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Joanna Pettas

SciAm’s Sleek New Web Site Uses Cartoon Tactic to Draw Commenters

Joanna Pettas emedia and Technology - 11/30/2007-17:46 PM

Scientific American's recently redesigned Web site is sleek, choc-full of all the bells and whistles (blog posts, slide shows, videos, multimedia, podcasts et al) normally associated with Web site relaunches in 2007.

Probably the simplest feature, though, is the coolest: A cartoon dialogue bubble below nearly every story in which to leave your comments. Check it out at right.

Simple, juvenile even, but it works.

(Side note: I enjoyed the site so much that I'm considering a print subscription-and I hardly ever subscribe to magazines. Take from that what you will.)

Jason Fell

Condé Nast’s Irrelevant Musical Chairs

Jason Fell Consumer - 11/30/2007-17:30 PM

The big news out of Condé Nast this week wasn't about a controversial news story or some major acquisition. No, the buzz was about chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr.'s annual luncheon bash exclusively for his top editors, publishers and executives. And, if the New York Post's Keith Kelly is to be believed, everyone wanted to know who was sitting where and with whom-most especially who had the coveted seat next to Mr. Newhouse himself.

I'm always a fan of a good party, but does anyone who didn't attend really care? Does it really require news coverage with the fervor of a high school prom?

That said, the obvious "big news" was that Portfolio editor Joanne Lipman was seated at the big table (No. 4) at Newhouse's right side. (Portfolio super-publisher David Carey was assigned to table No. 7 which was apparently devoid of any heavy-hitting Condé Nasters.) Is this really a sign that the often-criticized editor still has Newhouse's support, or was it a move to save face since all of us gossipy media spectators are watching?


Bill Mickey

Dennis Turned Down ‘Hundreds of Millions’ for The Week

Bill Mickey M and A and Finance - 11/30/2007-14:57 PM

Felix Dennis has a little more work to do yet on his weekly news compilation The Week. He tells David Carr that he'll be expanding the magazine into more markets and has fended off some significant offers. "Cross my heart and hope to die, I have already been offered hundreds of millions of dollars for it."

Even after selling off Maxim, Stuff and music magazine Blender to Quadrangle-backed Kent Brownridge in mid-2007, Dennis declined to sell his one remaining U.S. title, noting that he expects it to become a sizable franchise. "I will throw The Week onto no pile until it becomes a half a billion or billion-dollar franchise. The Week is my baby," he says.

The North American version of the magazine has a circulation of about 500,000; the British version is the original; and Carr writes that an eastern version of the magazine will soon be released, supported by a five-person edit team in Australia and one-man bureaus in Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand.

Just as The Week is Dennis' across-the-bow shot at the sagging newsweekly market, the magazine's lean staff structure is his answer to bulging mastheads. "The American magazine industry has been massively overstaffed for years and years. It is one of the most inefficient businesses in the history of the world. And you know what? The chickens are coming home to roost."

Matt Kinsman

'Me First, Me First': Dealing with the Digital Logjam

Matt Kinsman emedia and Technology - 11/29/2007-13:15 PM

Web site relaunches, job boards, social networks, Webinars, podcasts, videocasts, etc. Most magazine publishers are scrambling to ramp up their online offerings as fast as they can. However, in the rush to ramp up online, management and the major disciplines (sales, editorial and circulation) often take for granted that what’s being built can be done quickly and easily, and overload the online and IT staffs with “me first” requests. “People think online is easy, that standards and guidelines can be gotten around, that things can be done far quicker than they actually can with fewer people, none of which is true,” says the online manager at one b-to-b publisher. “Yes, you can launch a Web site easier and more cost-effectively than a new magazine but it still takes the same business practices behind the scenes—content planning, business planning, budgeting. A lot of those things tend to get ignored online."

Prioritize online projects according to the return, not what’s become someone’s pet project. Dave Newcorn, vice president of e-media at Summit Publishing, uses three factors to organize his workload: 1) is there real ROI attached; 2) Will it enable the editors to create multimedia content; and 3) Will it attract more subscribers either to the print magazine or newsletters, boosting audience development efforts? “If the answer is yes to any of those, it goes to the top of my list,” says Newcorn. “For example, we hired an editor recently who expressed an interest in editing her own podcasts. I dropped everything and scheduled IT time to install the software on her computer ASAP and arranged for training.”

The prominence of open source software is partly responsible for the misperceptions. "Everybody looks at open source and says ‘It’s free, just take it and up it up.’ No, nothing is free, you have to customize it and find a place to put it. There is a lot of stuff that goes along with it," says Rose Southard, IT director at Putman Media.

Blogs are a good example--blog software can be free and it can be put up quickly but customizing the blog platform to look like part of your Web site takes time. “Our sites consist of left-hand navigation, leader board at top, branding at top, and advertising on the right hand side,” says Southard. “When you go from reading an article to an editor’s blog, we want to convey that feeling that you’re still with us. It took several weeks to put that together. Once we did, it was easy and fast to reproduce both steps. But getting it done in the first place took quite a while. It was free software—-Wordpress. If you just grab it and install it, it looks like Wordpress, not Putman Media.”

Don’t get caught up in a game of tit-for-tat (they launch a job board, you launch a job board) with the competition. You should have mapped out your online strategy so you know what will work for you at that stage of your Web development.

If you start scrambling to add features just because the other guy has one, you’ll blow your budget and derail your strategy quickly. “One request that I really dislike is what I call ‘the sky is falling’ request in reaction to what our competitor is doing,” says Newcorn. “As in, “Dave, our competitors now have a flam-shooter on their site! We need one on our site too!’ While we need to be aware of what our competition is doing, we also need to have a little faith that the path we’ve chosen months ago is the correct one for our readers and advertisers. If it’s not, they—not our competition—will certainly be the first to let us know.”

Henry Donahue

Amazon's Kindle: Magazine Killer?

Henry Donahue emedia and Technology - 11/29/2007-12:05 PM

First off, I have not seen the new Amazon Kindle in person. (Note to self: send nasty note to Discover tech editor after finishing this blog entry.) From the pictures, though, the thing looks like a fantastically expensive Speak & Spell.

The reviews from tech geeks, however, have been generally positive, and the first run sold out on Amazon in five days.

So what does this mean for ink and paper purveyors? The classic print magazine argument goes something like this:

Magazines provide the best venue for long-form journalism. Reading the magazine version of The New Yorker on the train tonight is going to be a lot more pleasurable than reading a bunch of articles printed out on copy paper.

Ink on paper also works better for beautiful photography. The collective weight of the fall fashion magazines shows that advertisers clearly agree.

Finally, magazines are more portable than even the lightest laptop. Anyone who has used a laptop on their actual lap can attest that it quickly gets uncomfortable.

The Kindle points out the shakiness of the first and third legs of the proverbial stool. The Kindle is lightweight, easy on the eyes and presumably doesn't burn your lap. The wireless connection provides access to scores of books or magazines, anywhere, at any time.

Sure it's $400, but you have to believe that a $99 version with color photos will be on Amazon by Christmas 2009. With the way ink and paper prices have been going, that might not be a bad thing.

Dylan Stableford

Give Karl Rove a Blog

Dylan Stableford Editorial - 11/29/2007-10:49 AM

As part of its pre-election push, Newsweek recently announced the addition of ex-White House senior advisor Karl Rove as a columnist, his glossy appointment coming a day after the magazine named Markos Moulitsas, founder of the popular liberal politics blog and tradeshow Daily Kos. Good move by editor Jon Meacham: a right-wing pundit to balance Markos' lefty politics. But why waste two outspoken personalities on the print magazine?

Here's an idea: Give ‘em both Newsweek-branded blogs and have them face off before, during and after debates and conventions, allowing readers to join the conversation via comments. (Some media people still consider "comments" to be a risky wasteland of the delusional and the deluted, but I guarantee lightly-monitored comment-thread can frame such a debate in a much more civilized way than, say, cable.)

John J. Palumbo

You Get What You Pay For

John J. Palumbo City and Regionals - 11/28/2007-15:43 PM

I have often said that anyone with basic Mac skills and the ability to pay a printer thinks they can be a player in the magazine publishing business these days. Most city & regional publications are having their markets diluted with freely distributed, rack-in-the-drugstore-vestibule publications. To a certain extent we are the victim's of our own success. Robust growth of the regional magazine business has resulted on healthy looking books in many markets and frequently forays into the bridal and shelter book markets by local publishers. Hence "the entrepreneurs" have been lured by the apparent riches they see in the four-color glossy pages of regionals.

Adding to the woes of reputable publishers is the fact that many of these neophyte entrepreneurs routinely and glaringly ignore all the MPA rules regarding editorial integrity on their pages. Our sales folks are routinely queried by advertisers conditioned by these publications- looking for free editorial ink as a thank you for their advertising commitments. The fact that these publications are four color glossies seems to lure some of the less knowledgeable local advertisers like a moth to a flame.

Emmis Communications has taken a leadership role in the city and regional publishing business by commissioning multiple studies in the markets where they own magazines to determine the "recallability" of these free rack and forced distribution publications. In every case the "other" non-audited publications are not even on the radar screen when it comes to recall and effectiveness of content-both advertising and editorial-in swaying the recipients buying habits.

The first question all of us need to ask advertisers when confronted with this merging completion is "Do you really know who is looking at your ad?"

Second one: "Do you think they are really spending time looking at it?"

Kate Tomlinson

Publishing in the (Long) Shadow of New York

Kate Tomlinson City and Regionals - 11/27/2007-18:22 PM

The publishing world may seem gloomy in Magazine Central, but out here in what many New York print types view as the hinterland, I'm thankful to be a regional magazine publisher. For one thing, people still do read magazines, especially the ones that cover topics they have a passion for and -- laugh if you will -- our readers have a passion for all things Jersey. I think Dan Brogan, my fellow regional publisher from Denver (5280), gave the best explanation of the strength of our category when he called city and regionals enthusiast magazines for a particular place. Our readers really do want to know where to go, where to eat, and, let me not forget, who the best doctors are.

Our pink sheet is clean, but I am thankful that our advertisers don't read pink sheets. Yes, they look at the first page, and I am hearing more about "accountability," but the tempests at ABC that increasingly pit advertisers and agencies against publishers haven't crossed the Hudson Ocean (err, I mean River).

I hear a lot about national advertisers moving their advertising from print to the web and other new media, but I am thankful that our advertisers haven't joined the stampede-yet. They are experimenting with new media, but haven't allowed themselves to forget that it's all about results rather than following the fashions, which is good for print. Judging from some of the comments I heard at the City and Regional Magazine Association conference in September, local advertisers in some areas are starting to shift dollars to the web, but we have some time to craft our own web strategies to take advantage of the transition.

Operating a business in the New York Metro has its downsides-and that's a rant for another day-but there are some things to be thankful for, such as the incredible talent pool that Magazine Central represents. About half our staff members have gotten their training at one of the large, national magazines in our backyard.

Publishing a magazine outside NYC gives me much to be thankful for, and, if anyone can come up with a way for a magazine to make serious money on the Web, I'll be grateful for many Thanksgivings to come.

Dylan Stableford

Playboy’s Search for America’s Sexiest Sportscaster Hits Rock-Bottom

Dylan Stableford Consumer - 11/27/2007-10:56 AM

Playboy magazine is hosting its second "America's Sexiest Sportscaster" poll, which closes today. A typically chauvinistic move setting women's journalism back 15 years. (Sports Illustrated, for some reason, called it "the season's second most-discussed poll.") The whole thing makes about as much sense as Miss Landmine 2008 (a real competition-seriously).

That said, I guarantee most of the nominees spent Thanksgiving lobbying their families to vote.

The winner, by the way, will be announced November 28.

Dylan Stableford

Worst Anniversary Party Ever? Atlantic Monthly Celebrates 150th in New York

Dylan Stableford Consumer - 11/27/2007-10:30 AM

The Atlantic Monthly celebrated its 150th anniversary with a party in New York earlier this month. It picked the scholarly Kimmel Center at New York University as the venue. The venue had a stage. Instead of, say, using the stage for a panel or discussion, it served for the bulk of the evening as an awkward VIP area, where the important guests like Arianna Huffington, Moby and Mayor Bloomberg partied while 600 or so readers (a.k.a N.I.P.s) were forced to watch. It’s admirable that David Bradley and a magazine like the Atlantic would want to include its readers. But not like this, man. Give everyone access, find another venue or throw two parties—one for the V.I.P.s and one for the rest of the dregs.

Gawker has the damning video

Dylan Stableford

Why Does Burkle Want American Media?

Dylan Stableford M and A and Finance - 11/27/2007-09:51 AM

Slate's Mickey Kaus has a nice extrapolation on what's behind Ron Burkle's pursuit of American Media Inc.:

Soon he'll presumably have the power to kill any scandalous story in the Enquirer or Star that might hurt his friends (the Clintons). And he'll have the power to run the stories that will hurt his enemies. And for those who might help the Clintons now (by, say, splitting the anti-Hillary vote) but hurt them later--well, he'll be able to choose the timing of any further exposes. ... Look at it from the point of view of the aptly-named David Pecker, head of AMI: If you assume Burkle wants AMI's publications in order to gain political influence, when is the time at which Burkle would pay the maximum price? Right before the campaign starts in earnest. In fact, you might pinpoint Pecker's maximum leverage as coming a couple of months before the Iowa caucuses.

More here ...

Frank Locantore

Beware ‘Carbon Neutral’ Paper Claims

Frank Locantore Consumer - 11/25/2007-13:09 PM

I don't believe in "carbon neutrality."

It is not a helpful concept-some would argue it is deceptive-and there is no clear or agreed upon definition. Publishers who want to be environmentally responsible stewards should view claims of "carbon neutral" paper with suspicion. Such paper most likely doesn't offer any environmental benefit and can be a marketing risk.

A recent report from the Sustainable Forest Product Industry (SFPI) working group makes the claim that "carbon neutrality" can be achieved by burning tree parts, or "biomass," to generate energy for paper mills. SFPI acknowledges that burning trees releases carbon into the atmosphere, but through convoluted logic argue that this is OK, because the trees sucked up the carbon from the atmosphere in the first place. Tree burning merely "recycles" the carbon, SFPI happily concludes.

This is not CO2 neutral. In fact, tree burning is double whammy for the environment: not only does the tree stop absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, it now contributes carbon to the atmosphere. Perhaps burning trees for energy produces fewer CO2 emissions when compared to the burning of fossil fuels. But "fewer" is not the same as "neutral." In the best case "carbon neutral" may mean more efficient energy production. In the worst case it is just an exercise in semantics.

The reality behind the semantic is that tree burning emits a greenhouse gas, CO2, into our atmosphere.

So beware of paper suppliers who pitch "carbon neutral" paper. Using this paper would be an environmental and marketing mistake since such paper would not protect the environment nor communities and may endanger the publication's image and marketability.

Read Larry Light's CMO Strategy piece and view the three-minute video of Seventh Generation's president Jeffrey Hollender in Advertising Age that encourages companies to adopt sustainable practices but also warning them about participating in hollow marketing claims.

Here are the companies that are part of the SFPI working group that produced this report:

Grupo Portucel Soporcel
International Paper
Metsäliitto Group
Nippon Paper Group
Norske Skog
Oji Paper
SCG Paper
Suzano Papel e Celulose
Stora Enso

I told you my bias in my very first blog. What might be bias of these pulp and paper manufacturers?

For more on the Magazine PAPER Project, click here.