Once derided as Johnny-come-latelys to the digital media game, traditional publishers are now becoming enthusiastic start-up accelerators, buying or incubating early-stage companies that aim to disrupt the media market. Bonnier has just joined the club with its own Innovation Lab, a 14-week program seeking applicants who are interested in "developing revolutionary products and services that will change the way major media companies engage with their audiences." The idea being that Bonnier, like other publishers, has already waded its way into the modern media world and knows a thing or two about digital business and audience development, marketing and content strategy. Not quite an ownership-based incubator, such as Hearst's Interactive Media unit, the Innovation Lab is more like an educational program that helps entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground and into the market. The brainchild of David Rich, Bonnier Corp.'s director of digital innovation, the program features a dozen mentors. Some are from Bonnier's ranks, including CEO Terry Snow, digital audience and analytics director Jennifer Anderson and VP of corporate communications Dean Turcol. And some are from VC firms and other start-ups. Four start-ups will be selected for the first program and each receives a pretty generous set of perks, including a minimum of $25,000 in seed capital, $5,000 in PR support, $10,000 in PayPal transaction fees and about $79,000 in hosting credits from a variety of services including Amazon, Rackspace and Microsoft Azure. For its part, Bonnier will get an equity stake in the startups if they make it from drawing board to real companyâand presumably first dibs if it's a concept uniquely appealing to Bonnier. But how much that ends up being depends on the progress of each start-up and what is ultimately negotiated as they progress through the Lab.
Like most of you, I pay close attention to what is going on in the event space. I find myself particularly interested in trends and the overall outlook for our industry. Not surprisingly, some events are up, others are down and many find themselves relatively flat. However, being internal optimists, we always look for the silver liningâexhibit space was off, but attendance was up. We had more exhibitors, but the average booth size was down. We are the masters of the spin for our customers, but what is really in store for trade shows?The Center for Exhibition Industry Research recently released research on âThe Role and Value of Face-to-Face Interaction.â Even during the âGreat Recession,â and now in the midst of an increasingly digital world, in person events remain an important tool for many marketers. Your customerâs still have a desire to show their products and services to a highly concentrated group of targeted influencers.Â This is the good news, but there are still many risks to our overall business. Budgets are decreasing and every dollar is being scrutinized. Simply put, you cannot afford to rest on the historic influence the event industry has had as a marketing tool. We need to challenge the norm and look to adjust our model for the future. Savvy marketers want a simple, measurable and hassle free experience. So what does that mean?Simple: Everything from the contract process to payments to registration needs to be easier.Â Consider an alumni program that will take basic information (address, phone, contact, product category, directory listings, etc.) and carry it over year to year.Â Give them the opportunity to update that information, but why should you ask your returning customers to recreate the wheel with every event?Measurable: We all deal with question on ROI. Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all approach, but if your staff understands a marketers objectives in advance of the event, you can work to formulate and define what is or is not a realistic outcome. How will you ultimately be graded?Hassel Free: If you have been in the business for any period of time, you know the single biggest complaint is drayage, labor and other variable costs.Â Most exhibitors do a poor job of planning, and far too often they are surprised by their invoice.Â Make it easy and look at âall inâ packages that are inclusive of drayage, basic utilities, etc.What are you doing differently to make for a better customer experience?
Brian Pagel is a Vice President at Nielsen Expositions, where he runs The Kitchen and Bath Industry Show. Since re-joining Nielsen in 2001, Pagel has also served as a vice president in the Decorated Apparel Group. A 15-year veteran of the publishing, convention and exposition industries, Pagel has also held senior account executive positions with Leader Publishing and Bill Communications.
To paraphrase Senator John McCainâletâs have some straight talk. The newsstand as we know it is nearing endangered species status. How much further do newsstand sales have to decline before publishers take corrective action? Â Itâs well known that newsstand sales are in the dumper, but the depth of the audited publication sales slide in the first half of this year is even greater than has recently been reported by the media. A 9.6 percent sales decline (reported by the media) is huge, but the extent of the actual slide is more than 20 percent greater.The reason for the difference is that the numbers reported by the media only represent the sales status of titles that were audited in both the first half of this year and the first half of last year. It doesnât, however, include titles audited a year go, but have either ceased being audited and/or have discontinued being published. Examples include; Soap Opera Weekly, Soap Opera ABC, Soap Opera CBS, Cooking with Paula Deen and Spin. If sales data from discontinued/no longer audited titles are included in the calculation, the overall unit sales decline is estimated (based on preliminary ABC reports) to be a breath-taking 12.8 percent and a corresponding 12.2 percent fall in revenue.The Newsstand Channel Is Being Hollowed OutThe devastating first-half sales are, as weâre all aware, not an anomaly. The steep decline began in the first half of 2008 and has essentially continued unabated since then. A brief recap illustrates the accumulative depth of the sales slide:
The unit sales of audited publications have declined nearly 45 percent in the last four and a half years. Since 2007 itâs estimated that by the end of 2012 the annual unit sales of audited publications will have fallen from about 930 million to 510 millionâa staggering annual sales loss of 420 million copies. The revenue will have declined from $3.2 billion to approximately $2.4 billion.Whatâs Gone Wrong?There are many explanations for this declineâthe great recession, fewer store visits and a more cost conscious consumer. But the most significant has been the impact of technological change that has increased the proclivity of consumers to acquire news and information on a range of mobile devices that are offering better and better user experiences. Together all of these things have contributed to the decline.Should the Decline Have Been So Steep?In this 4-year period of unprecedented change a substantial sales decline would certainly have been expected. But should it have been so severe? I would argue the decline has been exacerbated by a timid publishing community and the restraints of an antiquated newsstand channel distribution system. The channel has, in effect, been held hostage by a costly, inefficient system loaded with duplication of effort. This is largely a product of its two-middlemen (wholesalers and national distributors) configuration.Years ago the channel probably required a two-middlemen check and balance approach in order to meet the needs of accommodating a vast distribution network with over 500 independent wholesalers. Today just three wholesalers control the majority of all magazine newsstand distributions and the two-middlemen configuration seems seriously out of date. However, the corrosive often adversarial nature of this configuration continues to persist, which has seriously thwarted the prospect for channel reform.As I indicated in a February story (after the audit bureaus reported last yearâs second-half sales) the magazine newsstand had reached viral conditions and it was clear that the desperately persistent decline was now feeding on itself. Six months later the first half results (the steepest sales decline in recent history) only confirms the viral nature of channel conditions.Publishers and Wholesalers: Coping in the Age of Newsstand AusterityPublishersFor years publisherâs newsstand actions were dictated primarily by competitive self-interest. They largely ignored the health of the supply chain and the financial sustainability of its wholesaling âpartners.â These actions, although seemingly counter productive, were precipitated by the huge diversity of the publishing community (like herding cats) and by the knowledge that they had a range of other alternatives (not just newsstand circ) for delivering readers to meet their circ level requirements.The trend to less single copy circ has been continuing for many decades, but the recent 4-year newsstand sales decline, coupled by the advent of digital (replica) circ, has intensified the effect of the newsstand sales decline.Let me give you a current example of how this works. People Magazine, the undisputed newsstand sales leader, experienced a nearly 19 percent decline in newsstand sales in the first half of this year. This translated to a 214,000 drop in newsstand circ. But Peopleâs total paid circulation (nearly 3.6 million) remained virtually the same as it was in the year previous period (actually it was up about 6,000). To compensate for the âlostâ newsstand circ, the subscription circ was increased by 220,000âthis included a 77,000 increase in verified circ. Additionally People reported (for the first time) 37,000 replica circ.The point here is publishers have alternatives for compensating for âlostâ newsstand circ. But it comes with some serious tradeoffs. Adding subscribers to meet circ level requirements generally increases reader acquisition costs and, of course, the added subscribers remove potential newsstand buyers from the market, which has a subtle, but real, impact on future newsstand sales.WholesalersOn the other hand wholesalers have far fewer alternatives for compensating for declining newsstand sales. Essentially those alternatives come down to reducing costs and increasing scale (growing market share). Thatâs exactly whatâs happened. Wholesalers have lowered costs by reducing staff, consolidating distribution management at central locations and curtailing much needed system improvement investments.Although itâs difficult to measure the sales effect of these cost-saving initiatives, by all accounts the cost containment strategy of wholesalers has definitely contributed to the sales slide. In the process the three remaining wholesaler groups continue to battle for market share. The News Group, one of three major wholesaling groups, has recently taken the Kroger account (a major seller of magazines) from another super-wholesaler, The Source. The News Group and Hudson News teamed to buy CMG, a large national distributor, from Hearst and CondĂ© Nast. Itâs still too early to read the results of this precedent-setting move, but I suspect itâs quietly resonating in the market. All of this appears to be setting up the inevitable battle for wholesaler survival among the three remaining wholesaling giants. This battle may come to nothing, but in the interim itâs helping keep the fragile newsstand channel in an unsettled condition.In a declining newsstand market publishers have options, albeit theyâre often costly. Wholesalers have a lesser number of viable options for coping in a down market. They are desperately trying to keep their financial ships afloat, while fighting a market share battle, which could eventually reshape the newsstand channel.Itâs Up to Publishers to Save the Newsstand ChannelPublishers have alternatives for replacing âlostâ newsstand circ. This, however, has provided a false sense of security that has partially blinded them to the perils of a newsstand channel with greatly diminished capabilities. Yes, the prospect of more digital circ is in publisherâs future, but letâs be clear about the realities of consumer magazine publishingâfor many years to come publishing survival will continue to be based on producing quality print products, attracting a cadre of advertisers, cost effectively acquiring print readers and protecting prime sources of circ (reader) acquisition.None of the many circulation sources is more important than the newsstand. Without a viable newsstand sales market the prospect for the survival of consumer magazines will be seriously diminished.Wholesalers and publishers, whether they like it or not, are bound at the hip. Publishers desperately need a viable newsstand channel and wholesalers need publishers that are fully committed to producing product with retail sales appeal.What Can Be Done to Slow the Sales Slide?At this juncture itâs not a matter of growing sales, but slowing the devastating 10 percent rate of annual decline. Itâs no secret that channel efficiencies can be improved, duplicate effort eliminated and costs reduced. If that happened it could go a long ways towards stemming the severity of the sales fall.If publishers and wholesalers needs are mutually dependent why arenât these things being done?Resolve the Scan-Based Trading IssueThere is no simple answer. But if I were to pick the major sticking point it involves the publisher/national distributor/wholesaler battle over how to adjust to the effects of scan based trading. Scan based trading now dominates wholesaler relationships with their major retailing clients. However, publishers/national distributors have not fully accepted this reality. Itâs too complicated an issue to fully discuss in this note, but the gist is it revolves around publishers accepting scanned sales data, shifting inventory control to publishers and coming to grips with the so called âshrinkâ factor (the difference that may occur between scanned data and actual counts). There are also some audit bureau issues involved.Scanned-based trading is a thorny issue, but resolving it may hold the key to unleashing the prospect for improving efficiencies and reducing channel costs. Publishers and wholesalers should be encouraged to resolve the scanned-based trading differences, which, in turn, will enable them to get on with the task of working more cooperatively to address the more important issue of stemming the sales slide.I believe the ball is in the publisherâs court. They must step up to bat and get this done. If not the future for the newsstand looks very gloomy.
An announcement went out today, but if you haven't seen it, we've decided to put Foliomag.com on a metered paid-access model. Here's why:Our mission has always been to provide you with the most up-to-date and in-depth resources to help media companies succeed. Our news and analysis lead the industry. Our blogs, columns and more offer the context and perspective you need to optimize your business.At the core of our decision was this: We felt that it's very important to place a clear value on our content, and to recognize the value that our best customers see in what we do. Also, as a brand that covers the digital-media transformation, we seek to not just reflect what the industry is doing, but to lead it as well.This paid-access initiative will also allow us to invest in Foliomag.comâto significantly improve it over time. We'll be adding regular multimedia features, more voices, more connectivity and more content.Our paid-access model begins immediately. Here's the way it will work: Each month, you'll get to read eight stories on a complimentary basis. You'll be reminded as you get closer to the eighth report. After that, you'll be given the option of buying an annual subscription to Foliomag.com for $69.95. Alternatively, you can gain full access to the site on a monthly basis for $14.95.As a leader of the digital-content marketplace, we to need to adapt to the changing times. Our new format allows you, our most loyal customers, to choose the level of information you need.
Feel free to comment below; you can also email me at bmickey at red7media.com.Â
REMAGâs sprawling and multi-faceted kiosk program would not be easy to announce in two to three words on a newsstand magazine cover. In fact, it would be hard to explain in 25 words or less. Itâs new, fresh, innovative and, from a bloggerâs point of view, a little complicated. But the program is, in fact, all about the newsstand sales of magazines, so it deserves our attention and comprehension.REMAGâs Blake Patterson called me to give me an update on the program. Since I blogged about this last year, REMAG has added a step. The program works like this:1) Remag sets up a magazine recycling kiosk in participating retail stores.2) A store customer brings a magazine back to the kiosk for recycling.3) When the magazine is entered into the kiosk a screen comes up listing some local charities and schools from which to choose.4) After the charity is chosen a coupon screen comes up. The customer may select four coupons from the categories of choice.5) The coupons are printed from the kiosk with the code for the donation embedded in the coupon.6) After each coupon is redeemed, a nickel goes to the charity that the customer has chosen.Since a customer can redeem up to four coupons per magazine recycled, that means that a potential donation of 20 cents will go to charity for each recycled copy. That charitable donation is currently paid directly by REMAG, who believes in this model enough to subsidize it.When I first blogged about REMAGâs idea, the response from my readers was enthusiastic. They called it a fantastic idea, bringing sustainability into the realm of print publishing, not only by recycling the product but by incentivizing the further sale of magazines.
SEE ALSO: Can Magazine Recycling Boost Retail Sales?
I liked the idea because we badly needed then, as we do now, something new in our world, something positive and forward-looking. The REMAG model seemed promising. It still looks promising, combining, as it does, magazine sales, sustainability and charitable donationsâor, as Patterson puts it, three great stories to tell.âWeâve always spoken about a magazine purchase as a value proposition extending beyond the purchase itself,â said Patterson. âThis adds massive value to the transaction, value that a customer can discover directly, by walking over to the kiosk and finding the coupons and charitable donations available.âGiven how ambitious the program is, itâs no surprise that it has taken a full year to launch the pilot.Â But launched it finally will be, in eight News-Group-serviced Save Mart/Lucky stores starting in December. There will be two kiosks per location, one per entrance. And the EPA itself has reached out to REMAG to start a program in Puerto Rico, where landfill space is running out. As a result, REMAG is setting up a pilot in three Super Max locations in Puerto Rico starting in February 2013.What REMAG is looking for from the publishing community now, as they were a year ago, is visibility, participation, and support.Â How can we as an industry build magazine sales through this? How much can we boost newsstand sales from the entire category by, for example, having a generic coupon for all magazines? Or for all the magazines published by a single multi-title publisher? And a final great question: What more can the rest of us do to help?
SEE ALSO: Magazine Publishers Family Literacy ProjectÂ
While there are pockets of good news on the ad revenue side of the publishing business these days, overall publishers are still duking it out on the front lines. This is illustrated for better or worse in Time Inc.'s 10-Q report released last week. The publishing giant's revenues dropped nine percent in the second quarter to $858 million and six percent for the half to $1.6 billion. Every segment within the publishing division recorded a loss in revenues. And the losses prompted the company to warn that because "soft market" conditions are expected to continue through the third quarter, the fair value and book value of the company's brands are getting uncomfortably close.Â This ratio is pointed out by anonymous blogger Dead Tree edition, who also notes operating income for the half is down 60 percent compared to same period 2011. As of the end of last year, Time Warner says the fair value of Time Inc. is 19 percent higher than its book value, and that it didn't actually have to do an impairment analysis during the second quarter, but if that 19 percent gets erased due to continued declines this year, the company may have to take a non-cash charge out of earnings that are already significantly pinched. "During 2012, the Publishing segment has experienced soft market conditions that have negatively impacted its operating results," says the report. "If those market conditions worsen, it is possible that the book values of the Time Inc. reporting unit and certain of its tradenames will exceed their respective fair values, which may result in the Company recognizing a noncash impairment that could be material."This may never happen, the 19 percent separation in value is a decent cushion but with the market condition the way it is, the company felt compelled to issue a warning nevertheless. If book values (the value of the company straight off the balance sheet) do end up exceeding fair value (the value of the company determined by a hypothetical sale, or market value), then there will be a non-cash charge to the bottom line.In the meantime, the report also highlights just how expensive digital investments have become for companies that are making heavy commitments to web, mobile and tablet development. As print production scales back, savings are immediately eaten up by digital. TW says that in the second quarter costs dropped about 4 percent, or $13 million due to less production associated with lower print volumes, but were entirely offset by investments in websites and tablet magazines. As for the publishing group's segments, subscription revenues were down 11 percent for the second quarter to $292 million and 7 percent for the half to $623 million. Advertising was down 7 percent for the quarter and 6 percent for the half to $472 million and $855 million respectively. Content sales were down 20 percent in the quarter to $20 million, but that gap narrowed by the end of the half to a loss of 5 percent, ending at $39 million. In the second quarter, Time Inc. took back the management of SI.com and Golf.com from Turner, who had been paying Time Inc. licensing fees to manage the sites. With the two site back in the fold, advertising losses were partially offset by about $7 million, but that was nulled by the loss of $9 million Time Inc. would have had from licensing fees.
Joe Pompeo at Capital New York reports that Huffington Post has made its Huffington app, launched in June, free. The app's single copy price was 99 cents, $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year and, at the time, reflected the you-don't-get something-for-nothing mentality now so prevalent in digital content publishingâespecially when producing a magazine app like this one is still far from efficient or low-cost.But, in hindsight, Huffington had clearly wrestled with whether to charge for the app or not. When Folio: first reported on the app's coming launch, executive editor Tim O'Brien said the business model had yet to be determinedâand this was only weeks out from its debut.SEE ALSO: Inside Huffington Post's Weekly Magazine AppPompeo says the change in strategy was revealed during a company meeting yesterday, and the app is already listed as free in the App Store. All of this was underscored earlier this week when News Corp.'s The Daily axed 29 percent of its workforce, or 50 employees, and streamlined its content production.
The changes at Huffington and The Daily highlight the difficulty publishers are having with nailing down a consistent business model for magazine apps. The technology is new and the products and the experience they offer are still new for consumers and that mix can bloom into a confusing array of strategies as publishers balance customer preferences with business realities. This can be especially frustrating as publishers also try to figure out how apps relate with and exist next to their traditional products. A Huffington spokesperson tells Pompeo that the decision to go free was triggered by the fact that The Huffington Post itself is free and the app's paid model clashed with that. Perception goes a long way.
In an earlier blog post, Penton Media senior vice president of strategy and business development Warren Bimblick sniffed out a pricing scheme that might have been a bit too perfunctory.Â Â
My grandfather passed away many years ago at the ripe old age of 88. He left a legacy that included perpetual fruitcakes (not referring to my brother, but to a multi-year post-death pre-paid Christmas delivery of doorstop cakes to everyone in the family). Â This happening in the 1980s gave the family an annual holiday giggle and we wondered why grandpa did this (was it a six-year special or a legacy joke?). Since this was pre-Internet and, most likely, pre-credit card renewal, grandpa, likely wrote a check, mailed it and ultimately balanced his checkbook (a real book).Which gets me to 2012 and other types of legacies. How about the legacy subscription? I spent an hour Saturday morning trying to cancel my Wall Street Journal subscription on its website. It isnât because I no longer want the Journal, itâs because they have offered me (by mail) a far superior offer than my perpetual subscription that renews with my credit card. As an aside, you would think that they had audience development and list managers who would de-dupe and catch this stuff.But my catching it on Saturday didnât much matter. And that is because unless I want to telephone the Journalâs subscription department, there is no way to cancel my subscription on their website (or at least none that I could find). While I am not suggesting anything sinister in Murdoch-land, I am suggesting that there may be some folks trying to think of me as one of those perpetual fruitcakes.I am not picking on the Journalâthis is true for many publishers. I think it is time to own up to some not-so-great practices and adopt better ones. Auto-renewal is fine, but there does need to be an easier âoutâ and an easier way to understand when you can get out without having to wait on a phone call or read endless Qs and As, particularly when you are given better offers. I do like the way some of the titles are set up in the iTunes Store. Esquire has nailed a very civilized way of getting in or out of a subscription online. So has the new Huffington. But then there is the always-elegant The Atlantic, which politely thanks me for my support for 10 issues but I canât figure out when my support began or ends.The Web should up the game for publishers and subscription management. Right?
During IAC's second quarter earnings call today, chairman Barry Diller provided some feedback on the future of Newsweek as a print magazine. While the print version's survivability has been endlessly speculated on, Diller took an opportunity in the call to put the issue in better, if not entirely clear, focus. In answering a question from an analyst on the outlook for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and whether there were plans to make it a "lighter asset," Diller noted that the brand is doing better overall. "The brand is now much better and stronger than when we acquired it," he said. "There has been a true improvement in the book and Tina Brown and her staff have done a superb job."However, the recent decision by the Harman family to stop investing in Newsweek has shifted the majority stake onto IAC, as well as more of the burden of managing what is still a money-losing operation. "The consolidation does put it squarely on our heads," said Diller who added that investments from IAC will also be scaling back. "Our investment next year will be considerably less than it is this year."And while Diller said the brand is stronger, its print operation is still a wrench in the gears. "So what is the problem? The problem is in manufacturing and producing a weekly news magazine and that has to be solved. Advertising in this category is entirely elective. The transition to online from hard print will take place. We're examining all of our options."From there, Diller tapered off on providing any specifics on when and how the transition might happen, but noted that things will begin to look "different" starting next year.Currently, Newsweek's web presence is relegated to a channel via the main nav bar on The Daily Beast's home page. For the first half, ad pages were up about 8 percent for the magazine, per PIB numbers, and as of the December 2011 ABC publisher's statement, single copy sales were up about 3 percent for the six-month period.
Update: Jim Romenesko has a staff memo from Tina Brown that douses some of the more aggressive reporting that Newsweek is going online only. She says: "Barry Diller would like to make it clear that he did not say on the earnings call as reported that Newsweek is going digital in September. He made the uncontroversial, industry-wide observation that print is moving in the direction of digital."
For more than 35 years, magazine media professionals have come together to at the FOLIO: Show, the largest magazine industry eventâthree times larger than the next-closest event, and the only one that attracts the best and brightest from all sectors of the industry, whether consumer, b-to-b, association, city and regional, enthusiast and more. The FOLIO: Show is also the only event designed to provide industry education to all the disciplines, including editors, salespeople, audience developers, marketers, Web strategists and more.
In an effort to evolve with the changing media landscape and deliver more insights, innovative research and cutting-edge solutions to the magazine industryâs biggest challenges, FOLIO: is producing a completely rethought event this year: MediaNext.
The reinvented conference focuses on the transformation of digital media and the introduction of new platformsâmobile, tablets, social media, marketing services, events, e-commerce and more. But itâs about more than that: Itâs about magazines, and where they fit in this emerging mix. Itâs about running a successful magazine-media business in 2012 and beyond, whether your business is primarily print-dependent or whether your revenue is from a variety of sources. In fact, MediaNext was programmed with the understanding that new and emerging media forms already have much in common with traditional forms, and there is a new definition of the media industry that encompasses both. Thatâs what MediaNext is all about.
Leading industry experts will show you how to keep a finger on the pulse of this media revolution, helping you to master it all at MediaNext.
This event will still enable you to gain the critical intelligence and insight you need to succeed in the years ahead. With over 50 sessions, four industry-leader keynotes, four extended-length workshops, master classes featuring best-selling authors, microsessions, and peer-to-peer unsessions, you will get the education you need to thrive in this dynamic environment.Â Not only do you choose the subject matterâbut also the learning format that works best for you.Â With 2,000+ expected attendees, speakers and exhibitors, MediaNext is the must-attend event for learning and seeking partnerships.Â Join your peers and experience MediaNext, the top industry conference. MediaNext is the best place to learn exactly thatâwhatâs next in media.
Check out the 2012 brochure here. To register, click here.
T.J. Raphael is the associate editor of FOLIO:'s sister publication and supplement, Audience Development magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @TJRaphael1.
Itâs an article of faith among digital publishers that content partnerships are one of the key levers for success. If youâre operating a small site and you want to grow, you need to partner up with big distributors that can serve as megaphones, amplifying your content and, the theory goes, bringing a new audience back to you. If youâre running a big site, you need partners to provide fresh content, and lots of it, to satisfy the millions of eyeballs arriving each day.Â And so we live in a partnership ecosystem. As a medium-sized player, we at The Atlantic have partnerships going in both directions. We send some of our best stories to sites that have huge traffic. We take smart stories from smaller sites that are happy to share their goods with our strong brand and relatively large audience.Â All of these partnerships raise the obvious question: Is it really a good idea for publishers to give away their content for free? The arguments cut both ways.Â The chief argument in favor of sharing content is that you can get direct traffic in return. If the partner site is displaying your logo and linking to other stories on your site, itâs a fine idea to give away a story or two in return. This is a plausible theory that bears out on occasion. If, for example, Yahoo! runs a story from The Atlantic or one of our sister sites, especially on its home page, there can be a surge of traffic from Yahoo! back to our pages. Not always, and often the surge is more like a trickle, but it can be something.Â But what if The Atlanticâs partner has a particularly strong presence in social media? If it rips an Atlantic article and then uses its social infrastructure to push that piece to the world, the inbound traffic from Facebook or Twitter goes to the partner site, not to us. (This assumes that the partner is linking to our article on its site, not our article on our site.)We donât worry much that when Yahoo! posts our story, theyâre grabbing readers who would otherwise have read that piece on TheAtlantic.com. Those might be separate audiences. But if our partner was dominating Facebook, Twitter and Reddit with links back to our story on its site, our own social efforts might be drowned out. With social media now generating the plurality of our unique visitors, this could hurt.Â Now letâs consider branding. This, some say, ought to be the tiebreaker. If you accept that there are gains to be made from direct links but losses to be suffered in social media (and maybe donât be too quick to accept either of those theories), then the branding benefit could be persuasive. The theory, of course, is that just having your logo on another site, even if there are no clicks back, is good exposure for your brand. Certainly thereâs logic in that: A highway road sign provides branding, even if customers are cruising past at 60 mph. Maybe youâll stop at that pancake house not now, but in the next state over.Â OK, but thereâs a case to be made that people have been trained to tune out the noise when theyâre on websitesâto avoid the blinking ads and the right-rail modules and the partner logos.Â If theyâre reading defensively, if theyâre tuning out the noise, then youâre not getting exposure after all. And, if you were happily trading exposure for some losses in social media, well, maybe that trade isnât worth it anymore.Â I still believe in content partnerships. But we should be honest about the possible tradeoffs, and humble in our certainty about how exactly these arrangements work.
Bob Cohn is editor of Atlantic Digital. In this role, he oversees all
editorial components of The Atlanticâs digital and mobile properties,
including TheAtlantic.com, TheAtlanticWire.com, and
TheAtlanticCities.com, as well as the print publicationâs integration on