Last fall, I commended CondĂ© Nast on its partnership with Amazon, but also suggested that we keep an eye on the retailer and not give them too much power. Now, Hachette is doing just that, as it and Amazon engage in public fisticuffs over royalty payments.You're familiar with it now, but Iâll recap: Amazon and Hachette are in a fight over royalties. Hachette refused to cave to Amazon's allegedly crappy deal (the talks are happening behind closed doors). As a result, Amazon has discouraged customers from buying Hachette titles, including saddling them with up to month-long delivery times, offering alternative lower-priced titles, and, bizarrely, encouraging people to purchase Hachette titles from its competitors. As Jack Shafer at Reuters wrote, âBy essentially banishing many Hachette titles from its stock, Amazon, which ordinarily puts its customers first, has put them last.â Hard to argue that it's being customer-centric. Way to let your freak flag fly, Bezos.All I can say is: Go for it, Hachette. I'm into it. It's one thing to partner with a giant company that is well-liked by customers and quite another to be asked to submit to a monolith while they squeeze out the competition. In fact, it has the look and feel of an anti-trust lawsuit waiting to happen.On some level, customers are complicit. The notoriously pro-consumer company is acting to the contrary. And customers need to demand a better business for all involved, if for nothing other than to enhance their experience. Pressure from one of the big five book publishers will help. Weâre not talking about customers losing access to Susie Down the Blockâs chapbook or someoneâs published grad school thesis; Amazon customers are going to lose access to writers like James Patterson, Malcolm Gladwell and Americaâs golden child: GMAâs Robin Roberts.Tim Worstall, a blogger for Forbes, suggests that we just let them fight it out themselves. I understand why other publishers are loathe to get involved, and to instead wait it out on the sidelines, hoping for Hachette's triumph, particularly since Amazon has proven to be a no-holds-barred negotiator. As Jonathan Mahler wrote in his piece for the Times: â[Other publishers] have their own relationships with Amazon to protect, and they do not want anything they say to be construed as antagonistic, all the more so now that Amazon has demonstrated its willingness to punish booksellers when negotiations become contentious.â Publishers are wary, and rightfully so, but where is the FTC on this? Some judge has got to be dying to write the definitive opinion on Amazon v. Hachette.As companies consider the odds, I'm hoping more get involved, not less. Do I want my company to throw down? I'm not sure. As a struggling independent publisher that relies on Amazon for a source of revenue, I'm not certain I can make it up on our own, particularly because Amazon owns the customer, not me. Amazon customers appear beholden to Amazon, but this past month has proven that even Amazon has a breaking point.Then again, isn't a bar fight much more fun when every drunk joins the fray? Sure, the whole place is gonna get thrashed, but it's probably time to gut the thing anyway.
The Spring 2014 cover of Lucky Peach magazine is a tasty, illustrated concoction that highlights its "All You Can Eat" issue. It's a very unusual and very creative cover with a 3D illustration by Jordan Speer that looks straight out of an old Gumby claymation cartoon. I think this is a brilliant cover, very different and unique compared to most other food magazines. And it's simply one of the most fun covers I've seen this year. Not only did this delightful cover illustration convince me to buy the magazine, but everyone who has seen my copy has grabbed it away and started reading.
"I was a chef for 10 years," says Caysey Welton, associate editor at Folio:. "So I'm bored by a lot of food covers these days. But this one is fresh and cool." He is spot on with his analysis. At my local Whole Foods, this cover jumped out at me, amidst a wall of food and health magazines, all of them featuring beautiful, sensual, refined photographs, very sophisticated and well-polished in their design and styling. By comparison, Lucky Peach looks like a funky homemade dish that cares less about being perfect and pristine in its presentation, but with a much greater sense of passion, delight and soul.Lucky Peach is the quarterly food and eating magazine brainchild of Momofuku restaurant owner and chef David Chang. Originally published in partnership with McSweeney's, Lucky Peach ended the relationship late last year; this is the second issue published as a completely independent operation.
This cover, art directed by Walter Green, is a big departure from Lucky Peach's first few independent issues. Those covers were raw, punky, graphic and somewhat off-putting, with photographs of big slabs of raw meat, knives, and burly tattooed arms and hands. The typography and headlines were aggressive, and the overall feel was very masculine and almost fatally hip. Honestly, I didn't like it and thought it was the wrong approach, although it was certainly effective in getting attention.
After six or seven issues, the Lucky Peach cover direction changed dramatically. Recent covers have boasted colorful, playful illustrations, like something you'd see in a children's book. Headlines have been minimized and, the original hand-drawn logo remains, which in the context of the lighter illustrations looks charming and homespun. The covers are now accurate reflections of the inside pages of the magazine, which are a lush, visual treat. It's a rich, diverse, multi-textured look, with very little of the "food porn" photography that fills most epicurean magazines these days.
Fun is really the key to this cover, and that's what makes it so unique. It's rare to see a magazine cover that looks like it was actually fun to make, while also keeping it representative of the richness and quality of the material inside. For a sense of what Lucky Peach looks like, visit their Tumblr page, which is an explosion of exciting graphics and visual inspiration.
Lucky Peach is somewhat of a throwback to the illustrated Gourmet magazine covers of the 1940s and 50s. Those covers were artful but zany and quirky. Often illustrated by Henry Stahlhut, the illustrated Gourmet covers were the total opposite of the perfectly styled plates of food and gourmet dishes on magazine covers today. The "All You Can Eat" cover reminds me of Bloomberg Businessweek, with its pure disregard for any of the standard operating techniques of its genre.
I took my daughter to the Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village of New York City over the past weekend to celebrate her 14th birthday. She's a big fan of the Momofuku Milk Bar on the Upper West Side, where she favors strawberry milkshakes and pork buns. At the Noodle Bar she ordered Momofuku Ramen, while I gave up my meatless diet for a bowl of Spicy Miso Ramen (with chicken and pork broth). The food was hearty and delicious, and sitting in the restaurant at one of the long communal tables, I was reminded why the Lucky Peach cover is so perfect. It's a lot like the Momofuku restaurants: funky, uncompromising, hip (but not hipster), downhome and totally delightful and tasty. Like any great cover, it engages the readers in a visual conversation and invites them inside to discover a world of wonders, while at the same time maintaining the essence of its brand.
We are stunned, we are blindsided, or we saw this coming all along. We are scrambling for distribution, we are crying for attention, we are vying for our places in the lifeboat. Messages in my inbox and voices on my phone reflect fear, concern, survivorsâ guilt, schadenfreude.But most of all, in the scramble to find our feet, to ride this out, to get our copies out of the printers and off the docks and into the retail outlets, weâor at least Iâfeel grief. Old-fashioned, honest-to-God grief, like the kind you might feel when you lose a human friend.As one of Sourceâs executives wrote me: âThis is such a sad day as you note for not only Source, but for the industry as a whole. We did our best to keep it afloat but, in the end, the model is just broken and it has to be fixed. One can just hope that in the midst of disruption that something positive can evolve. As you can imagine, my priority has been trying to work through the human aspect of this, as it affects so many good people who dedicated years and years of their lives to Source.âAmong the first people I ever met in this business were Bill Jech and Dave Buescher, founders of IPD, later sold to Source Interlink as the basis of their distribution business. I watched as the direct distribution model was scaled up to national, merged back into mainstream, broken out in tielines and pick and packs; I watched as warehouses were set up and taken down, and information evolved and was reworked, as people came and went and systems improved or were replaced. And in the course of those years, I met smart, hard-working people doing their best to find a way to keep their business afloat. People who worked to improve merchandising, to improve customer service, to improve warehousing, to improve efficiency. People who helped me, and my clients, solve difficult problems.Practically, there are lots of questions that are not yet answered. Who will pick up all that retail business, and what portion of it will go away? Which publications will survive this upheavalâand which will not? What will happen to our industry when only two large wholesale groups, both of which share ownership of one major national distributor, control virtually all the distribution? Is there still a role for a national distributor when what you have is essentially a national wholesaler? And if no one has been making money until now, how will this change enable them to start doing so?Those questions wonât be answered today, or tomorrow, or this month. We will revisit those questions, again and again. But for today, I can only think about the 6,000 Source Interlink people who are out of their jobs, and the company executives I have known for years, and the magazine business without a Source Interlink to turn to.Goodbye, Source Interlink. We will miss you.
Usually I try and offer helpful ideas and hints on items relating to various aspects of publishing. Therefore, it may seem that I am going off on a tangent in this post, but please bear with me.It is not very often Europe has better ideas than America but it happens occasionallyâChampagne and cheddar cheese chief among themâbut recently the European community sort of demanded that people be allowed to clean up, indeed remove, data from search engines and I think we should do that here.I have never ever submitted any data about me to any search engine, yet if you Google me you will get over 5,000 returnsânot as many compared to Googling âchampagneâ with 71,200,000 returned or âcheddar cheeseâ with 3,250,000. A great deal of the information online about me is out of date. There is also information about me that I regard as personal, rather than business related, and there is information about me that is just untrue. At no point did I actively ask for my information to be added and I am not really aware of ever having been asked about it. Sometimes you are asked to agree to âconditionsâ and I expect this is how my data get added, but if search engines are making money out of my data, or websites, or telemarketing companies, why is it only Europeans that get to clean their data up? Why canât I? Supposedly, if you do not want telemarketing companies calling you, you can get on the âdo not callâ list. There is a âdo not mailâ list as well. The trouble with these two lists is that disreputable companies do not subscribe to them, so âRachel from Card Member Servicesâ feels free to call at any time. Much of this information is collected from the Internet, so why should we not all be allowed to clean up data about us, and remove it if we want?Back in the 1980s the United Kingdom passed the Data Protection Act, which basically says you have to opt in to get information rather then opt out. The direct mail industry recognized this was a good idea because the people opting out would not buy anything anyway. List costs dropped because there was less to rent, postage costs dropped because you mailed less, and response measured as a percentage increased making promotions more cost effective. In other words, by making the data more accurate, we got better results. The Internet has a few good usesâlistening to any radio station online, downloading music, getting the news, and so on. Another good use of the Internet is obtaining information and it makes sense to ensure that information is as accurate and up-to-date as possible, so why canât we delete information that is wrong, irrelevant or just plain embarrassing? Often it is said that once âit is on the Internet, it is there for goodââŠ but why canât it be got rid of? It does not take that long for information to appear on the Internet, intentional or otherwise, so getting rid of it should be just as easy.
Which workplace exchanges do you find to be most difficult? For most people, they're centered on two things: personnel and performance. Both of these things straddle the worlds of internal communications and HR, and both are also general managerial challenges.
I recently read an interesting column in Business Insider about the toughest conversations you can have at work. They were:
1. The Emotional Dismissal Conversation2. The Awkward Personality Conversation3. The Underperformance Conversation
All these are tough, but they are typically part of the same progression, and the progression usually starts with number three above, and ends with number one. Here are the toughest workplace conversations, from my perspective, and how I proceed.
PersonnelThese kinds of issues run the gamut-from people who are squabbling, to turf wars, to folks who simply don't work well together. Sometimes goals don't sync up. Other times, actual performance doesn't fit the needs of the job, and that's typically when the three-conversation pattern that Business Insider described kicks in. To my mind, all of these things are a huge challenge and all of them divert from the common business goal.
I've learned over the years that a sustained, tight focus on performance is the way to go. There should be no politics, no gossiping, just set a tone for the group that all you care about is results. Results require collaboration. Keeping everyone focused on that creates a sense of confidence that relaxes a group and empowers them to experiment and achieve.
Business RelationshipsThis is another difficult area, but it's critical. Everyone from entry-level account managers to CEOs deals with either external clients, or with the public. Think of how frequent it is that a lower-level employee embarrasses a brand on social media, either when representing the company, or through some personal post that goes viral.
Of course, we're talking about conversations-whether with a subordinate or a colleague, or with an external customer. I've learned you can't wing it when it comes to customer conversations. Too much is at stake. Policies that everyone knows about and understands are critical, and these have to come from the top. I've had many conversations with customers in my career, and when business is on the line, they can be really tense. For me, the way to ensure that you preserve the business-if that's the goal, sometimes it isn't-the relationship has to come first. (This is a bit counter-intuitive, because I just stressed the importance of policies.) If your customers trust that you have their interests at heart, and you have thought through their challenges and understand their objectives-you'll keep the business. If they feel like you're officious, and policy-bound, you won't. Never use the word "unfortunately." That conveys a focus on your internal policy, not on customer-service. It is also condescending. Never use the phrase, "We're not set up to do that" for the same reasons. Always be ready with a solution or two.
Business PerformanceFor a lot of professionals, this is always a stress-inducing conversation, especially if you've fallen short of your goals. But it doesn't have to be. Putting aside the possibility of the fundamental lack of skills to do a job, most business-performance shortfalls relate to external factors in the market, not to your execution. So it really is an opportunity to shape a conversation about missing goals into the cool ways you're going to pivot to adjust to changes in the market.
"What were they smoking?" is a common joking criticism used by editors and art directors when referring to badly executed magazine covers. Well, in the case of the June 2014 cover of High Times, we know exactly what they were smoking. But the herb definitely helped with some wonderful creativity, because this is one of my favorite magazine covers of the year. I think a few more magazines could use what High Times is smoking; this cover is powerful, engaging, memorable and just plain fun (and funny).
The "Mount Kushmore" cover of High Times features a photo illustration of four top hip-hop artists, Snoop (Lion these days?), B-Real, Redman, and Method Man, all of whom are well-known weed enthusiasts. For FOLIO: readers who don't fully get the reference of the headline, the Urban Dictionary describes "kush" as "a high-grade strain of marijuana."
This is a gonzo cover that reminds me of some of the best altweekly newspaper covers, with an image that is very high conceptually, and somewhat funky (in a good way) in execution. But the idea and the passion behind it are what gives this cover such a great buzz and makes it a standout. Editor Chris Simunek explains that the idea originated with Snoop, who has been a regular cover subjectâmost notably as 2007's "Stoner of the Year." The original idea was to have the four heads carved out of hash. When that didn't work out (for obvious reasons), photographer Mark Mann was called in, along with creative director Bianca Barnhill, who organized the entire session. Additional tweaks to the cover came from art directors Roxanna Allen and Frank Max.
Speaking of Snoop, back in the 1990s I worked as the design director of Vibe. We were all hard at work one afternoon when a buzz went through the office because Snoop had arrived for an interview and was in the upstairs conference room. Within five minutes of his arrival, the sweet sticky smell of the most potent weed imaginable came drifting through the walls and floors. Needles to say, there wasn't any more work done that day (although the interview turned out great!).
This cover of High Times feels like it was crafted by people who love making magazines and who have an intimate connection with their readers . As editor Simunek says, "We definitely enjoyed doing this cover!" It's bright and refreshing, and the image mixes perfectly with the bold cover lines. The cover headlines are all winners: "40 Best Stoner Movies," "Pot in the NFL," and "Growing for Maximum Flavor." It's also a change from the regular High Times covers, which tend to feature beautifully photographed exotic strains of pot or a still life of a bong.
High Times has a rich history of cover design, stretching back to its launch in the early 1970s. Over the years they've had a series of talented art directors, and while the magazine has had its ups and downs, it's overall design has never been stronger than it is under the guidance of art director Frank Max, who has given it a structured, lively format with strong, engaging imagery and, of course, lots of beautiful weed pictorials.
When I was in college in the 70s, my friends and I would get High Times from the local head shop every month and rush home to read the heady (to us) mix of dope, rock ân' roll, politics and counterculture news. We would scour the Trans High Market drug price quotations every month, hoping to find our little town in the list (it never was) and marveling at what was available for purchase in other locations.
Years later I visited a friend who was working at the High Times office in New York City. After getting through an elaborate multi-lock security system (it was the 80s), I was ushered into a dark, heavily smoke-filled room. This was the office of the legendary High Times typesetter, who banged out endless galleys of type surrounded by piles of the most potent herb I had ever "seen." Perhaps it goes without saying, but I don't remember much else about my visit.
Those days are long gone, though, and High Times today is a much more professional operation. The magazine's ads are booming thanks to medical marijuana and the movement to legalize or decriminalize pot smoking. Celebrities like Oliver Stone have been on the cover, celebrating their sticky love. And the editorial content is a potent and polished blend of service, news and strong opinion.
I was worried that I was being too uncritical about this cover, so I reached out for a second opinion from Dan Zedek, a former High Times art director (in the mid-80s), and now the design director of the Boston Globe. He confirmed my opinion of it: "Two words for this cover: not shy," he said. "It has attitude to spare! It helps that the illustration is a little crude, the type colors a little loud. It's a perfect match for the subject matter: fun, noisy, and a bit bratty. For a magazine about not working hard, this cover works hard in the right ways."
So, I guess the obvious question here is: What was I smoking when I wrote this review? This answer is: nothing, or it wouldn't have been finished! Still, I hope High Times invites me to their next cover shoot.
While readers of my blog often contact me with intriguing and sometimes unexpected information or ideas, it isnât often that anyone brings up topics that I donât think I already know something about.Larry Scheur succeeded in doing that in a recent series of communications.Larry is a real old-time independent wholesaler from Buffalo New York. He created âThe Buffalo System,â which pioneered the use of title- and retailer-specific formulas into order regulation. And he asserts that NO ONE truly understands the economics of magazine distribution from the wholesaler standpoint.Based on what heâs been telling me, that is certainly an assertion that applies to me.What the wholesalers are saying about being unable to make money under existing conditions, Larry told me, is absolutely true. In fact, he says, wholesalers rarelyâif everâmade money from sales. Profits, he says, came from âservice charges, retailer under claims, retailer bankruptcies, return over claims, shortages, unreported overages, and special deals with national distributors.âNaturally Iâlike anyone whoâs been in newsstand distribution for enough yearsâhad heard rumors of some irregularities in the old days of our business; but the concept that these irregularities might be so institutionalized as to provide the very basis of the survival of our business was (and is) astonishing to me. Larry, however, was willing to provide many examples.âA highly respected EVP of a major national distributor once took to me to lunch,â he offered. âHe said he would approve all my affidavits, no matter what the claim, for a 10 percent fee. I was shocked and upset. He called after me as I ran from the restaurant, âIt's all right, I already have three wholesalers on board.ââ The Buffalo System was, Larry tells me, the first single-entry returns system. The purpose of the single-entry system is to ensure that the total (bulk) sales on the wholesaler system reconcile with the sales tracked by individual retail outlet. As an example, Larry told me about a wholesaler whose system showed two programs. One was designated âOverReturnâ and the other was named âShortReturn.â OverReturn added the totaled retailer returns for a title and issue and compared it to the wholesaler bulk record file for the same title/issue. If the retailer returns were higher, the program added a compensating amount to the bulk record for processing to the ND. The ShortReturn program functioned similarly. If the O&R returns totaled less than the bulk return, the program determined the missing amount and either created a stock account or multiplied returns over a determined number by the factorial difference.Improvements in auditing and tracking must have cleaned up these irregularities to a fair degree, though Larry maintains there is still an element going on today. Although, he admits, there were some wholesalersâBob Cohen of Hudson News was oneâwho kept everything strictly above-board. âHe wanted everything legit,â Larry said. âA very clean system.âRegardless of what may have happened in the wild-west days of magazine distribution, the situation is considerably more precarious today. I told Larry about a consultant who contacted me with to talk about âPlan Bââcode for, âhow are we all going to keep our jobs?â This consultant asked, âEven with all of the recent technology, how are returns going to be handled if, as some people have suggested, we bypass the wholesaler? What happens to the affidavit? Can the retailers scan returns the way the wholesalers can? And doesnât setting up direct relationships give the retailer a license to steal?âLarry thinks there are possible direct-distribution-based solutions to our current predicament; and to put them in place he suggests, as another former independent wholesaler did not long ago, going âback to the future.â His suggestions:1) Re-implement the once highly successful Family Circle/Woman's Day direct model, devoid of national distributor involvement, utilizing cross-docking. (Cross-docking is a term used in shipping logistics that involves moving product from truck-to-truck without the intermediate warehousing; WalMart has used it to move retail product since the 1980s).2) Similarly, Larry suggested, the industry should take a look at the once highly controversial Kresge/TV Guide system. This system, Larry explained, was similar to the Family Circle/Womanâs Day model, with the addition of expedited delivery. âTV Guide printed on Saturday and shipped 20 million copies with over 170 editions to wholesalers expecting Monday on sale,â Larry explained. âTV Guide made deals with national chainsâKresge, Neisners, F.W. Woolworths, W.T Grants, etc.âthat were not typically wholesaler serviced. They required the wholesaler to deliver the predetermined allotment as well as collect the unsolds (if any) for a small fee paid by TV Guide. A store stamp verified delivery. As some of these stores were in rural areas, wholesalers sometimes used busses and trains, hiring a delivery agent in these areas. A reship allowance was paid by Triangle Publications to wholesalers providing this service.Â These solutions, I thought, appear tailored to the large general-interest publications whose day has come and gone. What about the special interest publications and the independent publishers?Systems today, Larry pointed out, are also tailored around those mass-market publishers. âLook at the Order & Regulation systems,â he said. âPrior to UPCs, only 10 percent of titles were tracked issue by issue. Comparatives worked. They built the crosswords category. Wholesalers maintained O&R on the top two or three crosswords and used those sales to determine retail store allocations for the rest of the line.âWhat does that mean for the special-interest publisher? I asked. Was he expressing the idea that a more targeted publisher can be hurt by over-regulation?But Larry was talking about more than a publisher or a publication. His point was that a whole categoryâa whole industryâcan be hurt by over-regulation. âO&R destroyed comics,â he said. âYou start a downward trend which then negatively affect allocations. Thirty percent sell throughâwhat you get with the niche publicationsâneeds no O&R. Look at history, and you will see how it works.â
New YorkâOn Tuesday, a capacity crowd gathered at The Museum of Jewish Heritage to listen in as disruptive business leaders from various industries discussed how they are confronting an ever-changing landscape. Wired's BizCon was a daylong event that tied together a common themeâhow technology and design intersect with business.
The day's speakers were a mixed bag, including brand leaders like Tumblr's founder David Karp, Twitter Amplify's founder Glenn Brown, UNRULY CEO Sarah Wood and several others. Few stones were left unturned, meaning that everything from social media to gaming, robotics and even experiential theater was covered. Catherine Mohr, senior director of medical research at Intuitive Surgical put it best when she stressed the importance of "looking into adjacent fields to find solutions in your own."
This was a Wired event, so naturally the solutions were often steeped in technologyâand with good reason, given the rapid evolution happening all around us. In essence, technology is presenting both challenges and opportunities for every business leader, which is why merging thought leadership in various disciplines is a chance to rethink strategies and best practices.
For media brands, some of the new challenges discussed were not brand new, however the paradigms are shifting. Take for example social media, which both Brown and Wood discussed. The sizes of your followings and vapid engagements are no longer in focus. Now it's more about staying in and in front of the bigger conversation.
Brown admits that Twitter Amplify tapped into more than they expected when they launched the product to tweet instant replays. That is, the company discovered they could use objects to tweet messages in real time as conversations develop, enabling Twitter to keep up real-time and offer a valuable second-screen experience. He also tipped his hat to magazines for being out in front of this trend. "Magazines knew early on that it's a lot to ask readers to always go to the newsstand or wait for their hard copies," he said while reviewing the importance getting out in front of trending topics.
Wood concentrated on the importance of sharable contentâspecifically video. She dispelled a couple of myths that have surfaced about video, 1) it's done easily and, 2) it's unpredictable. UNRULY has the data to show that viral content can be predicted, but there is something brands must keep in mind: "It's hard to compete with friends and family," she said. And added, "for bands that are serious about video, paid media is the solution; don't post and pray."
Karp's Tumblr platform purportedly is a hub for brands that wish to share their content through the viral Web. Remarkably, sponsored posts average around 10,000 reposts versus an average of 14 reposts from a common user. But Karp confesses that it is the smaller number he takes the most pride in because "brands are some of the most capable content creators," and his platform complements that attribute. But for the common user, that multiplyer offers the potential to tap into a new audience, which is paramount to what Tumblr is all about.Â
Wired has been at the forefront of the design movement. In fact, even at its Data|Life conference, design surfaced as an essential element for progressing the healthcare space. BizCon further supported that thesis, and extended it outward to all industries.
What was once considered an aesthetic element is now becoming the basis for brand identity and user experience. So whether it's the architecture of a building, an immersive theatrical production or the user interface for a mobile game, design determines the experience.
Recently I was sending out a series of email re-qualifications. The process is mercifully simple. I design them, send the html to the email dispatcher who loads it into the email equivalent of an electric toaster, and presto, out pops my email effort.In addition to the html, I also have to provide a promotion code, the subject line copy and who the email is fromâand hereby hangs the tale.I changed the name of the email sender from the last time the email was sent in the belief that familiarity breeds contempt. It could be the very fact the email is coming from âSubscription Departmentâ that is putting off the recipients from opening the email. I donât know, so I tested it. But when I got the test, the sender name wasnât âRoy Beagley,â it was still âSubscription Department.â I was intrigued by this and called the person in charge of the email toaster, who said that it was not âconsidered good practiceâ to change the sender name. Always wanting to learn things, I asked how this conclusion was reached, was there a report, had someone done a test, who had discovered this and how? The answer was there is no report, no test and no discovery, someone once again decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story and just decided this was the new protocol. In an email promotion there are several things that could account for a bad response: bad copy or bad design being chief among them. There is also the spam filter that has decided certain words demand automatic banishment to the trash canâeven though those words help sell subscriptions. The text-to-picture ratio has an effect on whether an email will eventually end up in the recipientsâ inbox or trash; can you imagine postal carriers deciding if they are going to deliver mail to you or not depending on whether they think there are too many, or too few words on an envelope?I would also have thought who the email is coming from would matter too. A letter informing me I may have won $50,000 excites me; a letter with the letters âIâ, âRâ and âSâ causes my heart to go in to arrhythmia. An email from the âsubscription departmentâ may not excite me, but an email from âThe Publisherâ or âXmag Subscriptionsâ or simply a name like, well, âRoy Beagleyâ may induce me to open the email. I donât know, that is why we test, and, based on those results, decide what is âconsidered good practiceâ rather than letting a good tale debase the facts.
As publishers,Â your ultimate goal is to create compelling, lively, and interesting content that your readers will love and share with their friends. You know that social media can be a great way to engage with those readersâbut are you sure that your social sharing strategy is as effective as you need it to be?Â Womenâs Health, which publishes 28 editions in 51 countries,Â is a part of Rodaleâs International Conference every April, hosting Women's Health and Menâs Health editors-in-chief and CEOs across the globe. To help these leaders take their social media practices to the next level, we put together a guide of the essential tips and tools all brands should know. The AmericanÂ Women's Health has used this guide to build an audience of over 6.1 million fans and followers across all the major social networks, and today reaches 15+ million unique visitors on a monthly basis.Â Whether youâre hoping to grow brand engagement and interest, or want to drive more traffic back to your site, here are 20 must-know social media tips and techniques to help you along the way.1. Each social media platform plays a different role in your overall brand strategy.For instance, Facebook is a great traffic-driver; Instagram is enormous for brand building; and Google+ is essential for SEO.Â FacebookÂ 2. Different types of Facebook posts benefit your brand in different ways.Not all âengagementâ metrics are necessarily the ones that matter to you. The old rule you hear again and again is that Facebook posts with pictures in them perform the best and have the highest engagement. But what if your goal is to drive traffic?Â After doing a deeper dive into our analytics, we realized that while reach and engagement (likes, shares, comments) were better for image posts than any other type of post, the actual click-through rate (the number of people who clicked on the link back to the site) was miniscule in comparison. On the other hand, when we posted link posts, we found that the engagement wasnât as high, but that the clicks back to the site were much more significant. Since traffic-driving has been a major goal for us over the past six months, weâve prioritized our link posts over image posts.Â Hereâs our basic understanding of what each post type is best for:Â Image posts are great for engagement, terrible for traffic.Link posts are great for traffic, not (always) as great for engagement.Status Update posts can be used to solicit feedback from your readers.Â 3. When posting a story to Facebook, you can change the image, headline, and subtitle to be more compelling to readers.Certain types of headlines solicit a good number of comments, but not many clicks back to the site. One example: Headlines posed as questions. Instead of clicking through to see the answer, our readers will try to answer the question in the comments of the post itself. We now change the question headlines to more straightforward language when we post on Facebook, in order to better encourage the behavior weâre looking for.Â 4. If youâre promoting a story about a famous person, tag her in the postâher followers may see it in their newsfeeds.Certainly canât hurt, right?Â 5. People love infographics.Since we know that posting images wonât drive traffic back, we optimize our image posts to reach as many people as possible. Infographics are great for that. In our experience, successful infographics are useful, interesting, and/or relatable:
6. When it comes to viral content, Feelings + Excitement = More Likely to Share.Positive emotions are better than negative, and worked up is better than bummed or mellowed out. Ask yourself:Â Would I share this?
TwitterÂ 7. Keep it short. Tweets with 81 characters or less get the most clicks, on average.This is based on an analysis of our own tweets from August 2013. We counted the characters in the tweets (including the URL), and charted them against link clicks. Shorter, more straightforward tweets got the most clicks. Longer, wordier, more conversational tweets got the fewest.Â 8. The best tweets are intriguing, yet unsatisfying. They compel the reader to click.Donât give it all away in the tweet. Give the readers a reason to click through. This post gave it all away in the headlineâand only 136 people clicked on the link:
Seriously, be a tease. Leave them hungry for more informationâŠ that they can only find by clicking through. This post made people wonder âWhatâs the snack?!â, and 3074 people clicked through:
9. If a tweet performs well once, tweet it again!We learned this one from the New York Times, via Neiman Labs. Thanks, guys!Â 10. Retweet people who are linking to your content.They'll appreciate the attention, and your followers will notice the new faces in their timelines more than the oldâmeaning theyâll be less likely to tune out your headlines, and more likely to click through. When we started retweeting the readers who were sharing our content, our traffic from Twitter increased 31% month over month.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Pinterest
11. Add the Pin It button to all images on your site, to make your content as easy to share as possible. Womenâs Health has over 283,000 followers on Pinterest, but the majority of our Pinterest traffic comes from content that our readers shared organically from our web site, not from our own Pinterest boards.Â Kind of amazing.Â 12. Create designed title cards for all of your content, so that readers know exactly what theyâre getting when browsing Pinterest.Images with words = better user experience = more re-pins. For your brand Pinterest profile, create designed title cards for each board.
13. Tall pins get more repins than short ones.The most optimized pin is a tall rectangle, with large words on it.Â InstagramÂ 14. Instagram users love beautiful, professionally photographed pictures.Yes, Instagram is the platform where the amateur photographer can shine. But users still respond well to gorgeous, professional photographs, as well (just look at the National Geographic Instagram account). We occasionally use pictures from the magazine to promote the issue when it comes out.Â 15. Use Instagram to solicit and find user generated content.Encourage users to share their creationsâand then use what theyâve shared as content on the site later. One of our weekly columns is called Share Your Smoothies, and we get the content for it by soliciting smoothie recipes and images on Instagram each week.
16. Take advantage of Instagram video. You can do a lot in 15 seconds.For us, weâve used it for: 15-second exercise move demos; beauty how-tos; slideshow teasers on the site; super quick Q&As with celebrities. Using the app Flipagram helps with a lot of these.Â Google+Â 17. Post frequently to Google+. It might not drive much traffic, but itâs essential for SEO.Â 18. Use a social media management tool to post to Facebook and Google+ simultaneously. Or auto-share all new content as itâs published.This might not be true for all brands, but weâve had more success when we cross-post Facebook posts than when we cross-posted Tweets. The images definitely help.Â 19. You can create GIFs on Google+ by uploading 5 or more images.Fun little party trick, right?
Ad Sales and PRÂ
20. The best sponsored social "campaigns" are:
âą Editorially conceived and drivenâą Beneficial to the readerâą Simple, w/low barrier to entryÂ (Read that againâthatâs a lot of info in 140 characters!)Â One of the benefits of our massive social audience is that weâre able to do fun and interesting social activations as part of larger sponsorship campaignsâand we do, often. We also have very strict guidelines for whatâs an acceptable sponsored social campaign experience, and what weâre not able to do. The rules above get at the main point: In order for a social campaign to be successful, it has to be something that the editors have come up with (so that itâs organic to your brand and makes editorial sense); it has to benefit the reader in a clear way (otherwiseâŠ why would they be participating?!); and it canât be too complicated.
Feel like you could use a deep-dive into next-generation social tactics? Learn more at the Folio: Growth Summit, June 16-17 in Chicago, which includes a 3-hour workshop featuring instructors such as Women's Health's Carolyn Kylstra, National Geographic Travel's Carolyn Fox and GrindMedia's Aaron Carrera. Find out more here.
I first saw this Politico cover the way it was meant to be seen: in a tweet that teased one of the inside features, "How to Lose $100 Million: The Undoing of Tina Brown." You can bet that I read that story, but it was the very cool, all-type cover that initially hooked me.
All-type covers are a tricky business. They work best with a provocative message like "Is God Dead?" or "You Idiots!" But as Politico creative director Janet Michaud explains, the magazine covers politics and Washington "in a non-partisan, non-ideological way." That means that they don't have a mandate to craft a headline that is going to antagonize or provoke readers.
Politico did the next best thing, which was to craft a solid, label-like headline into an engaging, stylish image--a perfect fusion of text and graphics. With its stop sign-like white logo on red, and a headline made up of letters taken from major newspapers and media outlets, this is a seamless graphic delight that works on multiple levels. It's the perfect cover image to propel the extensive hype that Politico has received for the stories in this issue.
I like the simple, unadorned design of this cover a lot. It's stripped down the basics: red, black, and white color (why does this seem to be the color scheme of choice for all-type covers?), with understated secondary cover lines under the main heading. The headline type, by Post Typography, is bold and refined and is obsessively engaging. Once you realize that the letters are taken from actual newspaper, magazine, and TV logos, it becomes a puzzle to figure out where they came from (you can play along; we've included the source logos for all the letters below).
I was actually disappointed with the first two Politico covers (The Media Issue is the third; it's published on a bi-monthly schedule). They were nice enough, but somewhat generic, without a sense of immediacy and failing to fully reflect the dynamic content inside. That disconnect is even more apparent when you view the interior page designs, which are powerful, elegant and very distinctive. However, this new cover changes all that. Part newsweekly, part opinion journal, part poster, the type channels covers of New York magazine, The New York Times Magazine and Time, with a nod to the 1950s Blue Note LP cover design of Reid Miles that Michaud cites as an influence.
There's a hip, stark, modern feel to this cover that I think eludes many other political magazines and journals. A lot of publications would have taken a more involved, illustrative approach to the topic (and according to Michaud, Politico tried a number of those approaches but weren't satisfied with any of them); the spare, graphic treatment here is what makes it so unique and effective. I feel like this is the issue (and cover) of Politico where the magazine has been fully realized for the first time and we truly get a sense of the potential of this publishing project.
Michaud came to Politico after a stint as design director at the Washington Post, and an earlier stretch as an art director at Time. She describes the overall look of the magazine as "visually confident, bold and surprising, simple and classic." She goes on to say, "We're not on the newsstand, but we're competing for the reader's attention. With the cover, we want to grab as much of that attention (and time) as possible." The Media Issue cover of Politico accomplishes that task brilliantly. I hope we see more creative covers like this in the future from the Politico team!
I've touched on this before, but I'll say it again: American attention spans, as tiny as they were before, are getting tinier. We are device-agnostic. We text, Twitter and Flipboard our lives away. We don't mind switching brands to get at the meat of a matter. We're like a nation of channel surfers with eight different TV sets and remotes in every corner of our lives: on our desks, nightstands, kitchen counters. Even as I wrote this, I checked my email four times, my texts three; I searched three different websites for mains, brunches, breakfasts and sides; I opened five different articles referencing five different industry studies; and I'm watching (don't judge) âCastleâ on mute.So it was no surprise to learn that according to a new study by the Media Insight Project, when it comes to news, our attention spans jump from story to story. The project was an examination of people's behavior as it relates to news consumption, and it specifically focused on whether people distinguish between the news organization (âwho gathered the newsâ) from the discovery (i.e., social media or search engine) and via what device (smartphones, print, television). Not surprisingly, people cared less about device and more about the source of news and how they get it. Technology is a tool of convenience, a vehicle for the stories that people want to read. Of smartphone owners, 78 percent used their phoneâa tool of convenienceâto get news.
Almost half of US adults have zero preference in specific device or technology for following the news. That same number of adults, approximately forty-five percent, have signed up for news alerts, including text, email or app notifications.Which perfectly exemplifies the way we should approach our business. The point is to be a media companyânot a print media company, not a website, not an app library, but an actual media company encompassing change. I can't say it any more clearly than Peter Houston, of The Drum: "People born to the Internet age don't describe things as digitalâcameras are just cameras, not digital cameras.â
Houston is spot-on. We're in a world looking for more distraction, not less. At the Digital Innovators' Summit in Berlin, Buzzfeed VP Scott Lamb chalked up his company's success to monetizing people who are bored: at work, at home, in restaurants.Gone are the yesteryears when we relied on one man (Murrow, Cronkite, Brokaw, and in my case, Jennings) to deliver our news. And fading quickly to yesteryear is our reliance on even one news networkâor brand. According to the Media Insight Project, the news dictates how we learn about it. For breaking news, television still dominates, with half of survey participants saying that they first learned of a breaking story on TV. But after hearing of the story, people broke with the medium, and fifty-nine percent turned to the Internet to follow up. Of those people, 37 percent went to TV websites, while only 9 percent went to sites of print outlets and 10 percent went to online-only sites.So how does a news brand remain relevant and, well, branded?Start by considering your own habits. Do you wait to hear about breaking news from the TV or radio? Of course not. Most people get (and prefer to get) news throughout the day, which means you always have to be on with your brand. Test the timing of your emails, test subject lines, test your social media ins. Set your tweets to at all hours of the day and night. Gauge what works and what doesnât. Encourage participation throughout the entire day about a story. Keep pushing for actual engagement with your readers. Give them surveys, quizzes, and polls. Donât ask open-ended questions; offer them A or B and then follow up on their choice. People like to think they have a lot of freedom in what they're deciding, but offering a banana or an orange is not really like giving them a choice of fruit. Always remember to control your message; tailor the offer based on what's going on in the news cycle and on what your internal data show, but be in control of your own message.You know what the most interesting point in the study was for me? Generational gaps are fading away. People young and old are exhibiting similar behaviors in that they go to multiple sources for news.
Social media use continues to be a major outlet for American news consumption, and maybe your 15-year-old (or press-hungry nerds) told you that Facebook is dead, but it's still growing among older people. This means that when it comes to news sources, it doesn't matter that your readers skew old or young. At publications where audiences skew older, it's easy to âblameâ revenue loss on older people not wanting to engage with social media outlets. Guess what? This study debunks that. What matters is that you hit your readersâold, young, and in-betweenâacross a spectrum of outlets, discovery and devices, because they're reading on everything.