I've long felt that non-profit organizations and private industry should work together more diligently to produce decent swag for graphic designers. A template for successful products that might emerge from such public/private partnerships is @issue: The Journal of Business and Design, which is written and designed by The Corporate Design Foundation and printed on paper donated by Sappi.
@issue is by no means a great magazine-I don't miss it between the random issues I pick up at paper shows and ADC events, (and I haven't bothered to subscribe to the free publication) but I always enjoy the unusually-tall glossy when one comes my way. CDF's outlook on design, (which includes forays into product, packaging, branding and furniture) is refreshing and different from most of the designer magazines I read regularly. If the content is refreshing, the design is another matter.
In the old days, the inside format was positively retro. Perhaps this was due to CDF's twin focuses on industrial and graphic design; or perhaps because the publication is half-magazine, half-brochure, but early on it had the vibe of a late-model International School marketing piece. With ruled off and tinted boxes, a simple two-column structure throughout, grid-trumps-all placement choices, and diminutive point-sizes for heads and decks and rubrification for emphasis, it's easy to imagine they cribbed the look of a 1974 Knoll catalog when they did the initial design.
I caught @issue for the first time in almost six years last week, and was surprised by what had and what hadn't changed visually. The color scheme, rules and boxes, along with the sales-piece quality are all the same, but the historically-appropriate Franklin Black Condensed signature sans has been replaced by the humanistic yet post-modern Meta, which is now used almost exclusively. The grid (which is still given god-like reverence) is slightly updated, but the color and overall aesthetic is much the same. The combination almost but doesn't quite work.
The wispy heads in the new version make pages feel more open but at the expense of a textured and varied reading experience. I love Meta, but at light weights and small sizes it doesn't have the pop on the page that the Franklin did. And, the font feels stylistically out-of-place in what is otherwise a strictly modernist design. (I know, the cover never quite went with the inside.) While there would be nothing wrong with redesigning the magazine the current incantation of the design feels half-done.
NPR's Marketplace did an intriguing piece on Brass magazine recently. Their report made the magazine sound like a sophisticated and sincere version of Young Money, which I wrote about a while back. (I had used the example of YM to look at how fuzzy editorial goals can result in a design that's equally unfocused.) My post inspired spirited debate, so I wanted to take a look at Brass for a bit of contrast. While Marketplace was very positive about the magazine, they were more interested in the success of the business than its editorial or design virtues.
Brass features have a one-page opener.
Actually, Brass is a bit better written than YM, but it too has a design that's all over the map, including the feature above which looks like a brochure for a overpriced and pretentious nightclub. Brass pages rely on goopy Photoshop and typographic gimmicks rather than a focused and appropriate design voice, and the weak images often have only a tenuous connection to articles. Like YM, Brass anneals its message of frugality and financial responsibility with the fantasy lifestyles of the rich, young and famous. Of course, part of the problem with both magazines may be that the personal finances of the young, unsung, and impoverished is just too boring a topic to build an exciting magazine out of. How desirable is a hard, realistic look at cash when your problem is you don't have any of it?
How would you organize a theoretical magazine for hospital administrators? They are probably baffled by the Dick and Jane simplicity of ordinary magazine and newspaper structure.
I'm thinking there would need to be a separate numbering system for the tops and bottoms of pages; a supplement that could only be accessed when the main book is turned to page 43; and probably interwoven articles that one could read by following a color-coded text. But what mere designer has a mind, um, "scientific" enough to design it? The only option might be to hire an MD to DD.
Airport signage, on the other hand, seems to translate quite well to the editorial environment, as New York demonstrated the other week. I haven't flown in or out of the city in years, but New York turns what is essentially a service journalism piece into an engaging and entertaining package with captivating information graphics, tables and fascinating but trivial factoids.
The photography is nothing special, but it still seems vibrant because of context. This works particularly well on the opening spread where the lead art serves as both illustration and infographic: backed-up planes are listed by how late they were to their destinations the day the photo was taken.
The translation of airport signage to page architecture is an obvious move, but New York handles it with enough aplomb that the conceit does not become boring or repetitive-even through dubious sidebars about decent airport meals.
So it is with media. An October released study from The Nielsen Company revealed that, worldwide, the most trusted media is also the one most losing ground with advertisers, newspapers.
The two least trusted media are the ones with blue sky ad sales predictions, online banner ads, and ads on mobile phones. According to the study:
"...while new platforms like the Internet are beginning to catch up with older media in terms of ad revenues, traditional advertising channels continue to retain the public's trust. Ads in newspapers rank second worldwide among all media categories, at 63 percent overall, while television, magazines and radio each ranked above 50 percent."
The study also contains fun information on which media are trusted most/least in different countries.
Use it on a sales call: Often it is hard to shore up the "traditional media" part of an integrated media package. Start by asking your advertiser how important "trust" is in their selling process. Tell them that through an integrated package of traditional media and new media they get the best of both worlds-the functionality of the new media, and the credibility of traditional media. Then show them the study.Â
Read about the study on the Nielsen website.
More here ...
After I sold 101communications to 1105 Media, I began teaching a class at the USC Annenberg School of Communication. It's a graduate class in the management and communications program.Â The focus of the class is the impact of the Internet on traditional media businesses.
The class is filled with twentysomethings. Most of them have worked for a few years in advertising, publishing, or some form of media, and now they've returned to get a graduate degree.Â Most want to work in the publishing or entertainment business. But they don't much read print products.
On the first night of class, I told the students that we were studying "news, information and entertainment."Â So what sources do you have for those, I asked.Â Under "news," after 10 answers no one had mentioned a magazine or a newspaper.Â It was all web sites.Â Under "information", again only digital products-like Google Scholar--were mentioned; no books, even. And when I asked about sources of entertainment, no one ever mentioned actually physically going to a movie-instead they talked about celebrity Web sites, Netflix, Slingboxes, DVDs.
If you are in the print magazine business, these are your future readers.Â Or not.
In 2005, search guru John Battelle was credited with sound bite critique of digital magazines describing them as "fish with feet," merely a transitional product for the digitally challenged who need extra help migrating from paper to the Web.
If Battelle was right, digital magazines should be fading away and gone in a few years. Also, his concern about the long term could become an objection raised by clients blocking your next digital magazine media sale.
While digital magazines have detractors they are now enjoying huge growth:
Digital publisher NXTbook Media reported a 254 percent increase in sales and a 359 percent rise in traffic to its digital magazines over the year before. This August, digital magazine publisher Zinio announced the launch of 65 new digital releases.
Sorry Mr. Battelle, but growth is robust.
In addition, almost all current media could be viewed as "fish with feet." In fact, going through some kind of tech transition focusing on delivery is typical these days:
â–ª In two years, the current analogue standard of television is mandated to shut down and be replaced with a digital system as per order of the US Federal Communications Commission.
â–ª Five years from now radio may morph into a medium with as many time shifted listeners as live.
â–ª Just now, there isÂ a technology fight in cable TV where IPTV technology (like FiOS from Verizon) is being deployed to compete with the current generation of cable delivery.
â–ª The current Internet you are reading this blog on will one day be replaced with Internet2 technology now in beta at Universities.
If digital magazines are evolutionary products they are in very good company.
Today, Digital Magazines are robust and growing. To those detractors that suggest that they are irrelevant because they may yet evolve, remind them in today's media world evolution is a sign of viability, not weakness.
FOLIO: has asked me to blog occasionally for their newly designed, recently launched Web site. I was both flattered and flummoxed since I haven't had to deal with deadlines, or word counts since my days as a journalist way back when our businesses were called trade magazines and trade shows, rather than b-to-b media, the event business and content factories.
So my first question was, what would you like me to write about?
I have a passion for all things "e." I love new technology, but I'm not really an expert. I've been in the magazine business in one shape or another since college, writing, editing, selling and publishing.
But there are many others who are currently fighting that good fight. I've run a number of major trade shows, like PC Expo, Internet World, Variety Merchandise, Natural Products Expo. But again, there are many people more qualified to blog on the in-person business than I am.
FOLIO: suggested I discuss the M&A business since I am now in partnership with one of the most respected, and most successful private equity firms in the business, ABRY Partners. And although I am clearly now involved in the acquisition and investment business (at least until we make our first platform deal), I thought I'd save some thoughts on that path for a future blog.
So today, I'm going to touch on a topic near and dear to me: management of creative, energetic, and passionate people. The people who make the media landscape so interesting and an exciting career.
I've always thought that Starbucks got it right. If senior management spent it's time recognizing that their most important constituency is not their customer base, not their shareholders, but their employees, there would be more successful businesses where people actually liked to work.
Focus on your staff. Recognize that each individual is crucial and should be treated in a unique and personally designed way. Make the environment one where risks can safely be taken, where energy and extra effort is rewarded, and find many ways to compliment and congratulate. Communicate, over-communicate, and communicate again with your team. Respond quickly to their issues, questions, problems. You don't always have to say yes, but you do have to react quickly and be clear in why you might be saying no.
Management is easy. Remember that your people will always give you 95%. It's great managers who can lift the spirits of their staff so that they get that additional five percent.
Earlier this year, MediaPost subscribers-which include media buyers and sellers-were surveyed by Dynamic Logic and asked if there were buzzwords they would like to have people stop using. About half (49.5%) said yes.
Top of their "stop using" list? "Web 2.0" and "engagement."
On a call, it's a good idea to check the buzzwords at the door. The problem with words like these, is they mean different things to different people, so using them often does not advance communication.
Download: PDF of the survey
Read more here ...
In the late '80s while managing the sales and marketing of CableVision magazine I saw magazine myopia at its worst. As I watched, first hand, the rapid growth of many new cable networks I wondered how the opportunities they represented had slipped by my publishing peers:
Why didn't someone at Sports Illustrated start ESPN?Why didn't someone at Time or Newsweek start CNN?Why didn't someone at Rolling Stone start MTV?Why didn't someone at National Geographic start the Discovery Channel?
The list could go on...but I fear history could be repeating itself, this time with regional magazines.
The Periodical Publishers Association (PPA) just released a U.K.-based study that tests advertising on different media for their ability to drive traffic to search engines. Of the all the media tested, television was the top driver beating out magazines by a nose.
But in the second part of the study magazines pulled off an upset. Of the people who were both driven to search AND made a purchase, magazines beat TV. While magazines may not generate the big bang that television does, it has greater influence for people driven to search who are purchase oriented.
Use it on a call. This study sets up a great story: Magazines may be second to television in driving traffic to search, but the nature of the audience magazines drive is different. Since a magazine ad can be revisited, marked up, and torn out and carried to a store it is a superior ad medium for driving search traffic that results in a sale.
Visit: PPA homepage
I'm in a good mood.
Just a day after I noted that Ziff Davis' PC Magazine had broken its word and once again violated industry ethics by using ads-within-edit, a reader of this blog sent me some good news.
American Business Media has changed the rules for its Neal Awards. Henceforth:
"Web sites submitted (for consideration for Best Web site) should not hyperlink editorial content to advertising or other paid material. (You can read all the rules in this PDF document.)
I'll take some credit for this change. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I complained earlier this year when eWeek was nominated for a Neal Award even though the magazine's Web site violated ABM's ethics policy. Check out this earlier post in which ABM's Sara Sheadel responded and said the organization would likely change its rules.
Selling links inside editorial copy is wrong. It's offensive, misleading and disgusting. It belittles the work that thousands of B2B journalist do every day of their careers. It cheapens a Web site and damages the reputation of all of us in B2B publishing.
ASBPE has ruled on this issue. And now ABM has made its stance clear as well. ASME, however, remains silent.
And that is just pathetic.
As editor-in-chief of a regional magazine-Southern Breeze-I get a lot of other regionals across my desk that I never knew existed. And while all magazines everywhere-with the exception of InStyle and most of the other ladies books-are fighting for ad dollars, our challenge seems wholly unique, even in the regional realm.
Southern Breeze delivers "the good life on the Gulf Coast" so we cover the tropical South along the Gulf of Mexico from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Apalachicola, Florida. Editorially, this is great because we have a large swath of the Southeast to feature in every issue. From an advertising standpoint there are significant challenges. What is a benefit for the writers-an entire region to cover-is a detriment for the ad salespeople. Why would a restaurant in Baton Rouge buy a full page ad when the magazine only covers a portion of its audience?
We also can't do a lot of the types of stories that city magazines do each year like the "Top 10 Doctors," "Top 10 Lawyers" et al because we're not exclusive to any one city. What is a boon to most city magazines would be ill-advised for us. Add to this conundrum the fact that we compete with other city publications and you'll find the print advertising dollar stretched very thin. There are only a few regional mags that have pulled this off successfully that I can think of, most notably Southern Living (duh), Midwest Living and Sunset.
As spectacular as these magazines are, none of them had their entire coverage area gutted by a spate of what we down here call "tropical occurrences." Hurricanes Katrina, Ivan and Rita gave us all a bit of a beating physically, financially, and emotionally. Sure our advertising dollars dwindled during that time, but we bounced back pretty quickly. We're not just the little regional magazine that could, we're the little regional magazine that does: ad dollars, competition, and Mother Nature notwithstanding.