You can't swing the proverbial dead cat without hitting an industry panel discussion about the death of print, the transition to digital or some variation thereof. This has been true now for the better part of a decade. The panels just come with different titles:
1997: "Avoid Becoming Roadkill on the Information Superhighway"2007: "The Magabrand Revolutionâ
Cycling through a number of failed strategiesâhomegrown portal sites, blockbuster acquisitions, digital editionsâmost publishers still have a hard time getting over the fact that branded, high-quality content doesn't seem to have the same value on-line as it does off-line.
Intuitively, established magazine brands should have an advantage over competitors they perceive as underwear-clad, basement-dwelling overachievers. Magazines have loyal audiences. Their content is professionally reported, edited and fact-checked. Longstanding brands connote a certain level of quality.
But it doesn't work that way. Perez Hilton competes on the same field as People, Drudge with Newsweek, TVNewser with Mediaweek, and on and on. On top of that, advertisers pay a significantly lower CPM online than they do for print, hurting magazine publishers in the tradeoff.
At the risk of getting sucked into the same repetitively lame dialogue I just mocked, this is what I want to blog about. As someone who started in the online world (LendingTree.com circa 1999) and then transitioned to magazine management, I hope to bring a perspective that cuts through a lot of the doomsaying and navel-gazing.
I'm going to highlight what works from the print, integrated or exclusively on-line perspectives. And if I plug my own magazine (Discover) and online product (http://discovermagazine.com) along the way, so be it. At least you don't have to sit through another integrated media panel discussion.
Baseball is the cover theme of HIU (Health Insurance Underwriter) magazine for no reason other than that October is a big month for the sport.
"There's no deep meaning behind the cover," says freelance illustrator Bruce MacPherson. "It may be the only light part of the whole thing."
Since MacPherson started working with HIU, which serves the National Association of Health Underwriters, the magazine's covers have had very little to do with its content. "I don't read it. I flip through it," he says. It's an intentionally light-hearted approach.
"The magazine is about health insurance," says managing editor Martin Carr. "Sometimes that just doesn't translate well into art. How many times can you see people sitting around a conference room on a cover?"
When we passed this cover along for commentary, we got mixed response. "I like seeing illustration on the cover. It adds personality to a topic," said Brian Taylor, design director for National Defense magazine. Donathan Salkaln, art director at Successful Meetings, said the illustration was wonderful.
But, aesthetics aside, the cover has issues. "The concept is out of left field, unless it's just trying to be self-promoting," said Salkaln.
The image of someone reading HIU while he or she is supposed to be working-in this case, the umpire-is an ongoing, inside joke. "Readers are distracted by their own magazine in the midst of other tasks. People appreciate that, for better or worse," says MacPherson.
MacPherson says readers are "in on" the concept, partly because it's an association mag. "It's a closed audience," he says. "There's kind of a âhomey' feel."
Association or not, Taylor says, "There should be a connection. I find it misleading if the cover isn't representational of the editorial content inside."
Still, when your readers are members, not just subscribers or purchasers at newsstand, that might imply a sort of dedication that allows for a little more fun. It seems to work for HIU; Carr says readers are vocal about how much they like the newÂ approach to covers since they started with it a few years ago.
There's nothing like a practically naked woman to grab a man's attention. That said, it struck as somewhat odd when we noticed this photo as part of the annual gift guide featured in the December issue of Men's Health, on newsstands Tuesday.The editors used a number of photos from a shoot with Dania Ramirez-a star on the hit NBC television show "Heroes"-throughout the gift guide package. The best way, apparently, to display Fender's new VG Stratocaster guitar was to have Ramirez strip off her clothes and wear it."We love women and, of course, we're going to have photos of beautiful women on our pages," a Men's Health communications staffer told FOLIO:.When asked if featuring a mostly nude woman was a sort of departure for the magazine, the staffer responded, "She wasn't completely nude. She was wearing a pair of heels." What's your opinion?
At the SNAP conference today in Chicago, Richard Creighton, principal and co-founder of The Magazine Group, said that association publishers need to look to models "from the other side" in order to create a 360-degree platform to surround members with relevant, authoritative information in the same way that custom publishing surrounds customers.
Creighton suggested association publishers rate themselves in ten categories heavily drawn upon by successful custom publishers to communicate with their target audiences:
1. Print2. Web site3. E-newsletter4. Blog5. Podcast6. TV/Video7. Wikis8. Mobile9. Webinars10. Multiple Languages
A 360-degree platform will widen the reach of an association publisher's content, which can help bring in new and retain existing members. If monetized, these channels can provide new revenue sources for the association and possibly help increase dues and donations as well as brand awareness. According to Creighton, many associations are already drawing on Webinars and podcasts, but less on more advanced technologies, as in the mobile arena.
Gordon Hughes and company at ABM fashioned their Top Management Meeting held this week out in Chicago around a concept Hughes coined as âBrandscapeâ: Leveraging a publisherâs brand (i.e., the magazine) across an ever expanding product platform.
Hughes noted that member companies are reporting relatively flat growth for their print brands in 2007, around 2 percent to 4 percent, while other products are growing at a much faster clip: digital at a 14 percent average, custom at 18 percent and events at about 6 percent. Events are expected to pull even next year with print, achieving revenue parity. So it goes without saying that there should be some consideration of how publishers are both leveraging their brand identity and consistently representing it across the platform.
But another theme emerged from the TMM program that also has to do with the repercussions of rapid diversification. And thatâs how companies are handling day-to-day changes in their workforce to accommodate it â whether through hiring, retention, training or compensation. Itâs an important topic, and one that will likely see much more coverage.
-Observations From ABM Top Management
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch announced this week that he intends to make access to The Wall Street Journal's Web site free-a move he believes will attract "large numbers" of big-spending advertisers.
"We expect to make that free, and instead of having one million [subscribers], having at least 10 million-15 million in every corner of the earth," Murdoch said.
News Corp. has signed an agreement to acquire Dow Jones & Co., and the deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter. A special shareholders meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13 in New York.
WSJ.com currently has about one million subscribers and generates about $50 million in annual user fees.
This move could be seen as the first step in setting up The Wall Street Journal as a direct rival to The New York Times, which is a major goal of Murdoch's, according to observers.
"Murdoch will do anything to take market share away from the Times. He has gotten farther than anybody else and can afford to undercut anybody else," Martin Dunn, deputy publisher of the Daily News, told Crain's New York Business back in August. "Anyone who thinks he will play by Marquess of Queensbury rules is living in a cloud-cuckoo-land."
The New York Times also opened up access to portions of its Web site. In September, the Times announced that it would stop charging its readers for access to its online subscription program TimesSelect as well as the majority of its archives.
Other weapons that could be used by the Journal to compete with the Times could include steep reductions in ad rates and direct targeting of the Times' current advertisers.
Murdoch also outlined plans to compete last month at the annual Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco that included increasing the WSJ's national and international coverage, as well as coverage of cultural issues in order to get advertisers from venues such as movie studios.
According to the Guardian Unlimited, when asked whether Murdoch was aiming to kill the Times, he replied, "That would be nice."
For more on the viability of online newspapers like the Times and WSJ, click here.
-- Chandra Johnson-GreeneÂ
In an October 25 story in the New York Post, Keith Kelly reported that merger talks were underway between American Media Inc. CEO David Pecker and Ron Burkle of Source Interlink Cos. At the time, the two sides were thought to be close to inking a deal, but neither party would confirm or deny the report.
The Post is reporting today that a price of $1.2 billion has been agreed upon, the only stumbling block being that the banks want Source to put more equity into the deal. David Pecker and Evercore Partners bought American Media in 1999 for $850 million. In 2003 American Media bought health and fitness magazine publisher Weider Publications for $350 million. AMI titles include The National Enquirer, Star Magazine, Globe Magazine, Country Weekly, Shape, Men's Fitness, Muscle & Fitness and others.
Last May, Source acquired Enthusiast Media, which included Primedia's 70 special interest magazines and 90 associated Web sites, for $1.2 billion in cash, sparking concern among circulators about the company owning magazines and controlling the newsstand supply chain simultaneously.
But the Primedia acquisition did not include a distribution source. Now, if the AMI merger goes through, AMI's distribution arm, Distribution Services, Inc., which specializes in in-store magazine merchandising, will be a large part of the deal. Current DSI publishing clients include Bauer, Newsweek, Meredith, Rodale, and Hachette Filipacchi.
Spend last week wondering how Entertainment Weekly would treat the Writer's Guild strike? Neither did I. But it appears by putting the strike on the cover [above], the magazine took a bit of a gamble. The strike could've been over by the time the magazine hit newsstands (this morning), and could still be resolved before the next issue wraps, however unlikely. (This is the one time EW has to think like its Time Inc. brother Time.)
As the strike moves into its second week, though, the EW cover looks better and better.
"Mr. Magazine" would like to be known as the "Magazine Police," too.Â
At last night's Pearl Awards, put on by the Custom Publishing Council, co-presenter Samir Husni told an amusing story, which we'll summarize here:Â Â
In a supermarket, he watched a woman flip through and read parts of People magazine, then put it back onto the shelf. Husni caught up with her and asked, "Would you open a box of Rice Krispies, dig your hand in, stuff some in your mouth, and then close up the box and put it back on the shelf?"Â
She looked at him and replied, "Who are you?" Husni's response: "The magazine police."Â
To turn content into a brand, Husni says, you need to have strong editorial. You don't want people to steal your content, you want them to buy it. You want to make sure they never put it back on the shelf.
This year's ABM Top Management meeting featured some of the best content I've heard at the annual event (which I've been going to on and off since the late Nineties), thanks in large part to the refreshing openness of many of the speakers, particularly ABM chairman and Hanley Wood CEO Frank Anton and Hanley Wood Business Media president Peter Goldstone, who not only acknowledged the challenges they are facing in developing multimedia platforms but also offered detail on how they are addressing those challenges. Anton made the point that going digital won't be a cheap and easy fix and that publishers need to take the offensive. "Since 9/11, this is an industry that's played defense," Anton said, noting Hanley Wood has invested $2 million in personnel and another $5 million in Cap Ex for its online ramp-up.
However, ABM has featured an increasing number of vendors as speakers during both its Spring and Top Management meetings (at least 10 vendors appeared on panels this week). On one hand that makes sense-video and online events are new territory for most of the publishers in attendance and who better than the vendor to explain how they work? However, few of the vendors cited specific examples of how they're working with publishers or appeared on the same stage with their publishing clients. One session titled "Expanding Your Event Offerings Digitally" featured three vendors (John Grosshandler of eComXpo, Guy Piekarz of Unisfair and consultant Gogi Gupta), some of which also exhibited at the show, and just one publisher in Vincent Polito of Reed Exhibitions.
Google was on hand to deliver its "We come in peace" speech to b-to-b publishers, touting services such as AdSense video units, where partners can upload content to YouTube in an effort of "hypersyndication." "Users want your content but don't necessarily want to go to your site to get it," advised Google manager of publisher solutions Gavin Bishop. Publishers remained skeptical. "The guy from Google gave the same speech the guy from VerticalNet gave five years ago," quipped Randall-Reilly Publishing president and CEO Mike Reilly. "'They're going to take our business' but they can't take it because they don't have our relationships."
It's always the behind-the-scenes meetings and deals that are the real appeal of these types of association events but the sessions are a big part of it. Vendor content is useful and welcomed but not if it comes across as advertising. "I can appreciate them needing [to have vendors speak]," one publisher told me. "It's tough trying to pull off an event like this. But it's tough to find time to attend events like this and I want to know what publishers like me are doing."
You can't say Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner is a big fan of digital media. The CEO of Wenner Media, which also publishes US Weekly and Men's Journal, recently told BusinessWeek's Jon Fine "we never lost tons of money chasing down ridiculous online ideas." Nevertheless, Wenner has finally chased down what many publishers have been tinkering with for the last few years: digital editions. The last in a three-edition 40th anniversary series is available in its 213-page entirety as a digital edition, developed by Olive Software and sponsored by LG.
The free digital edition is accessed via a prominent "current issue" link on Rollingstone.com. There is no login step and users can access the content directly. The full text is available and some bands and songs within the copy are linked to Rhapsody, a two-year-old membership-based music service started by RealNetworks, which also powers Rolling Stone's Web site via a licensing agreement.
The digital edition follows closely behind the recent release of the firstÂ 40 years ofÂ Rolling Stone as a digital archive available in a DVD boxed set produced by Bondi Digital.
When he took over as MPA chairman in 2005, Hachette Filipacchi CEO Jack Kliger's first movewas to call for the magazine industry and its advertisers to pursue a new way of measuring and evaluating magazines. "Circulation-based metrics are irrelevant to proving advertising effectiveness," Kliger said at the time. "There is too much focus on ratebase rather than distribution. Every other medium deals with audience, we deal with circulation. Why should a magazine advertiser care if a magazine is paid or non-paid?"This week, at the end of his two-year tenure as MPA chairman, Kliger reiterated the call for new metrics. Not doing so, he said, "shortchanges the value proposition to the advertiser."But while both publishers and advertisers nod their heads in adamant agreement that new metrics are needed, the lack of support for new metrics begs the question of whether they really want them. Advertisers and agencies for the most part seem more concerned with pushing publishers on price. Why support data that justifies a rate increase? In the recent Folio: Consumer CEO Survey , several respondents said advertisers focusing on low CPMs rather than the quality of integrated packages frustrated them. "There is a failure on the part of advertisers to accept solutions versus driving for low CPMs," said one consumer-publishing executive. On the publisher side, many remain leery about methodologies that could show specific issues as poor performers. Some early efforts in new metrics have foundered. Last year, McPheters & Co. dropped Readership.com, it's attempt at collecting issue-specific data, after it only took in about half of the $5 million it needed to support fielding the service. In June 2007, MRI released its first Issue Specific Readership Study, which offers syndicated research showing total audience estimates and demographics for individual issues of magazines. However, the study seems to have been greeted with little industry-wide fanfare.Other efforts are underway. MRI and Nielsen Online have teamed on a service to track unduplicated audiences of publications and their Web sites. McPheters & Co. is conducting a study to gauge the effectiveness of public-place copies. But new metrics won't gain any support unless advertisers are able to accept that they may need to start giving magazines more credit than mass media whipping boy, and publishers will need to admit that not every issue is a slam dunk, and will have to start planning and pricing accordingly.