A year ago, the main sources of referral traffic to our flagship site, TheAtlantic.com, lined up in this order:
‚ÄĘ Typed/Bookmarked (readers who type our url into their browsers or follow their pre-set bookmark);
‚ÄĘ Links from aggregators and other content sites;
‚ÄĘ Search engines;
‚ÄĘ Social media (a roll-up of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon, and LinkedIn)
Then something interesting happened. The social line began rising, first passing Search and then flying by Other Sites and finally, in late 2011, moving beyond Typed/Bookmarked. Now, TheAtlantic.com receives more than one-third of its referrals from social media, topping all other sources.
This wasn‚Äôt supposed to happen. Not long ago, optimizing your site for search, and for the algorithms that determine which stories get featured on Google News, was thought to be the key to generating audience. As a result, Web editors were learning to parse metadata and resigning themselves to writing headlines for machines. Companies like Demand Media were on top of the digital world, suggesting a future in which search requests would replace journalists as arbiters of what stories to publish.
SEO still matters, of course, and a Google-friendly headline can still make a post go viral. (We‚Äôve seen it: Try typing Earthquake in Japan into your search bar.) But for so many sites, social sharing has eclipsed the machines. And therein lies a happy story.
The triumph of the sharing economy is good news for publishers. Which is why on so many sites, the social media buttons crowd the pages like logos on a NASCAR jumpsuit. If a site can get you to ‚ÄúLike‚ÄĚ a story, it wins. Your network, the theory goes, will follow your recommendations. Peer-to-peer sharing beats any top-down model.
So in a social media ecosystem, what exactly works? Here‚Äôs the real good news: quality works. If your editors and writers are smart and creative and original, they can produce stories and photos and lists and charts and interviews that are so compelling that readers are eager to share the content with others. Then you get to harvest the rewards: More Facebook Likes, more tweets, more juice with the Reddit community. More readers.
For publishers, that means there need not be a tradeoff between doing great journalism and driving traffic to your site. In a sharing economy, it‚Äôs great journalism ‚Äď in any of its many forms ‚Äď that builds audience.
Bob Cohn is editor of Atlantic Digital. In this role, he oversees all editorial components of The Atlantic‚Äôs digital and mobile properties, including TheAtlantic.com, TheAtlanticWire.com, and TheAtlanticCities.com, as well as the print publication‚Äôs integration on digital platforms.
On Monday the LinkedIn announced a new Follow Company button that lets individuals follow a brand or company page. The feature is essentially an expansion of functionality that was already in place, but from within the network itself. Now companies can allow individuals to follow them from outside the LinkedIn ecosystem by clicking on a button embedded in their websites.According to the blog post by LinkedIn product manager Mike Grishaver announcing the new feature, AT&T, Starbucks, Sony and American Express, among others, are already using the button on their sites. There are four ways to follow a company, including the embeddable website button. On LinkedIn itself, you can click a follow button on the company's page, directly from a search results page, or by hovering over the company name in contact's page and clicking on the follow link in the pop-up window.LinkedIn says it has more than 2 million companies and, as of early February, about 150 million members. The 2 million companies is up from almost 1 million since the spring of 2010 when LinkedIn launched its original Follow Company feature. At that point, there was no way to receive status updates from companies, a function that didn't appear until later in 2011.
The 84th Academy Awards are taking place this Sunday, February 26, and the magazine industry is taking note. Vanity Fair cashed in on the upcoming Awards with its March Hollywood issue, in which ad pages spiked 44 percent YOY. Time Inc.‚Äôs celebrity staple PEOPLE is also getting into the Oscar game, with Academy Award specials in print, digital and retail.
PEOPLE dubbed the Oscars ‚Äúthe Super Bowl of celebrity style‚ÄĚ, and put together a special print publication to commemorate the occasion. The issue includes style tips, designer news and an Oscar ballot for reader predictions. The special edition will be a value-add for PEOPLE‚Äôs nearly four million subscribers.
To keep the event social, PEOPLE is connecting its community members through the virtual Red Carpet Trivia LIVE game. After completing the game, players will be able to compare scores with their Facebook friends and the online PEOPLE community. PEOPLE.com will also live blog the Oscars, posting photos and news on Sunday night.
Nowadays, it seems as if no publishing campaign is complete without a retail aspect. To that end, PEOPLE partnered with Redbox to offer single copy consumers a free one-night movie rental at select retail locations. Over 11,000 stores in the U.S. are participating, including Kroger, Supervalue and Ahold.
PEOPLE‚Äôs Stylewatch digital channel will also curate items appearing on the Oscar red carpet on Gilt.com. The "Get the Look: Red Carpet" event will include dresses, accessories and beauty products.
A ‚ÄúRed Carpet Giveway‚ÄĚ, with a trip to L.A. for two, hotel accommodations, $500 in cash and a ‚ÄúSwag Bag‚ÄĚ, completes the PEOPLE Oscar madness.
Host Billy Crystal may not draw the young‚Äôuns in (a coveted Oscar audience demographic), but PEOPLE is certainly doing its best to do so.
Barnes & Noble today announced a new $199, 8GB Nook tablet. The pricing and configuration put it right in line with Amazon's Kindle Fire.Meanwhile, the company has dropped its Nook Color pricing as well, from $199 to $169. The move clearly targets the Kindle Fire, but it's also an attempt to open the throttle on device and content sales even further. Both were up significantly, according to third-quarter financials. Where B&N's new Nook and Amazon's Kindle Fire will compete is in the content. Both offer their own cloud services but much of the Nook's content is through third-party relationships with Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Rhapsody and Grooveshark, among others. In B&N's fiscal third quarter, total sales edged up 5 percent to $2.4 billion, with comparable store sales up a slight 2.8 percent. BN.com sales jumped 32 percent over the same period last year to $420 million.Overall Nook sales, including devices and content jumped 38 percent during the quarter to $542¬† million. Breaking those numbers out, unit sales were up 64 percent for the quarter to $542 million while content sales‚ÄĒbooks, newsstand and apps‚ÄĒwere up 85 percent. "Importantly, our NOOK digital content business continues to grow rapidly, and according to some of the largest U.S. publishers, we maintained or slightly gained share in the eBook market during the third quarter," says B&N CEO William Lynch in a statement. Earnings tell another story, however. Net income was $52 million for the quarter, down from $60.5 million in third quarter 2011.
‚ÄúIf you‚Äôre going to have a magazine in 2012, there better be a point to it,‚ÄĚ says Mike Albanese, publisher of SPIN.
In what may seem like an obvious statement, Albanese manages to summarize the movement of the entire magazine industry. Print is often no longer substantial enough to act as a publication‚Äôs sole business; but it still holds a place in editorial strategy and audience fondness. SPIN, with a lowered print frequency, slashed rate base and realigned digital focus, is positioning its print product to be just that.
The new SPIN, now published six times a year, has a larger trim size (up 9.5‚ÄĚ x 12‚ÄĚ) and varied textures in-book. The cover has a matte finish (similar to Conde‚Äôs WIRED cover treatment), but opening pages of the magazine are still glossy and bright. About a third of the way through the book, paper stock switches back to the rougher stuff the cover lives on.
On SPIN‚Äôs editorial strategy, Albanese says the print magazine will serve as a ‚Äúbroad‚ÄĚ platform for content; a home for cultural fodder surrounding the music industry. SPIN‚Äôs website (and music player iPad app, and over 1,500 album reviews via Twitter) will still be devoted to its music mainstay.
The revamp follows a mass changing-of-the-guards at the publication. Former editor-in-chief Doug Brod and publisher Malcolm Campbell left in June; Caryn Ganz joined as online editor-in-chief, Christopher R. Weingarten as senior editor and David Bevan as associate editor in October. Ganz is the first to hold this position with the magazine.
Cutting print frequency and dropping rate bases (SPIN is down from 450,000 to 350,000) is often seen as a ‚Äútrouble‚ÄĚ flag in the industry. However, in this case, I applaud the magazine for thinking strategically and resizing its content portfolio. One might even view it as brave: downsizing print presence eliminates advertising opportunity, and risks alienating the Luddites of the SPIN audience. Such a shift is a gamble, even in the most sturdy media landscape.
Music rags are suffering: according to the latest FAS FAX report from ABC, Rolling Stone single copy sales fell 18.2 percent from second half 2010 to second half 2011. Subscriptions remained basically flat, eking up three percent YOY in the last six months of ‚Äô11. SPIN‚Äôs single copy sales dropped 35.2 percent from the last half of 2010 to the same period in 2011; total subscriptions are down 1.2 percent.
To reassess and reorganize may give these brands a second chance in the digital-first music scene, whereas plodding along in the same manner would lead to one end: closure. 2012 will tell whether the new SPIN (somewhere between a traditional magazine and coffee table book, according to Albanese) will be able to ride out the transition.
Few things have caused more disruption for business marketers and business media than the changing nature of demand generation. Email, the Internet and social media have enabled drastic new ways to generate demand and engage with customers and prospects. As a result, many of the laws of physics in advertising and marketing - reach and frequency, brand awareness, brand preference and call to action - have been upended and replaced by brand generation to create and sustain a more substantial engagement with customers. The challenge for b-to-b marketers and media providers alike however, is that we are still too often operating in the old world, focused on driving ‚Äúopens‚ÄĚ, ‚Äúclicks‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúlikes‚ÄĚ, which do not suggest customer interest or potential nor truly serve the customer.
Online and email lead generation has focused on capturing basic business card data on prospects, heavily enabled by the new tracking and measurement tools available. Once basic info is captured, the email ‚Äúblasting‚ÄĚ begins, trying to convert a casual visitor into an immediate prospect. In essence, we are putting out bait and then chasing prospects. The extraordinary ability to measure online marketing is actually distracting marketers from the fundaments of marketing however; driving a level of lead generation myopia that focuses on clicks, open rates and lead counts as opposed to buyer demographics, interests, affinity and brand.
This has also led to a confusing set of ROI metrics for online marketers. The click-driven value proposition of the majority of online lead gen marketing is the equivalent of valuing billboard marketing based on the number of cars that honk as they drive by. It is clearly time to evolve, and business marketers and business media must rise to the challenge to better serve their audience customers and marketing clients.
Changing Times, Changing Tactics
The market for lead generation has now segmented into 3 categories:
¬∑Business Card Data. Basic top of the funnel lead generation that is in essence enhanced list rental.
¬∑ Marketing Automation. Companies that offer some form of email and online automated services for lead generation and lead nurturing services.
¬∑ Brand Generation. Business information and media companies who offer branded, content-led marketing to engage and sustain a relationship with customers.
Engaging buyers of highly differentiated, expensive business solutions requires more than a teaser or a click-through. It requires high quality, targeted content, that helps build knowledge and aids in the decision making process. In many respects content marketing ‚Äď combining educational information with differentiated brand value ‚Äď has become the new form of advertising. Content marketing helps cut the wheat from the chafe; engaging those with a real need, the right demographics and interest, as opposed to simply capturing business card information. Content is also the fuel that nurtures a lead, once engaged, by providing additional related information. Marketers are now moving beyond simple lead counts and looking to drive more sophisticated, sustained, content-centric demand generation programs. Media providers must rise to the challenge.
Ironically, while media companies are best suited to deliver content marketing, most aren‚Äôt yet organized or prepared to do so. At the same time the online list rental firms and the marketing automation companies are struggling to move upstream as they don‚Äôt have the branded and trusted content that fuels content marketing. What‚Äôs clear is that the buyer has spoken and they want and need decision-support information and viable solutions from differentiated b-to-b providers.
As business professionals and marketers needs shift and the market segments, the big question is: are media companies ready to help marketers move from chasing customers to creating their customers?
Tony Uphoff is the CEO of UBM TechWeb.
The year, as it always does, has flown by and we're already in the midst of compiling our annual list of the top innovators in the magazine business and the markets that intersect and influence it‚ÄĒthe Folio: 40.We're excited to announce that starting now, you can have a hand in how the list turns out by nominating a colleague‚ÄĒeither at your company or from another one‚ÄĒthat has had a meaningful impact on a product, company or even market. We're looking for nominations in the following categories:C-Level VisionariesTop execs that transform culture, company or marketsIndustry InfluencersIndividuals that have single-handedly sparked a trendDirector-Level DoersManagers and other senior level executives that develop and execute on wildly successful new initiatives Under the RadarUnsung heroes or individuals that quietly work on transformative new ideas or operational breakthroughsAs we note every year, we're not simply looking for the marquee names. There will be some of those on the list for sure, but there are plenty of examples of envelope-pushers, bootstrappers and change agents that toil in the trenches, too. Nominate them.Click here to fill out our easy nomination form. Nominations are due by March 2nd. Here's last year's FOLIO: 40 to get you in the mood. The FOLIO: 40 will be unveiled in April. Submit your nominations now and good luck!
The sale of Ziff Davis Enterprise to online marketing company QuinStreet Friday raises some interesting and, on the surface, worrisome thoughts on the role brands and content play in connecting buyers and sellers. I should mention that we don't yet really know how QuinStreet is planning to incorporate ZDE's brands into its operation. The company declined to offer any details in that regard. What we do know is ZDE employees are in the dark as well, with the bulk of them helping transition the brands before their positions are phased out. As many as 100 of the 120 or so employees will not be moving over to the buyer. QuinStreet didn't buy ZDE as a company, it bought its assets.But how can you have ZDE's market and ZDE's brands when you don't have ZDE?¬† According to sources, about 20 people will be offered positions with QuinStreet. The positions are a mix of editorial, marketing and sales, certainly not enough to continue supporting content production for eWeek, CIOInsight, Baseline, Channel Insider and Web Buyers Guide. However, QuinStreet says it has a base of content expertise in the IT space already in place‚ÄĒas many as 40 editors and a pool of 300 freelancer journalists, according to the company. QuinStreet also bought IT Business Edge last year, and the ZDE deal now gives it a much bigger foothold in the tech vertical.But presumably, along with the phasing out of ZDE's content, audience and sales specialists, so goes the institutional knowledge of the brands and their community.Regardless of the motivations behind the deal, whether ZDE's backers wanted a quick exit, you have to question how a dramatic course correction like the sale of these assets is going to have on content quality and, ultimately, brand equity. But at the end of the day, do these matter for a company that's dangling content to attract leads? Does the editorial mission change when the end-goal is servicing leads for marketing clients? I wouldn't be asking these questions about products created specifically for these purposes, but in this case we're talking about established brands that have rich editorial histories. You can look at this as simply another example of the decline of brands in a very competitive market, finding a resting place in a context that potentially homogenizes that experience. But it's disconcerting to see how easily it can happen.
Demand Media has lost three of its founders. According to a report from paidContent, Larry Fitzgibbon, Joe Perez and Steven Kydd are leaving the company.
Fitzgibbon was EVP of international operations; Perez was executive vice president of products; and Kydd acted as EVP of studios. All three have already been removed from Demand‚Äôs masthead.
A rep for Demand said the exits were ‚Äújust coincidence‚ÄĚ, and departed execs will ‚Äúpursue separate opportunities and new business ventures‚ÄĚ. EVP of media & marketplace Michael Blend will assume the majority of the responsibilities left open by the staff changes.
Demand Media has been dubbed, less than affectionately, as a prime example of a ‚Äúcontent farm‚ÄĚ in the publishing industry. A company churning out piece upon piece of SEO-enhanced, freelance-produced copy may be successful, but its model is not viewed as an admirable strategy, especially among publishing vets (see one reaction here).
Perhaps in part to appease its critics, Demand improved wages for its writers in May 2011. Feature writers are now compensated $80 to $350 for their contributions; previously, they earned roughly $15 per article.
Upon closer inspection of Demand‚Äôs executive roster, I also noticed a rather odd title: EVP, people operations, held by Courtney Montpas. This appears to be a human resources role, and it‚Äôs a shrewd move by Demand to include ‚Äúpeople‚ÄĚ in this title, almost as if to say, ‚ÄúWe really do recognize our employees as human beings!‚ÄĚ
While not much is known about why the trio left, or where they are headed next, it is interesting to watch a company so scrutinized in its industry move forward. Three founders, Richard Rosenblatt, Shawn Colo and Montpas, remain with Demand. The company‚Äôs video division is set to partner with YouTube in 2012 for its premium content video launch (other partners include Warner Bros. and the Shine Group).
Demand is expected to announce fourth quarter and fiscal 2011 results on February 16.
Every now and then, when our own newsstand landscape begins to look too homogenous and our cover formulas too tired we look overseas to shake us up a little.
Or a lot‚ÄĒthe polybag premium craze that swept our consumer publications a decade or two ago (but who‚Äôs counting) was sparked by one UK company.
Polybag premiums to some degree have, after many years, run their course here in the U.S., but any publisher with a serious commitment to a UK distribution is aware that it is still the vernacular on the English newsstand.
Partworks are a UK newsstand innovation that take the practice of polybagging premiums to a new level. They offer expensive, high-quality premiums on every product and, as the name indicates, each premium is a part of a much greater whole.
At a meeting not too long ago Ian Bridgman of Comag UK walked me through the history of partworks, produced mostly by a handful of multi-title international publishers.
Here‚Äôs how they work: Each issue of a newsstand release will contain one part of a model or a collection. To get the complete collection, or every part needed to complete the model, it is necessary to purchase every issue. Ian tells me that many give a gift away each week, some to build large scale models which, when finished, are very impressive. A James Bond Austin Martin made of proper metal that takes four years of collecting to finish. A human skeleton (at ¬£5.99 per week) that takes two to three years to collect and build, piece by piece.
What an investment these partworks are for their collectors! By project‚Äôs end they might have spent ¬£600 to ¬£1,000 pounds collecting the pieces.
And what a variety of topics to choose from! A collection of insects, or action figures, or precious rocks. A Victorian doll‚Äôs house, a Hello Kitty party, an entire season of CSI on DVD. Product tie-ins galore‚ÄĒDr. Who, DC Comics, Star Wars.
The partworks series is usually launched after the first of each year, supported by TV advertising, and with a temptingly discounted price for the first issue or issues.
As you might expect, the sales drop off considerably after the first few issues. And here in the U.S., where distribution is so much broader and efficiencies commensurately lower, returns would certainly be a problem. In the UK they manage the return issue by collecting the unsolds and shipping them overseas in staggered launches. France and Italy have proven to be markets for the unsolds, as has, to some degree, Canada.
Could it work here? It‚Äôs hard to see how it could work on the newsstand‚ÄĒour high rate of unsolds, the necessity for a large investment in copies to cover a broad geographical area, the difficulty of processing quirky premiums in the wholesale agencies, and the difficulty of getting full-copy returns (undamaged) all combine to make it an unlikely revenue source for U.S. publishers.
But as a direct sale from the publisher? Why not?
Linda Ruth is Principal of Publisher Single Copy Sales Services. Her book of case studies, "How to Market Your Magazine on the Newsstand," is available at BookDojo.com and at Amazon.
More than a few magazine and media executives spent the holidays putting the finishing touches on deal closures. We're only 3 weeks into January and there's been a flurry of M&A action‚ÄĒfrom decently big deals to small. Here's a recap:Today of course Meredith announced it's buying Allrecipes.com from Reader's Digest Association, advancing a deep dive strategy into the food vertical as fast as RDA is pulling away from it, having also bought Everyday With Rachael Ray from them. The deal closely followed Meredith's acquisition of FamilyFun from Disney Publishing earlier in the month.
Harry Stagnito has sold Stagnito Media to private equity firm Topspin LBO, which also owns his son's Vermont-based Moose River Media. The deal, says Stagnito, will allow the company to build out its marketing services and data and information products. Edwin V. Avent's Heart & Soul magazine has been sold to a group of investors called Brown Curry Detry Taylor & Associates. BCDT's principals all have direct ties to the magazine, having worked for it in one capacity or another.Hanley Wood is now owned by Oaktree Capital Management, Strategic Value Partners and Tennenbaum Capital Partners after going through a major recapitalization, cutting its debt from $410 million to $80 million.In a retreat from the U.S. market, Future plc sold its U.S. group's Music Division, including 3 magazines, to NewBay Media for $3 million. Revenues for the group in Future's fiscal 2011 were about $13 million. Grand View Media has taken over management of Shooting Sports Retailer magazine. While not technically a sale, Grand View may have an option to buy after a certain period of time and certain performance goals are met.F+W Media is expanding its food vertical coverage, too. It bought World Tea Media, which produces the World Tea Expo as well as associated editorial products. ¬†Vibe Holdings has been merged with BlackBook Media and Access Network, forming Vibe Media. The combined entity will be owned by the Yucaipa Johnson Fund, backed by Ron Burkle and Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and InterMedia Partners.Bangor Metro, a regional magazine serving the Bangor, Maine region, has been sold to Cashman Asset Management.
In an attempt to protect copyrighted material, the U.S. Congress has been mulling a proposal to curb access to websites, search engine results and domain names, among other things, something that has seemingly outraged many in the digital community.
The bill, entitled the Stop Online Piracy Act [H.R. 3261], has so infuriated Wikipedia that it blacked out its site today. Google has also promoted the bill‚Äôs destruction, with its clever logo on its homepage blacked out for the remainder of the day and linked to a petition and fact sheet (pictured).
‚ÄúThe U.S. government could order the blocking of sites using methods similar to those employed by China,‚ÄĚ writes the search engine on one of its pages. ‚ÄúAmong other things, search engines could be forced to delete entire websites from their search results.‚ÄĚ
So far, AOL, eBay, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, among others, have already come out against the bill‚Äôs proposal, which is known in the Senate as the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) [S.968].
What would all this mean for our industry, though? When reached by this reporter, the MPA declined to comment. It seems that some type of measure would be supported by the organization, however, which recognizes ‚Äúthe significant impact and harm piracy has on copyright dependent industries like magazines, movies, music and clothing,‚ÄĚ a statement from the MPA says.
Where SOPA and PIPA may really hurt our industry is with our advertisers‚ÄĒthey could lose millions of dollars by intentionally or unintentionally providing services to ‚Äúrogue sites.‚ÄĚ While many news outlets provide original reporting that would be protected from this law, our advertisers have a stake in different kinds of online properties and may have long court battles ahead of them under the proposal, which could complicate relationships with other existing clients like magazines.
A rogue site is defined as any website that facilitates copyright infringement; one of the reasons Google and Wikipedia are so concerned. Since rogue is so broadly defined, several different digital properties could be at risk for violating the would-be laws--the language could sweep up innocent sites that are merely re-purposing content.
‚Äú[PIPA] authorizes the Attorney General to direct U.S. based third-parties, including Internet Service Providers, payment processors, online advertising network providers and search engines to take appropriate action to either prevent access to [a ‚Äėrogue‚Äô] site, or cease doing business with it,‚ÄĚ the statement from the MPA says. ‚ÄúWhile providing immunity to websites that sold a product that turned out to be counterfeit, PIPA would allow a copyright or trademark holder to ask a judge to compel Internet advertising agencies and financial firms (i.e. MasterCard) to discontinue processing payments or providing services to the rogue sites.‚ÄĚ
In addition to possibly harming advertisers, some magazines are spending large sums to create web-exclusive shows with YouTube, which could be harmed in this case and possibly cause other hardships for brand extensions since sharing a video or other content on Facebook could fall under copyright infringement.
"Fighting online piracy is extremely important," writes David Drummond, Google's senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer. "We are investing a lot of time and money in that fight. Last year alone we acted on copyright take-down notices for more than 5 million webpages and invested more than $60 million in the fight against ads appearing on bad sites. And we think there is more that can be done here‚ÄĒlike targeted and focused steps to cut off the money supply to foreign pirate sites. If you cut off the money flow, you cut the incentive to steal."
So while Google, Wikipedia and others go black today, the world will wait and so will the magazine industry. The White House has already issued a statement saying it will not sign such legislation if it is passed, which is not easing any woes as of yet.