The current conventional wisdom states that people won't pay for content on-line. Even the Wall Street Journal, once cited as the model for premium content, appears poised to trade subscriber revenue for more advertising impressions.
The conventional wisdom is wrong, though, when it comes to online diet and fitness programs.
Look at Carmichael Training (promoted via Chris Carmichael's columns in Outside), Rodale's magazine-related fitness plans (including the Men's Health Personal Trainer and Prevention's Flat Belly Diet) and Waterfront Media's stable of branded sites (including South Beach Diet, Andrew Weil and Dr. Laura Berman).
What do these sites have in common?
The last point is the key to getting people to pay, linking the online models to the personal trainers, health newsletters, self-help books, and diet programs that generate billions of dollars offline.
On the flip side, the danger is that the content is increasingly generic or commoditized, dragging these models down to the same place that online magazine and newspaper content is today-free.
The New Year, though, is a time for optimism. So put down that donut, pull on your running shoes, and offer your online customers a branded program that they will want to pay for.
If you haven't stopped by our massive (and growing) list of magazine predictions for 2008, do so. In the meantime, for those of you who are more financially inclined, I've pulled out the banker predictions and compiled them here.
Interestinglyâ€”predictably?â€”there's a mix of optimism and wariness for the year ahead. On the one hand, we're coming off an amazing run of M&A action fueled by the deep pockets of private equity. On the other, we're still smarting a bit form last summer's credit crunch and staring at a possible recession in 2008, which may stop the overly-leveraged dead in their tracks.Here are the banker predictions. And click here to see the full, industry-wide list. NAME: Reed PhillipsTITLE: Managing partner, desilva + phillips2008 PREDICTION: Last year, I said I'd be watching with great interest the possible sale or break-up of the Tribune Company. Now, I think it is safe to predict that the company will be sold any day now. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Less than an hour after Reed sent this over, prediction #1 came true.] My prediction for 2008 is that by year-end valuations for newspapers, specifically, and print media, in general, will start to rebound.NAME: Chris ShannonTITLE: Managing director, Berkery Noyes2008 PREDICTION: On the consumer side, M&A will be as busy as it was last year, as far as what's in the funnel. Strategic buyers will make a comeback and play larger role in 2008. Everyone out there that's either buying or selling it has to have a digital component. Next on the priority list for buyers is a mobile component. If you have a magazine to sell, the ones that have a Web site and even just the beginnings of a mobile product definitely have an advantage.NAME: Larry GrimesTITLE: President, W.B. Grimes & Company2008 PREDICTION: More private equity firms will look to exit magazine publishing in 2008 but may find buyers slim to come by. Many will find their assets have depreciated substantially over the past 18 months, in large part due to mismanagement. The groups will recognize that the tuck-in acquisitions they have been avoiding for a couple years really do make sense and will start pursuing those smaller strategic deals as a way to boost both top and bottom line growth. Many of the publishers who have an eye on digital acquisitions will find the pickings are very slim and will realize growing digitally from within is their best approach. Video will become an increasingly important element of publishers' online strategy and especially for their advertisers. Online directories will continue their metamorphosis from simple listings to interactive and will include product offerings. Deal flow will be slow until the banks start lending again.NAME: Scott PetersTITLE: Managing Director, The Jordan, Edmiston Group, Inc.2008 PREDICTION: Media M&A in the middle market will remain active and will equal the transaction volume of 2007. However, overall transaction value will decline as the debt-heavy, mega deals get sidelined as the credit markets continue to work through challenging issues.NAME: Thomas KempTITLE: Managing director, Veronis Suhler Stevenson2008 PREDICTIONS:1. The conversion from print advertising in magazines to online will accelerate in a softening economy in most, but not all markets.2. We will see some highly leveraged transactions of the past couple of years experience extremely challenging times, what the bankers called distressed credits. Think Ziff Davis type experiences.3. Financially backed media businesses that become distressed will replace their CEO's. Some big name CEO's will get fired in 2008.4. Several b-to-b media companies that have adopted successful on-line strategies and cultures will thrive as eMedia achieves scale of revenue and profit.5. Focused, high quality, leading magazines will continue to grow and buck the trend of the digital revolution.6. M&A market will continue to be strong for quality assets, particularly for the middle market properties, $50 - 100 million, although transaction multiples will come back to earth as a result of tighter credit markets.7. The media world will not come to an end as we know it. That is, Google will is not the evil empire of the media industry.
Aside from Southern Breeze magazine, my company also publishes several travel guides loaded with beautiful color photography and editorial, not to mention a plethora of newspaper and magazine inserts (most with editorial). As you can imagine, there's always something for an editorial staff to do!
All these projects are tackled by me and my assistant editor and editorial assistant. In the past I often turned to my stable of gifted freelancers, but this year the majority of the writing has been done in-house. The difference? My staff.
Last year I only had one staffer whose experience included weekly newspapers and an internship at a mediocre local magazine. On paper, her experience was ideal. Reality was a different story. Rather than regale you with tales of her sour attitude, arrogance ("I didn't get a journalism degree for this!"), and ineptitude, I'll cut to the chase: she resigned a week before she was to be fired, thankfully.
When it came time to hire new employees, I found that I had an embarrassment of riches. From newspaper veterans in Louisiana to trade magazine editors in New Jersey to college seniors from all over the Southeast, my cup runneth over. This was a big change from the last time I hired which was in Manhattan in 1999 where one kid got a job for just showing up! This was at the height of the dot-com boom and we all know how that worked out!
I was determined to hire people who had a desire to prove themselves without the know-it-all attitude that comes after working a mere two years in the real world (I was there too, so I know of what I speak).
The first step, of course, was the interview while the second, more arduous step was an editing test. It took the applicants over two hours to complete and Catherine, my art director, called me a sadist after she saw it. I admit that I'm glad I never had to take this test but I was determined to get the right people for the job.
My new and improved staff now consists of an editorial assistant who began six months ago as an intern and an assistant editor with a spanking new M.A. in English. They both aced the editing test while, surprisingly, the candidates who did the worst were those who had been working in newspapers for a number of years, which proves experience isn't everything.
Since my new staffers have made my life easier, I am doing my best to reciprocate. Although I cannot fully control their salaries, I can control their work environment, especially since we all share the same office. It's not as cramped as you may think. Luckily my years as managing editor with a commercial buildings magazine came in handy and I repurposed the office myself, creating three separate work areas that allow for easy communication, but also for a modicum of privacy.
Aside from the physical work environment, I have established a trusting boss/employee dialogue in order to help them learn things about the magazine world; I share knowledge not just about the best way to conduct an interview or proper style, but also on the intricacies of the work world that the rest of us have become so accustomed to: office politics, etiquette, career growth, etc. I am trying to be the type of boss I would like to have; it's a variation on the "golden rule" we were all taught as kids: do unto others... Let's face it, all too often the mantra in the office is more akin to "kill or be killed" and not just in those Devil Wears Prada extremes.
Don't get me wrong: it's not all Valentines. When I close our office door, they know they're in for a "good talking to." So far, those incidents have been rare (I can only think of one off the top of my head), but they know I am serious and that if said mistakes are made again, there will be consequences. This also helps me communicate exactly what I expect from them and how seriously I take our mission.
Also, once a month we all go out to an "editorial meeting" which is simply a lunch at a local restaurant where they are free to discuss anything at all with me without any fear of reprisals. The lunch comes out of my own pocket but it is an investment I am more than willing to make. When the right staff comes along, you need to do all you can to keep them happy. Sometimes it's money, sometimes it's just being able to talk to them and treat them fairly. And honestly sometimes it's just a round of margaritas at El Toro!
Google's announcement last week of their new Knol product sparked speculation about which online publishing models were marked for death. Post-bubble comeback kid Henry Blodget mused on Silicon Valley Insider:
"Google continues to take a page from the early Microsoft play-book: Take someone else's cool idea, do it better, and steamroll the competition. Next up: a human-generated Wikipedia and About.com (NYT) killer."
Google is taking aim here at two sites that combine enormous traffic (mostly driven by search-engines) with user-generated content that ranges from marginally helpful to totally false.
You can picture Larry and Sergey as they circle the globe in their private jet:
Larry: "Why do we send millions of our users to these jokers every month?"
Sergey: "You're right! We could do the same thing they do, and keep all the page views and advertising revenue to ourselves."
[Cue evil chuckling and rubbing of hands.]
For publishers, the news highlights the vulnerabilities of two cornerstones of many online strategies: user-generated content and search engine optimization. The content is cheap but easily commoditized. The traffic comes from someone who is also an ad sales competitor.
If Google succeeds in dominating this space, it will reinforce the premium on site content that is high-quality and hard to duplicate, whether it comes from editors or readers.
The Green Predictions for 2008 can be summed up thusly: growing momentum. We'll see that the increased attention towards the environment over the past year will continue and gain build in 2008. This momentum will become increasingly evident when working with the following five stakeholder groups:
One Warning: Beware the paper supplier that tells you that burning trees and tree parts (biomass, or biofuels) is carbon neutral. They are selling you a bill of goods that will eventually harm your brand.
Leave it to Wired to ruin Christmas. In the December issue the editors call out Santa Claus in a three-page infographic. They spoke with business process consultants, surveillance experts, shipping professionals and even a former Navy SEAL to find out how the jolly man from the North Pole would really operate, without invoking supernatural powers.Some of the unofficial findings:
It's a fun piece that should go nicely alongside the lump of coal nonbelievers will find under the tree next week.
If you haven't heard, Britney Spears' 16-year-old sister, Jamie Lynn spears, is pregnant. The story, first reported by OK! magazine, was picked up by, well, every media outlet in the entire world.
Here's the e-mail OK! publisher Tom Morrissy sent to advertisers this afternoon to remind them it was OK! who did the intrepid reporting, and that now is a good time to advertise in the magazine:
From: Tom Morrissy Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 20073:21 PMTo: [REDACTED]Subject: OK! Breaking NewsDear Advertiser,OK! Magazine does it again with another major scoop that is sure to be the hot topic this holiday weekend. Our exclusive, intimate interview with Jamie Lynn Spears discussing her pregnancy was the lead story on all the news outlets this morning including:â€˘ Lead story on The Today Show â€˘ Cover of the New York Postâ€˘ Lead Story on TMZâ€˘ Cover of USA Today's Life sectionâ€˘ Lead story on People.comThis exclusive caps an extraordinary year of "gets" for OK! Between the first photos of Larry Birkhead and daughter Dannielynn, Eva Longoria's wedding, and Britney's photo shoot "meltdown," OK! proves once again that we are the source for breaking celebrity news around the world!Don't Miss Our Next Hot Exclusive: Fast-Close Opportunity!OK! has the exclusive interview and photos of Emmy-winner Katherine Heigl's wedding in our 1/14 issue (on sale 1/3). As proven with our Kate Walsh and Eva wedding exclusives, this is sure to deliver bonus circulation! Contact your OK! sales representative for a quick opportunity to kick off the New Year with buzz for your brand.Have a great holiday! Tom Tom Morrissy PublisherOK! MagazineNEWS. ACCESS. STYLE.OK! Magazine | 475 5th Avenue | New York | NY | 10017
How the publication of a story that gets so much national attentionâ€“effectively rendering the buying of the magazine completely unnecessaryâ€“signals a good opportunity for advertisers to "kick off the New Year with buzz for your brand" is beyond me, although I suppose that's why I'm not the publisher of OK! magazine.
UPDATE: It appears the OK! servers are not handling the traffic crush too well, as the site is up and down (sort of like Britney's pop career?). It also appears that People.com bought "OK magazine" as a Google keyword, displaying a link under search results that reads "JAMIE SPEARS PREGNANT."
Iâ€™m given to rail against the state of the world in terms of the overreaction in favor of online marketing methods over print advertising. As with any sea change in the sales end of our industry, there are multiple players (publishers, clients, ad agencies) and plenty of blame to go around. A frequent target for publishers is ad agencies. Part of this is historical, as an agency can stand between the publisher and his/her client. And part of it is structural. Clients squeeze ad agencies, who have to run leaner and often assign inexperienced media buyers to select media.
Today, there are two beefs we have with ad agencies: one is the â€śRFP due by the end of the day.â€ť The other is â€śweâ€™re only buying online.â€ť Clearly, there is pressure from clients on both fronts, but the hope is that the ad agenciesâ€”who are supposed to be guiding the clientâ€™s marketing effortsâ€”would make a greater effort to help stop the insanity.
But Iâ€™ve discovered hope recently in the form of two of the most influential high-tech ad agencies, Just Media and Mindshare.
Just Media, in Berkeley, California, has a whole pile of accounts including EMC, the red-hot VMware, Quest, Fujitsu, McAfee, and others. Recently, CEO Dick Reed told me of the battles they are pitching to get these clients to truly embrace integrated marketingâ€”with the print part of the equation being the biggest challenge. It was Dick that told me about ROMOâ€”"Return on Marketing Objective"â€”and how his agency is using it to convince clients to use print in the mix. Dick also told me about having lunch with Pat McGovern this summer and railing on him about shutting down InfoWorld. A far cry from a 23-year-old media planner plunking numbers into a spreadsheet, this is the kind of involved, opinionated and non-isolationist ad agency we need.
Another agency that gets it is Mindshare, working with IBM. Experienced associate media director Larry Meisel is out on the front lines with publishers, pushing, cajoling and preaching about what IBM needs in print. And he is almost single-handedly keeping the IT newsweeklies alive. (A quick hand-count of 12/17 issues reveals: Computerworld, 21.5 ad pages, 4 from IBM; Network World, 19.5 pages, 6 from IBM; eWeek, 37.5 ad pages, 9 from IBM.)
They are out there. Find those ad agencies that get it. And letâ€™s get them more business.
Following up my previous rant on the business of investigative journalism at magazines, I was happy to see this from Texas Monthly's Evan Smith:
Long-form is not the disease, it's the cure. What distinguishes us from other magazines is that we believe enough in the intellectual and cultural passions of our readers to give them 6,000; 7,000; or 10,000 words, when appropriate, on big subjects. Our circulation numbers are strong, which tells me that rather than going against the wishes of the people out there, we're actually speaking exactly to them.
Art director Adana Jimenez says the cover of Scholastic Administr@torâ€™s October/November 2007 issue is â€śstill too prettyâ€ť for herâ€”it doesnâ€™t reflect grossly enough the fact that most children seem to be eating junk in their schools. Our panelist Jim Nissen, publication art director at Switch Studio, agrees. â€śIf it was sloppy and unhealthy-looking, they might have better set up an argument for change.â€ť
Click here to read more. Then scroll to the bottom and take the survey to win an iPod Shuffle.
"Downfall." "Volatile." "Implosion." It's a story that has, as one industry insider observed, the appeal of "trainwreck." Tony Silber's account of Ascend Media's fall from grace, despite being published last week, is continuing to draw heated comments from a largely anonymous gallery.
Submitted by Anonymous:
The founders of Ascend have the worst track record and as we know, history always repeats itself. There was no other possible ending to this story with these guys at the helm.
The demise of Intertec ... did NOT happen under Bishop's watch as commented by someone here. Cam fought hard at Intertec against a naive and greedy attempt by a board with no publishing experience to transform Intertec into a "dot-com" company, was ousted because of his resistance to what everyone at the company knew was a crazy and stupid plan, and was ultimately proven correct when the dot-com crash killed Intertec.
Given that I live in a city that elected a bar owner as its mayor, you'd think that nothing about politics would surprise me anymore. Still, I couldn't decide whether to be tickled or befuddled at the ongoing rumblings that Philadelphia magazine editor Larry Platt was contemplating a run for Congress. [FULL DISCOSURE: I've been drunk with the guy. Several times.]
As recently as last week, Roll Call was making it seem like a done deal:
Philadelphia magazine editor Larry Platt is planning a bid against Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) and an announcement is forthcoming next month, according to a Pennsylvania Democratic operative with knowledge of the race."He's certainly moving ahead and finishing his due diligence, but we certainly expect that he will be running," the Democrat said. [...]Local Democrats are hopeful that Platt's connections in the wealthy Philadelphia suburbs will be the ticket to defeating Gerlach in a district that voted for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.
Philadelphia magazine editor Larry Platt is planning a bid against Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) and an announcement is forthcoming next month, according to a Pennsylvania Democratic operative with knowledge of the race.
"He's certainly moving ahead and finishing his due diligence, but we certainly expect that he will be running," the Democrat said. [...]
Local Democrats are hopeful that Platt's connections in the wealthy Philadelphia suburbs will be the ticket to defeating Gerlach in a district that voted for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.
Well, Philly Dems are going to have to make other plans. Platt has told his staff that he's out:
After being a prospective candidate for two days at the Pennsylvania Society last weekend, I was so sick of my own voice, so tired of hearing me talk about me, that I realized this life change wasnâ€™t for me. When youâ€™re a journalist, I realized, youâ€™re interested in hearing and conveying other peoplesâ€™ stories. When youâ€™re obsessed with your own story, you create your own little echo chamber inside your head. Itâ€™s not fun.