, has done for portable music players what Bill Gates did for CEO sex appeal.
BE INSULTING, BUT BE SURPRISINGCalling Ron Paul a loon isn't edgy. Much better was "voting for Ron Paul sends a message. The message is you're crazy and hate the FDA." That's a nice setup and punch line, and a good non-cliche detail rather than an unspecific "loon."
DON'T LET YOUR ANGER GET TO YOUIf someone whose politics or opinions you disagree with says something you want to call out, don't do a straight-ahead criticism. Instead, take their argument further to a simple but ridiculous conclusion. When Hillary Clinton proposed a moratorium on home foreclosures and a freeze on loan rates, Jordan Golson asked, "Why not a moratorium on people paying their mortgages? That seems easier."
BEAT-DOWNS ARE BADYou've wrung this out of them mostly, but I still see the young ones do the oldschool Ann Coulter / Molly Ivins thing of insulting someone three times in a paragraph when once would be better. Pick the one best dig and save the others for another time.
NO FISKINGIf someone says several stupid things in one piece, just quote them and don't rebut each line separately. Do a 100-word version with only the dumbest parts. Readers will get it.
IF YOU WOULDN'T SAY IT IN A CONVERSATION, DON'T WRITE ITAvoid journalist-speak like "He takes umbrage with our statement." You never say umbrage in real life.
AVOID JOURNALIST MATH, USE SPECIFICSSome, many, few ... these are journalist numbers for when they want to imply a trend. Often they're used to overstate the number of people who do or don't do something. "Some feel that Obama ..." Cut that, and instead give me a specific quote from a linkable person that sums up the general mood you're talking about.
ONE JOKE PER POSTWe've slipped on that. Too many jokes comes across as not having enough to report. Keep the post short and move onto the next one.
BAIL EARLYSurprise readers by quitting on a review or report halfway through it, once you know you've hit the hight points already. Find some reason to explain your exit. Melissa Gira Grant started to summarize the SF Bay Guardian's annual sex guide, but when she got to a piece that was restaurant suggestions, she wrote, "I stopped reading here." It keeps posts short, and breaks the mold of the reviewer who takes 400 words to wind down.
SATIRE AND PARODYShould be used to illustrate someone's foibles. E.g. President Steve Jobs issues the most expensive US budget ever, but it fits in a manila envelope.
JUST NEVER USE THESE WORDSDouche, douchebag, douchery, asshat. Techcrunch uses them, need I say more. (To which I'll add: "teh," "intarwebs," "lulz.")
[DISCLOSURE: I cover tennis for Gawkerâs sports blog, Deadspin.]
What ever happened to the idea that a good captain always goes down with his ship? Or in this case, his magazine? The doom and gloom surrounding the magazine/print business is scaring very talented publishing professionals away from the industry altogether. They are, in droves, flocking to anything that has the word âdigitalâ attached to itâitâs truly starting to feel like 1999âs dot-com migration, at least some level, all over again.
What about standing and fighting? I wonder if that thought has occurred at all, or if these individuals have become so disenchanted with the print business that they have just thrown up their hands.
Iâve personally had many conversations with other publishers about this subject and there is a very clear line of distinction between those who grew up in the traditional world of publishing who have not been able to embrace change, innovate or see their brands as more than a circulation driven ad-page model, and those who actually see this supposed âdark periodâ as pure opportunity for experimentation, building beyond ad pages and circulation and concentrating on all of the exciting opportunities and platforms for magazine brands in areas outside of the busted newsstand sales, subscriptions and ad page business models.
In my 11 years of publishing, I find this to be the most exciting, vibrant and interesting time Iâve experienced and looking at this time period as an incredible breeding ground for experimentation and innovation. I only see good things ahead for magazines and, more importantly, publishing companies that are willing to face the fact that this ainât your motherâs or fatherâs publishing industry. So either get on board, or walk that plank!
As some FOLIO: readers may know, I am a principal partner in mediaIDEAS, a consulting firm that investigates and provides original research reports with actionable advice and analysis for the publishing/media industry. I have asked for and received permission from mediaIDEAS to reveal a small portion of a recent research paper whose conclusion after a detailed analysis was that full color flexible e-paper display will be available to the market by 2011. The report goes on to say that "publishing magazines and books incorporating high quality color artwork such as those involved in the fashion/design/art sectors, and looking to develop digital editions, need to carefully monitor developments in electrowetting display technology ... Planning for this event is critical to the future profitability, and even the existence, of such publishing companies." The reason I asked for permission from my business partners to release this portion of our Call to Action is that I believe it is critical for our industry to fully comprehend the technologic reality on our door step. We are on the threshold of a new digital age. As publishers we can adapt and prosper or wither on the vine of antiquated protectionism and dysfunction. In 2005 I debated Samir Husni at Primex hosted by IDEAlliance in an event entitled "Fork in the Road: Which Direction for the Publishing Industry?" After the debate I was asked an excellent question from the audience: How long until publishers have to start really paying attention and worrying about e-paper? My answer was that five years from that time epaper will be real, functional and a necessary item on any publishers business plan and watch list. As a futurist with an impressive track record of prescient predictions under my belt for the last 35 years, I am sad to report to you that I was wrong. Yes, wrong. It didn't take five years but rather three years for e-paper to be available to the general public. And the technology is growing at an exponential rate. Look around you and read the writing on your Kindle, which is currently sold out and backlogged. E-paper is here and it is not going to go away. The report from mediaIdeas and my own research is correct. Publishers must be ... planning for this event as it is critical to the future profitability, and even the existence, of such publishing companies. This is not and should not be a fearful transition. Everything stays the same except the actual reading platform. The paginated (metered), well designed, and edited magazine experience is the same. The same writers, editors, artists, and mostly the same publishing staff will be required to "manufacture" magazines of the future. I would also add that it is not an either/or scenario. There will no doubt be both a printed version of magazines and an e-paper version available to the general public. The question will come down to one of cost and reader preference. I recently completed a review of the Amazon Kindle. As an experienced e-paper reader, the future is clear and the current arguments about the future of e-paper are as relevant as the old discussion of whether or not film-based printing will ever be replaced by CTP (Computer-to-Plate). I'm sure we all agree that was indeed a very juvenile argument. As much as this sounds like bravado, I was right then and I'm right now. I will go further to say that someday, perhaps less than 10 years from now, the e-reading experience will be more preferred by the majority of the reading public than the inefficient, costly, environmentally unfriendly, and extremely dated current magazine methodology. Are we there yet? NO! But you can bet your bottom dollar that we will get there. And if you don't believe and prepare for it, it will be your bottom dollar.
In the rarified air of magazine party throwers, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter is a sort of aristocratic Hugh Hefner. As such, Carter made headlines a few weeks ago for his decision to cancel his annual Oscar party out of respect for the Writers Guild strike. But nowâwith the writers back to workâit appears Carter pulled the plug too soon.Enter New York magazine, which for the past two years has thrown a lesser known, decidedly low-key Oscar viewing party in New York. After weeks of internal wavering, editor Adam Moss and David Edelstein, the magazineâs chief film critic, have decided to make a go of it.
Magazine publishers have been struggling with the need for more accurate audience metrics for years. John Griffin, newly appointed MPA chairman, is continuing his predecessor Jack Kliger's push for new metrics. He thinks magazines needÂ to get closer to what television is able to do, though "we'll never be able to produce overnights," he said at a recent MPA event.
Kliger repeated these sentiments at DMA Circ Day this week:"It is time for a business model that puts things in their proper order. A model that makes it possible for advertisers to buy based on who reads our magazines, not the number of copies we distribute. This model has worked well for the cable television business from the beginning."
But the television industry isn't so happy with their metrics either.
According to the AdAge article, CBS signed on with TiVo to use the company's second-by-second ratings while TNS Media Research and DirecTV unveiled the formation of a national audience panel whose behavior would be measured second-by-second.
Will the potentially widening gap between magazine and television audience management up the ante for publishers to start taking action?
People magazine is running an ad this month from Welchâs 100% grape juice which encourages readers to lick it. It tastes, Iâm told, like Welchâs 100% grape juice.
Itâs an historic acid testâthe ad represents the final frontier of sensory marketing in magazines to be attempted by Madison Avenue.
Weâve seen âem try sight (remember the ad embedding LEDs a couple years back), sound (People once accepted an ad that played Elvisâ âHound Dogâ to annoying effect), touch and, of course, smell (see âScent Strips Stink,â a post by FOLIO:âs resident perfume critic, John Brady).How long before we see these in magazines ads? My guessâtheyâre already on their way.What Iâd really like to see, though, is a magazineâs editorial team embrace the available sensory technology. For example, what if you were, say, reading a 29-page Vanity Fair article on, say, the war in Iraq in which you could open a flap and actually smell Baghdad? Or how about lathering Sports Illustratedâs baseball preview in pine tar? Or ... what do you think?
[NOTE: Leave your best idea for an editorial sensory project in the comments section below.]
The March issue of FOLIO: magazine will feature a Magazine Industry Job Report that looks at the state of working in the publishing industry, everything from hiring trends to salaries, hot jobs to those that are becoming obsolete, to salary growth over the last three years and expectations for the future. As part of the research for this report, we did a short poll of FOLIO: readers asking how they feel about the future of print magazines. We cross-tabbed the results to break up responses by job discipline. (See below.)As expected, the majority of 885 respondents think the print product will become increasingly nichified.The more interesting responses include the gap between those who think print is vibrantly growing, and those who think print will cease to exist. A healthy amount of "corporate management" executives (41%) say magazines are as useful as ever, followed by "salespeople" (most of whom are still seeing much bigger commissions on print than e-media). Contrast that to the e-media and finance folks, where only seven percent of e-media and 10 percent of finance say print is as valuable as ever, and 20 percent of each of those two disciplines say it will cease to exist.
Every year around this time, when Sports Illustrated unveils its annual swimsuit issue, columns criticizing the issue for its titillating content seem to wash up on shore. (Recall, if you will, the thongs, er, throngs of subscribers opting out of having their swimsuit issues delivered to their homes for fear of impressionable youngsters getting ahold of them.)
However, theyâre usually not written by employees of SIâs parent company. And theyâre certainly not published on one of the parent companyâs blogs, like this one on Time.com:
The [swimsuit] issues are considered so valuable that they're not even distributed in the bins downstairs; they're doled out, copy by copy, to each employee, like glossy, perfect-bound bonuses. So when I came in this morning, what do I find under my door but a beautifully laid out publication of porn. Who decided I wanted to look at 100-some pages of barely dressed girls with abs made of slate and boobs that defy reason? SI boasts that women cherish the swimsuit issue because it offers us fashion ideas for the bathing season. Seriously? I'm going to don this bikini made of dental floss this summer after I've just popped out Baby #2?Look. I'm no prude. And it's not the same thing as working in an office whose walls are plastered with pin-ups, like the women workers at Halliburton/KBR had to endure. Still, I'd rather be offered the option of picking up a copy, rather than have it stuffed under my door like some urgent memo. What I want when I step into my office is a cup of tea. Not NFL cheerleaders in thongs.
The [swimsuit] issues are considered so valuable that they're not even distributed in the bins downstairs; they're doled out, copy by copy, to each employee, like glossy, perfect-bound bonuses. So when I came in this morning, what do I find under my door but a beautifully laid out publication of porn. Who decided I wanted to look at 100-some pages of barely dressed girls with abs made of slate and boobs that defy reason? SI boasts that women cherish the swimsuit issue because it offers us fashion ideas for the bathing season. Seriously? I'm going to don this bikini made of dental floss this summer after I've just popped out Baby #2?
Look. I'm no prude. And it's not the same thing as working in an office whose walls are plastered with pin-ups, like the women workers at Halliburton/KBR had to endure. Still, I'd rather be offered the option of picking up a copy, rather than have it stuffed under my door like some urgent memo. What I want when I step into my office is a cup of tea. Not NFL cheerleaders in thongs.
Some interesting things to note here:
1. According to a commenter, some issues were delivered âface down.â2. The blogger, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, is a Time staff writer. She has her own Web site.3. That wasnât dental floss, Lisa. That was the chord to a pair of iPod earbuds.4. Again, this was on Time Inc.-owned blog. Which I think is very refreshingâa corporate environment where having opinions, even those critical of your boss' products, are not only encouragedâtheyâre published.Still, you have to wonder where the consistency was here.
1. According to a commenter, some issues were delivered âface down.â2. The blogger, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, is a Time staff writer. She has her own Web site.3. That wasnât dental floss, Lisa. That was the chord to a pair of iPod earbuds.4. Again, this was on Time Inc.-owned blog. Which I think is very refreshingâa corporate environment where having opinions, even those critical of your boss' products, are not only encouragedâtheyâre published.
Still, you have to wonder where the consistency was here.
Earlier this week, Eric Lundberg, Penton's CFO of a year, announced that he was returning to ALM. On Tuesday, Penton head John French passed along this note:
-----Original Message-----From: French, JohnSent: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 9:07 AMTo: DL-Penton Global; DL-Prism GlobalSubject: Eric Lundberg's DepartureImportance: HighHello Everyone,Today, I am announcing that Eric Lundberg, Chief Financial Officer, has decided to leave the company. Eric will be returning to ALM as Chief Financial Officer and senior vice president.Eric joined Penton a little more than a year ago and his contributions have been significant. He led the company through a very challenging integration effort and much of our present and future success is due primarily to his leadership. Bringing two large organizations together was a complex undertaking and very few people would have been able to accomplish this with such tremendous success.On a personal note, I have enjoyed working with Eric throughout this past year and greatly appreciate his hard work and dedication. We are working together during a brief transition period. We have already begun the search for a new Chief Financial Officer and will inform you when we have completed that process.Please join me in wishing Eric well in all his future endeavors.John
Itâs that time of year againâfor sports fans, the dark and gloomy vortex between the Super Bowl and March Madness. For Sports Illustrated, itâs Christmas: the swimsuit issue, the magazineâs annual predictably overhypedâand just as predictably, controversialârun through the media machinery.In terms of advertising, marketing and newsstand sales, the swimsuit issue is the Super Bowl for Sports Illustrated. This yearâs issue, with Marisa Miller on the cover, hit store shelves today, andâeschewing some level of corporate synergyâwill get its official debut tonight on the David Letterman show. Why not, say, CNNâs American Morning? âIt was logistical,â an SI spokesperson says, noting that SIâs ad party is taking place tonight in New York City, and that the guest list is over 1,000 strong.Hereâs a quick look at how SIâs Swimsuit Issue has fared on newsstands over the last five years:
* First half average.SOURCE: ABC