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Bill Mickey

Online Edit For Sale

Bill Mickey emedia and Technology - 11/27/2006-03:00 AM

Another article covering in-text ad links recently ran on It’s one of those radioactive subjects that gets its fair share of love-hate coverage. The technology is not new, and allows advertisers to buy keywords within an article that are hyperlinked via mouse-over to a pop-up text or video ad. Advertisers pay a prearranged price when a user clicks on the ad.

There are several vendors that broker this service between publisher and advertiser, selling keywords on a pay-per-click basis – anywhere between $5 and $20, according to the report. In fall 2004, Vibrant Media’s IntelliTXT product caused a minor sensation at when the editorial staff rejected its brief implementation.

There’s a place for this technology, for sure, but I fall on the “intense dislike” side of the fence. As a writer, I’d hate to see my stories appear online peppered with hyperlinked keywords that have been sold to a vendor. It’s product placement. And the unmistakable odor of sell-out is there, and even if editors and writers have no prior knowledge or input on which words are selected and sold, readers will inevitably notice. And publishers simply shouldn’t even go there for fear of tainting the edit brand.

Other disheartening points the article makes:

Hyde Post, vice president for the Internet at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says the paper restricts in-text ads to soft-news sections such as entertainment and sports. The paper hasn’t received any reader complaints, he says. “You have to try new things,” Mr. Post says of the paper’s decision to start running in-text ads earlier this year. “I look at the medium as very evolutionary.”
I realize papers often get knocked as Internet neophytes, and perhaps the AJC closely examined the implications of using the service – I don’t know and the article doesn’t say. But, no, you don’t have to try new things just because the medium allows it. And just because the experiment is in the “soft-news sections” doesn’t mean a negative brand impact will extend into the “hard news” sections.

Still, in-text advertising is gaining traction, in part because it appeals to many sites on the Web that don’t focus on hard news, such as feature magazines, trade publications and blogs.
Since when do feature magazines and trade publications ignore hard news? Or blogs, for that matter? Magazine publishers have used their Web sites as the platform de jour for news-focused content. And, again, I don’t get this hard news vs. soft news distinction. It’s all content critical to a publication, both online and off. The implication here is that “soft news” is somehow less deserving of ethical oversight.

Update: Paul Conley abhors in-text ads even more passionately. Check out today's post at his blog, where he makes two excellent points: 1) that the story's author concludes consumer and trade publications are somehow responsible for the practice's traction (see second grab); and 2) VNU has also been there and back again.

Tony Silber

Ruminating About Advertising

Tony Silber Sales and Marketing - 11/22/2006-03:00 AM

At the American Business Media Top Management Meeting, R.R. Donnelley’s Walter Zdunek introduced a session, and spoke eloquently about Donnelley's commitment to the magazine industry. Not only is Donnelley the largest printer in the industry, Zdunek said, it's the largest printer of smaller magazines as well.

That commitment shines through in Donnelley’s marketshare, customer service and elsewhere. Donnelley is a great company, there’s no doubt about that. And with the recent acquisition of Banta, it stands to be bigger and more capable than ever.

But Donnelley is an enigma. Donnelley rarely advertises. It rarely exhibits at top industry events. And in conversations with its marketing team, Donnelley executives are frank: They believe they get more ROI through small invite-only custom events than they do through advertising.

That’s all fine in a sense. Companies need to make the marketing decisions that are right for them. But to me, there is a disconnect when the country’s largest magazine printer doesn’t advertise.

Here’s my reason: The magazine industry exists because of advertising. Donnelley's hundreds of magazine customers exist because of advertising. And Donnelley thrives when its customers sell lots of advertising—the more pages its customers print, the more they pay their supplier—R.R. Donnelley.

So by not advertising, the country’s largest magazine printer is in effect saying its customers’ business model doesn’t work for it. To me, there is an incongruity there.

I don’t really mean to single out Donnelley—there are plenty of suppliers that do not advertise. In fact, some other big printers don’t spend much either. And naturally, I’m biased. I know advertising works. Beyond that, I think the big suppliers especially have an obligation to show support for the industry they owe their existence to.

In the end, publishers will make their supplier decisions based on value—how well they know and trust a supplier. (Of course, advertising builds awareness and trust.)

But I’m suggesting that those magazine-industry suppliers whose marketing methods exclude advertising ought to be prepared to have a conversation about those marketing methods with their magazine-publisher prospects—all of whom live or die by advertising.

More on ABM’s Top Management Meeting
-Brandscape vs. Workscape
-Observations From ABM Top Management

Linda Zebian

Are Association Magazines Just Flashier Custom Pubs?

Linda Zebian Association and Non-Profit - 11/20/2006-03:00 AM

Last week at the SNAP conference in Chicago, keynote speaker, Roper Public Affairs & Media’s Justin Greeves, cited a 2005 study done by Roper on behalf of the Custom Publishing Council that reveals information about the custom publication reading habits of Americans. Greeves gave the impression that the results of the study, which reflected a generally positive attitude toward custom publications, could easily be allied to association magazines, as both types of publications are produced by a sponsoring company toward a targeted audience.

I questioned Greeves’ references and their relevance, wondering if the association publishing audience around me was doing the same thing. Finally an attendee asked Greeves if he thought of association magazines as passive member benefits. The audience stirred, and Greeves was caught in a pickle, answering the question to the best of his ability by trying to show the correlation between the results of the study and association titles.

While some associations work with custom publishers to produce their magazines, the publications they create are not marketing-based vehicles for a particular brand. To use a custom publishing study to explain habits of association magazine readers seems like a stretch. It’s comparable to a keynote at an ABM meeting presenting a research study done on the habits Conde Nast readers. I was surprised SNAP did not choose a more relevant topic for a session that sets the tone for the entire conference.

Linda Zebian

More On Snap Keynote

Linda Zebian Association and Non-Profit - 11/20/2006-03:00 AM

Ever since my last blog post, I've been trying to find out who asked Justin Greeves the tricky question at the SNAP conference. I discovered that it was Peter Banks, founder of Banks Publishing and former publisher of the American Diabetes Association's Diabetes Forecast. Here's what Banks had to say about his question:

"I asked the question because I thought Greeves' talk had the unfortunate effect of lumping together association membership magazines with giveaway custom publications from companies. The distinction is important in how we think about accountability and return on investment in association publications. If we think of them as custom publications meant to enhance member loyalty—and many associations do seem to see their publications in this way—then the publication is seen as a cost center and there’s little attention paid to leveraging its impact. The only discussion tends to be about cutting costs. If, on the other hand, we see the magazine as a subscription-based product, then we often treat the publication as a potential profit center and begin to manage finances and operations to maximize return to the association. Greeves tended to reinforce the notion that association publications are member giveaways. They are not. They can be the most important strategic assets associations have, and they need to managed as such. They should be managed as profit centers, not dismissed as cost centers. "

Tony Silber

Observations From Abm Top Management

Tony Silber B2B - 11/17/2006-03:00 AM

Thoughts from O’Hare as I’m heading back from the American Business Media Top Management Meeting. (It’s 5:30 a.m.—surprise, surprise: My flight was cancelled and spent the night in Chicago.)

First, I should have blogged AT the event, but that’s not the way it worked out. Folio: had a show daily to produce, and because of that, there was not much time for all the other things we needed to do: Pay close attention to an excellent program, develop story ideas, spend time with the many top managers and key suppliers (D+P, JEGI, RMS, Foster, Cadmus, American Press, Quebecor World, NXTbook Media, Publishers Press, Berkery, Noyes, Omeda Communications, Computer Fulfillment, CDS, ARGI, and plenty more) at the event.

I ended up spending much of the time not in the sessions, but trolling the reception areas looking for that big story. It didn’t come.

My view of show dailies is pretty emphatic: They need to NOT be about the sessions and speakers that everyone sees and hears anyway. They need to be about the buzz. They need to be conversations starters. As in, “Can you believe the management team at Penton is getting $12.5 million?” Or, “Did you hear VNU may be changing its name?” Etc. This is the lifeblood of a good daily in this space—Peter Craig called our daily a “rag,” but he’s wrong.

This is especially true of the TMM, which is all about high-level networking, with a bit of content mixed in. It’s about CEOs, CFOs and suppliers, especially bankers, brokers, lenders and private equity.

So anyway, I spend the day Wednesday looking for the next big breaking story, and didn’t get it. And near the end of the day, I reset my thinking. What ARE people talking about, if not the next big deal? And smart lenders like David VanderLugt of Goldman Sachs, Seth Rosenfield of BMO Capital Markets, David Harrington of GE Capital and others led me to the story: The world of b-to-b publishing is awash with easy money, which is helping to fuel all the M&A activity over the last year or so.

What the heck, rates are at historic lows, and lenders are willing too extend far out on the limb, providing much of the leverage for private-equity buyers. But some lenders are talking now about excess, about the climate not being sustainable. Once one or two loans default, they say, watch out.

Not to say more deals are coming fast: Look for Ziff Davis too be broken up in the months ahead and perhaps for Advanstar to come out again next year.

Meanwhile, some of the other blogs were weighing in on the conference, including a brief but typically insightful and humorous post from Rex Hammock and the ABM’s own Steve Ennen on Mediapace.

And I’m hoping my capable colleagues Matt Kinsman and Bill Mickey will be weighing in soon on the actual sessions. More...

Bill Mickey

Time Starts New Ratebase Fad?

Bill Mickey Audience Development - 11/10/2006-03:00 AM

Time Inc. has announced that Time will be reducing its ratebase from 4 million to 3.25 million. The magazine will also boost its newsstand cover price by $1.

The statement takes an overtly gushy tone, billing the move as a “bold attempt to revolutionize the way mass magazines sell advertising.” Ed McCarrick, Time’s president and worldwide publisher assures the public (read: advertisers and train wreck enthusiasts) that they’re making a “groundbreaking move from a position of strength.” Freshly installed managing editor Richard Stengel says it’s a “bold step.”

There’s a reason for all the hyperbole: cutting ratebase has traditionally been seen as sign of weakness – or the result of a circulation snafu discovered by an auditor. So Time has to come out on the offensive, and this may just be the move that starts a new ratebase reduction fad.

Observers, namely, Dan Capell, have noted that it will take one of the big guys – Time Inc., Hearst, Conde Nast, etc. – to make the first move before others take the step. They have also said that ratebase has become an increasingly ineffective audience measurement tool for an ad buy and that magazines should be measured in a way similar to other media.

Plus, reducing ratebase can pay dividends in distribution efficiencies. What remains to be seen is if other publishers can break their ratebase habit and if media buyers will make the leap along with them.

Find more coverage here, here and here.


Folio: Show: Know Your Mission, Know Your Audience

Marrecca Fiore Editorial - 10/27/2006-02:00 AM

Know your mission statement and know your audience, said Debbie Bates-Schrott, president of Bates Creative Group, Monday when discussing how to match great edit with great design during the opening session of the Folio: Show Production and Design track.

It was a message repeated more than once throughout three days of sessions at the Folio: Show, raising the issue as to how many of us in the publishing industry really knows the mission statement of our magazines and who our audience is? How many can say, I know this is who we are and this is who reads us weekly, monthly, daily? My guess is not many.

Even the most simple of mission statements can become muddled as we search for news and information to fill our pages, our Web sites, our blogs. And the same is true for the audience that we strive to reach. So maybe it’s time we all reread are missions and take a closer look at our subscription lists, at least that what Bates-Schrott would recommend.

Aside from mission statements and audience engagement, the Folio: Show Production and Design track was filled with information about working with and selecting a printer, how to lower manufacturing costs, and how to improve your magazine right now. All of these sessions will be available Monday at for downloading.

In the meantime, here are eight tips (abbreviated) on “Improving Your Magazine Right Now” offered by Jandos Rothstein, design director of Governing magazine and assistant professor at George Mason University.

1.) Simplify. Some magazines clutter pages with non-communicative elements - boxes, rules, frames and decorative standing art. Good design “sells” rather than distracts from images and words.

2.) Right-size page elements. Layouts can feel disorganized or confusing if too much emphasis is given to less important elements. Placement, size, color and value decisions should be guided by the relative informational value of each element.

3.) Don’t design a loaf of bread. Some magazines are like a loaf of bread - no matter where you cut them open, they offer a consistent texture and predictable sameness. Any magazine can support variety within its structure. Solving “bread” design can be as simple as making sure spreads look different from one another and each spread (or page) has a main visual focus.

4.) Get the space you need. A million dollar art budget is useless without the room to display the art you purchase. Design is fueled by space.

5.) Become an art whisperer. Good design is responsive to imagery. Design to enhance rather than compete with art and photography. You cannot save bad art with design.

6.) Good photography is not always good. Looser crops, outtakes and action photos (even if they are slightly blurry) often give more insight into the subject than a perfectly lit, composed, (and predictable) portrait. Look for images that will intrigue and surprise your readers.

7.) Two clichés don’t equal an original idea. If you must use stock art, use it carefully. Many stock images juxtapose to stereotypes creating a melded image. Real illustration renders insight or comments on the topic. Invest in fewers, more specific ideas.

8.) Banish your canards. Many fields have an obvious visual vocabulary (teachers = apples and bells, lawyers = scales and gavels). However, using apples in the pages of an education magazine makes the publication appear superficial. Banishing the obvious improves the thinking behind the assigned art because it forces freelancers to engage issues deeper than the magazine’s demographic. More...

Bill Mickey

Folio: Show 2006 And Blogging

Bill Mickey Editorial - 10/27/2006-02:00 AM

We’re all back from the Folio: Show, which concluded on Wednesday in New York. And we’ve more or less decompressed from an event that, by all accounts, was a home run -- despite the fact that there was another magazine event in sunnier Phoenix.

Interestingly, and gratifyingly, this was the first year that the show picked up a fair share of blog coverage (FishbowlNY in particular). This is a good thing, because while we could have blogged from the event in realtime, we obviously didn’t. Which goes to show that yes, we all know there’s a place for blogging in our content mix, yet actually organizing our time around all the other behind-the-curtain event responsibilities – from moderating panels, introducing speakers, writing a show daily, covering sessions for the newsletter, networking, cruising for news tips, and helping out where we could with event logistics – is another story altogether. Old habits die hard. Time management: a fundamental, yet critical, skill in an editor’s ever-widening set. This might seem duh-worthy, but when you’re caught up in the day-to-day production of an event, details like that are easy to miss. We’ll surely incorporate realtime communications from future events.

Like I said, the show was a bell-ringer, and if you couldn’t make it, here’s what we, and some others, have observed:

Folio: Show Keynote Roundup (Folio: Alert)

Eddie and Ozzie Award Winners (Folio: Alert)

Folio: Show Photos (Folio: Magazine Seen)

Folio: Awards Photos (Folio: Magazine Seen)

What I Didn’t Say (Paul Conley)

Folio 2006: Newsy Bits (FishbowlNY)

Bill Mickey

I Just Lost An Awesome Pr Contact

Bill Mickey Editorial - 10/20/2006-02:00 AM
We’re having a tough week with our pr contacts, and fellow editors and writers, I know you can empathize with this one. A pr contact I’ve come to depend on frequently for corporate sources, a rarity, I know, is leaving his job. This guy was always accommodating, often in the 11th hour, securing savvy contacts who consistently contributed usable stuff.

While unsolicited pitches sometimes do work, and those kind are certainly appreciated, he never pitched with merciless regularity and sent releases sparingly. He implicitly understood how the pr-editor relationship with Folio: works –- he didn’t sell, he cooperated, fully recognizing that a productive relationship with a trade pub can elevate his colleagues’ stature in an industry that habitually looks in on itself.

Perhaps he didn’t pursue this tactic with other outlets, I don’t know. But he knew what worked best with Folio: and didn’t force the issue.

The real value of the relationship was he was confidently enthusiastic about having his colleagues participate in a story. When I’d call, usually on the verge of a deadline, he’d quickly grasp the angle of the article and sniff out the right contact at his company, get it set up and get out of the way. It showed real confidence in Folio: and our eternal quest for an informative peek behind the magazine-publishing curtain. He never badgered, worried about who else was being quoted in a story, fretted about previewing quotes, or set me up with useless, pandering lunch meetings. He showed a keen understanding of the editorial process and always appreciated the coverage. He will be missed.


Mobile News: A Dish Best Served Free

Marrecca Fiore emedia and Technology - 10/20/2006-02:00 AM

Mobile publishing is huge right now. And why wouldn’t it be. With approximately 1.6 million Internet-enabled cell phones in circulation in the U.S. alone, publishers would be crazy not to post their articles and other content on mobile platforms.

But mobile versions of news and articles are best offered for free. Publisher Hachette Filipacchi figured that out and launched or is in the process of launching mobile sites for five of its magazines, including Elle, Shock and Car and Driver, that will be completely advertiser supported. Businessweek and Runner’s World are other publications that recently announced an advertiser-supported mobile endeavor to be offered free to consumers. But for those publishers still charging monthly subscriptions for mobile magazines, here’s why that content needs to be free.

Decades after the first mobile phone was introduced, users finally are being offered plans that allow them plenty of talk time for reasonable monthly fees. That said, phone companies have found ways to nickel and dime us. Monthly Internet charges of $15 a month are the norm, as is a $5 a month unlimited text messaging usage fee, and then there’s the $1.99 a month some will spend for a ringtone, another $1.99 a month for a call tone, $1.99 for a screensaver, a $10 a month fee for unlimited picture downloads … you get the idea.

The nickel and dime-ing leaves little left-over, especially for teens with limited budgets, to pay for magazine articles that more than likely can be read for free on the Internet. Still, there’s lots of money to be made by publishers in the mobile sphere. For one, they can offer their own screensavers, wallpapers, picture downloads and ringtones for nominal fees, and many are. And, as far as news articles and text messaging alerts go, there are plenty of advertisers willing to sponsor such content enabling publishers to offer it for FREE.

Laura Marriott, the executive director of the Mobile Marketing Association, recently told Folio: Publishing Technology that marketers are spending upwards of $78 million a year on mobile advertising and that dollar amount is likely to grow in the years to come.

Similarly, Tom Burgess, CEO of Third Screen Media, an ad network devoted to the mobile medium, told Media Post earlier this year that mobile phones are more inherently personal than any other medium and conducive to effective ad targeting. And personalization, targeted marketing and interactive marketing are all key to successful mobile advertising, says Marriott, and publishers willing to work with marketers to achieve the targeted interaction they seek will more than likely reap the benefits of those ad dollars into the future. More...

Linda Zebian

Radar's Resilience

Linda Zebian Consumer - 10/18/2006-02:00 AM

Radar magazine has announced it will re-launch in February. We are all aware this is the publication’s third attempt to launch and the scrutiny and skepticism has already begun to stir around the industry.

Regardless of its boomeranging trajectory, launching and folding in the same year, there has got to be a reason this magazine keeps coming back.

Perhaps we should applaud the magazine’s buoyancy, or perhaps they should just give it up. I fear the magazine will struggle as it returns to a market that is over-tapped, especially considering competition from other Web sites and gossip blogs, where everyone and their uncle is writing and commenting on what is happening in pop culture. On top of that, the brand has to reestablish itself and offer something new because obviously whatever they were doing before wasn’t quite working.

I wonder, does it deserve to come back? How many times is too many? And, most importantly, has it lost its credibility? More...

Tony Silber

When Pr People Do Their Organizations A Disservice

Tony Silber Editorial - 10/13/2006-02:00 AM
I should have been tipped off when the assistant kept e-mailing me. A few months ago, a very professional and pleasant woman e-mailed me about lunch with a corporate communications chief at one of the big New York consumer-magazine companies.

As it turned out, the communications person had to reschedule once and I needed to reschedule once, and the assistant did a great job of being the intermediary.

I don’t have a huge ego, but all along, I was kind of feeling that the contact should have been direct. Why did we need an intermediary? I call CEOs directly every day. In the public-relations business, it’s all about a one-to-one relationship, right? And I’m the editor and publisher of the magazine, after all.

So anyway, we schedule the lunch for this afternoon. After passing through the Midtown Manhattan office-building security, I went to a very nice private dining room. Where I waited. I waited 10 minutes. Then the corporate communications chief and a PR assistant came in and greeted me. Very pleasant.

But: They had no idea who I was, really. They were not familiar with Folio:. They didn’t know our mission. They didn’t know our circulation. They didn’t know at least one of the senior executives in their own company.

The lunch was great, but the conversation was awkward. "Do you cover what’s going on in digital," one of them asked me. About 45 minutes in, I started picking up the conversational cues that the meeting was over. I obliged. Fine by me.

The corporate communications chief and the PR assistant then left without shaking my hand or showing me the way out. I was left standing in the room. Clueless? Rude?

Hmmm. I thought these meetings were about establishing relationships.

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