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Linda Ruth

Industry Ideas for a Newsstand 'Plan B'

Linda Ruth Audience Development - 05/05/2014-11:30 AM

 

Every now and then a blog post I do gets people talking. That’s always fun, and the ideas that bubble up are often fresh and useful.

Irwin Krimke, whose work with Backwoodsman magazine has been very successful, contacted me to say that I neglected, in my reporting of a recent conversation with him, to give appropriate credit to the wholesalers with whom he’s been partnering, and especially to Kable News Company, which has worked to grow his client publication over 600 percent since they took it over. Hats off to everyone involved in this great success story!

See Also: The Newsstand Is Not All "Doom and Gloom"

From a reader responding to the notion that the conversation has become too negative: Does anyone seriously believe that retailers do not notice how their sales are down? Please. What would be really strange is if we as an industry didn’t address these issues.

Ideas and suggestions have also been pouring in about Plan B. Many have to do with eliminating one layer from the distribution process—either the national distributor or the national wholesaler network. Suggestions center around setting up direct-style distribution, drop-shipping from distribution hubs, and eliminating merchandising or doing it on a fee-for-service basis. Here is a sampling:

• From a former direct distributor: "Based on the free market system, if this system collapses another will arise to take its place. Currently I am working with India-based businesses on outsourcing solutions for data analysis that might prove useful to publishers and distributors."

• From a newsstand consultant: "Wholesalers are clear they cannot stay in business without more money; publishers are clear they cannot provide more money. If we don’t listen we are perpetuating a vicious cycle. What if the printers were to develop tie lines for the pick and pack and drop ship direct to retailers? Wholesalers could reduce their business to merchandising on a fee-for-service basis; national distributors can bill and collect the retailers on behalf of the publishers. It takes a step and several costs out of the process."

• From a group publisher: "Set up the tie lines/distribution hubs at the Clark (or other trucker) warehouses and ship direct from there. Retailers take back merchandising responsibility."

• From an independent publisher: "Work with the major retailers to truck to their distribution centers and ship from there."

• From a national distributor executive: "Use a system already in place to swing to direct distribution." 

Are any of these plans strong candidates for Plan B? What do you think?

 

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Roy Beagley

Branding Success Should Be Measured by Orders, Not Click-Throughs

Roy Beagley Audience Development - 05/05/2014-11:03 AM

 

Recently, an article on medialifemagazine.com noted that "the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that more than a third of web traffic is fraudulent," suggesting the fix is in as results are being inflated by "viruses and bots designed to artificially inflate traffic numbers." This all sounds underhanded, but is it really a problem?

BPA in a recent study learned "that only 40 percent of the ads measured were actually viewable," which means that 60 percent are not, but again is this actually a problem?

We used to ascertain whether a marketing or advertising campaign was successful by the amount of money, or orders, the campaign gained. For some, the important factor was money in the bank, for others it was orders. Nobody ever judged the success, or otherwise, by how many people actually saw the promotion. I don’t think anybody presumed that everyone receiving the promotion would actually look at it, so why are we making this an issue now?

Regardless of whether you are trying to achieve more traffic to a website, or are sending out an email campaign, it does not make sense to determine whether a campaign has been successful or not by the number of “clicks” or “views” that are achieved. Direct mail campaigns can, and have been measured accurately for years based on total orders as a percentage of total quantity mailed. No one ever suggested that the 97 percent who DIDN’T respond doomed every direct mail campaign to failure.

In these days of instant results we lose track of the fact that different email programs do different things. For example, of the email I received this morning 87 percent of it was spam, but because of the type of email program I have, all of my email will have been considered opened and read, even though all I did was click on the email and delete it. I know, because I asked a company fully proficient in deploying and analyzing email promotions. In other words, I look like a good prospect, but I’m not.

Until recently it was the total dollars or orders that counted, not the number of people that opened the direct mail package or read the advertisements. Shouldn’t that still be the standard?

No advertiser ever assumed that every reader of a magazine looked at his or her advertisement; the measure of success was cost verses income. I don’t think they would even expect 40 percent of the readers to view the ad—just as long as the expenditure/income ratio was acceptable.

Advertisers and advertising sales personnel can determine their market; many of them have been doing it with great success for years. They know that a 100 percent paid publication in their market is probably a good bet to get orders. For controlled publications advertisers were able to look at one-year direct request subscriptions, in conjunction with adds and kills to get a picture as to a magazine’s circulation health. By comparing a recent statement with an older statement it was easy to determine a controlled publication’s value to its readers and make a decision based on that data. Since BPA made some reporting optional, making a fair and accurate comparison is no longer possible.

The world has changed, many people run promotions to get people to look at websites, and the website owner sells advertising based on the number of people looking. The fact there are “bots” and “viruses” inflating figures is disturbing, not to mention dishonest, and one could argue illegal. It should be stopped, but if advertisers returned to judging a promotion’s effectiveness by the orders or money gained, surely they would be better off. Viruses and bots can inflate click-throughs, page views and a whole host of other nasty things, but as far as I am aware, viruses and bots have not actually placed any orders.

It is natural to desire the most effective response to a campaign, regardless of what it is for. Direct marketers have been doing it for years, and yes we all want to promote the most positive figures we can—but those figures actually have to mean something, and in many cases, they don’t

Some have argued that as a result of the Interactive Advertising Bureau findings, rates for advertising should be reduced. The argument being if you are not reaching a certain percentage of the file, your rates are inflated, but this really is not the case. Nobody ever claims to reach a certain percentage of the file, because if they did, they would have to prove it—and that is a claim that is unsupportable.

You can have 20 million page views a day, and blast out millions of emails with links galore, but unless someone places an order, the bubble you operate in will burst.

We should get rid of the bots and viruses if for no other reason than as an industry we need to correctly analyze data many of us have spent quite a bit of money investing in, as with most viruses we need to develop a vaccine so our industry remains healthy.

However, if you get rid of all the harassments people can devise to inflate figures, and we manage to achieve a world where page views and such are 100 percent correct and accurate—unless you actually gets orders etc.—we will be no further forward than we are now.

 

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Tony Silber

Beyoncé, The Time 100 and Leveraging the PR Value of the List

Tony Silber Consumer - 04/29/2014-12:34 PM

 

When the Time 100 was released last week, our editorial team discussed how we might cover it. The context was its relation to PR, and how communicators could leverage the value of making the list.

This list is a PR person's dream. It's eclectic and interesting, and it covers a wide variety of human endeavor. It's global in scope. Unlike many magazine lists, the Time 100 is worth coverage and every person on the list is deserving of recognition in some form or another.

Are they the "Most Influential People in the World?" Some might be, but many are not. Why, for example, are Kirsten Gillibrand and Rand Paul on the list, but not Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren? It's all kind of random. The common denominator is that all the selections seem to be whom the coastal elites and people in the power centers of Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are talking about. Or think they should be.

The cover of this year's edition was Beyoncé, featured in a revealing costume and an open-mouthed expression. To me, the image didn't convey the gravity that the list aspires to. Would other designees be posed that way? But Beyoncé has the gravitas. She was also on the list last year, after her performance at the Super Bowl. Sheryl Sandberg did this year's writeup.

(This is a cool feature of the list—celebrities do write-ups of other celebrities. It solidifies the likelihood that the list will be the preferred dinner party conversation at not just 100, but 200 parties. Of course, it leaves the door open for questions. Did Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe make the list because he is a "bold reformer," or because his profiler—U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew—thought that touting Abe's economic policies might be useful?)

But back to Beyoncé. Sandberg noted that she "doesn't just sit at the table. She builds a better one." (This is a variation on a line from the old movie about Sting, where, when his hired musicians complain about what Sting is paying them, the response from one of Sting's handlers is, "You might have a seat at the table, but Sting owns the table.")

But Sandberg likes Beyoncé's message of empowerment for young girls. "I'm not bossy, I'm the boss," Sandberg quotes Beyoncé as saying. What I like about Beyoncé is her authenticity—there is a sense that what you see is what you get. She's not a phony. I also like her staying power. She's been a star since the late 1990s. That seems like forever ago. My kids loved her in the old Austin Powers movie when they were little, and they still love her for her music and style now. That is remarkable. And then there's her sense of innovation. I've followed music my whole life, and I can't remember when anything as unique and unexpected as the release of a new album—a concept album complete with videos—without anyone having the slightest idea it was coming.

So if you're the communications person for any of the Time 200 (the Time 100 plus the celebrity essayists), there are three things you can take from the example of Beyoncé: Authenticity and talent beget longevity, and both beget the ability to innovate. 

 

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Billboard

Robert Newman Design and Production - 04/23/2014-09:16 AM

You wouldn't expect something as simple as the April 26, 2014 cover of Billboard to be groundbreaking and envelope pushing, but that's exactly what it is. The cover features a cool photograph of singer Enrique Iglesias, sleek, minimal cover typography and a bold, poster-like logo; it's highly original, extremely artful and a crowd-pleaser all at the same time (I know because I checked with my 13-year-old daughter who is a big Enrique fan).

Most magazine covers, and especially trade publications, tend towards a standard formula with lots of typographic and graphic devices to grab the readers' attention, and crisp, sharp photographs with riveting eye contact. This cover has none of that; it even flaunts a big green logo in stark contradiction to the magazine urban legend that "green is death on the newsstand."

Since their cover redesign earlier this year, led by creative director Shanti Marlar, Billboard has been aggressively pursuing more creative photography, with very sensual color tones and poster-like framings. This is their eighth cover since the format change, the second under new design director Rob Hewitt and, to my eye, it's the strongest to date.

The photograph of Iglesisas by David Needleman is dark and moody, with his face in shadow and his eyes looking down away from the reader. It's a powerful portrait, intimate and sexy. And the cover typography is very sparse and understated, letting the strength of the overall design rest on the photograph and the graphic logo.

Just 10 years ago, Billboard still lived up to its trade magazine reputation on the cover, with a newspaper-like design that was occassionally broken up with special large photo designs. For much of the time since then, the covers have featured creative, aggressive, rock ‘n' roll design, with a heavy nod to the look of magazines like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. The design exploded off the pages, bursting with distorted typography and huge amounts of cover lines. They were pop, and they popped! A cover redesign in early 2013 led by then-art director Andrew Horton eliminated the classic, multi-colored logo for a new, smaller treatment, combined with more subdued cover typography and sophisticated photography.

See examples of those covers here.

When the vertical Billboard logo was introduced earlier this year I was dubious about its long-term status. My first reaction was that it was a nice gimmick that wouldn't last. Plenty of magazines have added nontraditional tilts and positionings to their logos, and about 99.99 percent of them revert back to "normal" in short order after readers, marketers and subscription mavens amply complain. But now, I love it. The logo frames the cover like a poster; it's an acknowledgement that for a magazine like Billboard, the image on the cover is most important–especially as it travels across multiple platforms. The concept of newsstand sales as the driver for the cover design is no longer valid; the most effective covers work as images on Twitter, iPads, Facebook, etc. And the new Billboard logo, its very modern and distinctive design along with its photography are perfectly suited for this new cover paradigm.

I watched this cover get pushed on Twitter over the past weekend and noone cared that the logo was sideways or that there weren't a lot of cover lines. It was a memorable cover of Enrique Iglesias, fans loved it, and that's what sent it flying around the internet. It's great publicity and drives interest and traffic to the brand, as opposed to selling a couple extra copies on a newsstand.

What this cover and the overall Billboard design strategy says is that the old school approach to cover making, where tiny bits of magazine material are shoehorned into every corner of the cover, stuffing it to overflowing with photos and teasers, is no longer applicable. This is a cover design that recognizes the multiplatform, viral, instantaneous nature of the times, and that's what makes it so successful and so exciting. Other magazines should take note: an original, distinctive, contemporary cover design is the best way to visually revitalize your brand. There was a time back in the 1950s, when trade magazines were art directed by some of the most talented folks in the business (Walter Allner and Bradbury Thompson are just two), who approached the publication covers as part of the overall corporate packaging branding and design. This new set of Billboard covers is firmly in that tradition.

My enthusiasm for the big-picture aspects of the Billboard design should not obscure the good work that went into this particular cover, both in terms of the crafting and creation of the photograph and the detailing of the typography. It's a refreshing and energizing graphic step forward, and as my daughter Lillian says, "it looks so cool!"

UPDATE: Thanks to art director/illustrator Andrew Skwish for pointing out the similarities in overall tone between the current Billboard cover and covers of The Face in the 1980s, when it was designed by Neville Brody. The Face even had a short-lived experiment with a vertical logo! This era of The Face (the cover pictured is from 1985) was one of my favorites, and a huge influence on me and many other art directors. This makes me like the new Billboard design even more. 

 

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Linda Ruth

The Newsstand Is Not All “Doom and Gloom”

Linda Ruth Consumer - 04/22/2014-15:29 PM

 

It’s been a fun week talking to some old friends in the industry. They all called to say hey, why was I depressing the heck out of them with all this talk of Plan B? And they offered me their thoughts.

Irwin Krimke, a magazine industry veteran, was on the phone with me recently with a penetrating question, namely: Why would I want to quote John Harrington and Baird Davis? “Linda, I have no clue why you would do that,” he said. “No clue whatsoever. I call them Dr. Doom and Dr. Gloom. They’re killing us. Retailers read this stuff and take away our space. Now do we need that?”

No, I conceded, we did want to keep our space at retail. “Bad enough,” Irwin continued, “that TNG has a virtual monopoly now. But listen, things are not so bad as that. I’ve got a magazine, Backwoodsman. I took them to Kable News Company, they were putting out 38,000 copies; now they’re sending 209,000 copies and selling at close to 50 percent. If I could take away the prematures I could sell in the 60s.”

But while the numbers are impressive, I admitted, wasn’t that part of the problem? The lack of follow up at retail. The loss of display. The prematures.

“Linda, listen, sure it’s part of the problem,” he said. “Before this consolidation the wholesaler route men took care of the display. But look, the wholesalers can’t afford that anymore. All they can afford are part time people with no benefits. These people are supposed to work 19 hours. They get three or four stores. The turnover is 100 percent a year. It’s been a mess for a long time. It’s always been a mess, so it’s the same thing today, only more so.”

What does he do, I ask, to grow his title? “It takes luck, is what it takes. Luck and a whole lot of hard work. Same as always. And hitting people on the head—over and over. I say to them, can you keep this title on sale instead of dumping it in the returns to pay your bills? A couple of these chain buyers have been very difficult. They love getting their money upfront, but the checkout is passé.”

And digital, I prompt him. Digital is a factor, isn’t it? “I don’t think digital has hurt magazines that much,” Irwin said. “It’s hurt the books. It’s hurt paperback and hardcover books tremendously. My wife switched us over. Before that we were buying our books at Sams. But you know what? I read faster on tablet than with the book. A third faster, because you don’t have to turn the page. But magazines, no. You still want them in print.”

Can I quote you? I ask. Lots of people call with their thoughts, but no one wants to be quoted. “Linda, I’m 85 years old. Of course you can quote me. What difference does it make?”

Then what, I asked, is your advice for the rest of us? “I have always had three little words for this industry: simple, practical and complicated. And everyone’s forgotten the first two.” Irwin said. “But let me tell you this, with all this talk about our industry dying. If this title, this client of mine, is able to grow 600 percent, don’t tell me there aren’t other titles out there that can do it. You find those titles and you work the heck out of them.”

 

 

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Meg Estevez

The Importance of Surveys

Meg Estevez Audience Development - 04/17/2014-16:20 PM

 

Lately all you read about is how it’s necessary to have an understanding of how your marketing affects your data and vice versa. I for one feel we have been doing this for a very long time in the Audience Development (Circulation) field. Everything we do is focused on analysis done of previous marketing so, in essence, we are data-driven professionals. That’s how we operate—show us the data. 

And we have lots of data to analyze and digest: from circulation reports, to BPA or AAM statements, email marketing promotions, online marketing, digital edition deployments and engagement reports, Google Analytics, renewal analysis and new business acquisitions, to revenue and expense tracking reports. All of these reports together give us a strong picture of what is working and why and whether or not our goals make sense. What they don’t give us is feedback directly from our readers.

That brings me to the topic of this blog—surveys. Why they are important, how frequently we should do them, and what we need to get out of them.

1. Why Are Surveys Important?

They are important because they’re the most reliable method to get real feedback from our subscribers—no matter what platform they use to engage with our brands (print, digital, apps, newsletter, and website).
 
2. How Often Should We Do Surveys?
It depends on the type of survey. If someone expired with the March issue and you have a last effort renewal going out in April, you should wait 4-6 weeks to get responses and then send the survey (around last week of May) to those that didn’t renew. By doing this you are adding an extra effort into your renewal (or requal schedule) but it’s also the best time to get input.

3. What Should We Look For?
It’s important to establish this when you are creating the survey questions. What do you want to know? For example, are you interested to know if your subscribers want an app version of the brand? (If so, don’t forget to ask for their email address so you can alert them when the app is available). Or do you want to know whether there’s price sensitivity? There are many things you can learn by establishing these survey efforts with the right timing.

In my experience people like to provide feedback (good and bad). If you ask the right questions you will get answers that will give you yet another piece to add to the puzzle and understand your audience better. It’s important that the surveys are timely (don’t contact an expired reader about why they didn’t renew two years later); also keep it to a maximum of 5 questions and make sure that at least one of them are open -ended so they can provide you with their own explanations of what’s good or bad with the brand.

And always provide them with your best offer to come back as a subscriber. For trade publications, it’s best to list all the important articles and features they are missing by not renewing. And for paid publications, your best discounted offer should be there for them to take advantage of; just in case they change their mind after (or before) filling out the survey. At New Bay Media, we are constantly sending out surveys and monitoring the responses to ensure we aren’t missing any important data from our best resources—our readers!

 

 

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Roy Beagley

What's the Future of Telemarketing?

Roy Beagley Audience Development - 04/15/2014-14:01 PM

Telemarketing seems to be getting more and more difficult.

It was not too many years ago when people had one, or possibly two telephones—one at home, and one at work. Then in 1983, Martin Cooper invented the cellular phone and started a movement that has led to many people having no phone at home whatsoever. And those that still have phones in the office often divert them to their mobile phone so you never really know where you are calling (I called a friend the other day to wish him a happy birthday, and he informed me he was in Turkey, of all places).

Caller ID is all well and good, but it may be killing the response. If I get a call that does not have caller identification, I ignore it. If I get a call that does have caller identification, and I don't know who it is, I ignore it.

Telemarketers are doomed if they do, and doomed if they don't.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that so many rented lists seem to have really bad names and numbers.

I do not want to tar everyone with the same brush, but compiled lists seem to be susceptible. Recently, we rented a list where over half the numbers did not even exist, and of the 50 percent remaining, most of the people attached to those numbers had moved on. We rented another list as a result, supposedly of people who had placed an order within the last 90 days, but here again, many numbers were no longer valid.

Time was when someone left a job, their replacement took over their office, desk and telephone extension, so at least you stood a reasonable chance of getting someone that might be interested—now, you don't know where you are going, or who you are getting.

Telemarketers probably love me because I have three phones: one in the office, one at home and one Martin Cooper helped invent. But, the only reason I have three is that I cannot figure out how to divert the work and home phones to my cell.

If lists cannot produce results, then no matter how low the telemarketing company's cost per order may be, people will look elsewhere because the cost of list rentals will become uncontrollable. I am not sure how to solve this problem, but it may not be too long before publishers have to increase their budgets to maintain circulation and or sales.

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Tony Silber

Above the Fold, or Just Out of Date?

Tony Silber Homepage - 04/11/2014-09:25 AM

I was editing a report the other day about a PR person who got into a spat with a news organization. And the report used the phrase, “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”

Some of you might know that one. Many of you may not have heard it. But that phrase and many others like it are so clearly out of date that it’s interesting—even comical—how they’ve hung around long after their original meaning has faded into history.

And it got me thinking about those phrases and why they’re still with us. Here’s a partial list (that is, all I can think of.)

• Stop the presses. Okay, this one is used more for dramatic effect than its actual literal meaning these days, but it is still around.

• The Press. This reference to the journalism industry is still common (think “Meet the Press,” the TV show. But it has a diminishing relationship to media today. You could just as easily call the show “Meet the CMS,” and you’d be just as accurate.

• Hot off the presses. Another term that’s more theatrical than literal these days, but still around.

• Above the fold. Why do we use this term in 2014? It refers to the front side of a broadsheet-style newspaper, like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. It is not really an effective metaphor for how Web pages scroll.

• Ink-stained wretches. What journalists were called—usually by themselves—until 15 or 20 years ago.

• Cutlines. This actually refers to a caption that was pasted onto a makeup board below a photo, which was then turned into film, which was then printed.

• And speaking of “pasted,” why do we still use “cut-and-paste?”

• Op-ed. This used to mean the position opposite the editorial page in a newspaper. Now it just means an opinion piece.

• Press release. Seriously, why are they still called this?

• Clips. PR folks love this one. They love to collect clips. Except that no one “clips” stories anymore.

Then there are a few phrases and words that have not really survived.

• Morgue. This was also known as the library, where story clippings were cataloged and stored for future reference. Think of the morgue as a much less functional Google of the 20th century.

• Yellow Journalism. This was used to mean unfair reporting, but it came from a type of ink used in a cartoon in the New York World.

And then, finally, there are the terms from the old days of journalism that are still true to their original meanings today.

• Byline

• Beat

• Breaking news

• Exclusive

• Gotcha journalism

• Puff piece

Which terms and phrases have I missed? What can you come up with? I’d love to hear from you!

—Tony Silber
@tonysilber

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Linda Ruth

For Newsstand Publishers, What is Plan B?

Linda Ruth Audience Development - 04/08/2014-15:11 PM

 

When John Harrington says the sky is falling, it’s time to look up. So, publishers, it’s offical: We need a plan B.

Bo Sacks recently shared a dialog between Harrington and Baird Davis on the state of the newsstand that was chilling. These two industry veterans agreed that publishers have “seriously underestimated” the possibility of collapse of the newsstand channel; that such a collapse could take place within a year to 18 months; and that unless publishers begin to work together—not in a happy-happy “let’s all get together” kind of way but in a serious “we need to re-create an entire channel of distribution” kind of way—there isn’t much hope of survival.

One thing that was extremely sobering was that I couldn’t really find a way of arguing with their conclusions. What will it take to collapse this industry? At this point, not much. The loss of a single wholesaler—TNG—would do it; and TNG has already told us they have an unsustainable business model. Consider this:

• A large national distributor recently sent its publishers a list of all the wholesalers that they intend to cut off if certain financial terms aren’t met. The list included…pretty much everyone.
• A second national distributor has indicated to one of the major wholesale groups that their latest financial proposal, if implemented, will result in the termination of their business relationship.
• Two of the four major national distributors have begun to refuse to cover bad debt liability for their publishers.

None of which is a testimony to a deep and abiding faith in this business’s sustainability.

Without going into a litany of all the ills, dangers, sorrows and shortcomings of our industry—we’ve all heard lots about them—the need for deep and fundamental change is the point to key off of here. Baird and John did mention a few ways in which publishers could work together—co-marketing, embrace SBT, address the mistrust that exist among channel partners—all of which are good ideas, even important ones. But they are small fish to throw into this sea of troubles.

Baird calls the publishers out on their passivity in the face of this impending collapse. The answer, he suggests, is to look to the seven top newsstand publishers to take a leadership position in representing consumer publishers’ newsstand interests.

Will rest-of-the-line publishers do so? And, when a perception exists that the top publishers have used some of their leverage to maintain short discounts at the expense of specialty publishers; when many publishers are convinced that the top publishers would like nothing more than to see the specialty publishers clear off the racks, leaving them open for the big guys; in such an environment can that mutual trust be established?

If the scenario is to play out, it may have to.

An industry veteran shared with me the following scenario: In the event of channel collapse, the top publishers will go direct to the top five retailers in the country. They are setting up the relationships and the distribution channels now. Every other publisher will have to scramble to follow. But these top publishers aren’t throwing a ring out of the lifeboat just yet.

But we do need to look to setting up new ways of reaching these retailers. Our current channel partners are telling us explicitly, in every way they know how, that they might not be here tomorrow.

Can we live without newsstand? Of course we could survive. But newsstand remains an important, if not indispensable, part of the distribution of consumer publishers large and small. There is no question that a channel collapse would take many publishers down with it.

For most publishers, working independently at this scale, away from the umbrella of their national distributors, is not a possibility. They rely on those national distributors to find the solutions and provide leadership. But many of these publishers have ideas to contribute. For example, one industry watcher suggested, what about a partnership with one of the largest distributors of print product in the country?

Amazon.com. 

 

 

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Petersen's Hunting

Robert Newman Design and Production - 04/08/2014-15:05 PM

The April/May 2014 cover of Petersen's Hunting magazine is a big departure for the popular outdoor publication. It features a striking photograph by Lee Thomas Kjos that is a sleek, graphic image of a raw slab of game meat stuck with a hunting knife, held by a manly, blood-covered hand. There's so much testosterone on this cover that I can feel the hair growing on my chest (and other places). I love it! For added graphic effect the meat is dripping blood, and the hand is covered with hair from the kill. I have to admit upfront that I don't eat meat, so the cover holds no emotional or tasty appeal for me. But it certainly is one of the more memorable, provocative and ground-breaking outdoor magazine covers in recent memory.

The cover headline is "Join the Meat Eater Revolution," with a smart and effective underline that highlights a very interesting story about how foodies, chefs and TV food shows are expanding hunting to a new, younger audience. Like the story inside, the cover seems designed to expand Hunting's reach to a new group of readers. Traditional Hunting covers fall into three categories: 1. a portrait of a high-tech hunting rifle; 2. a photo of a wild animal, generally a buck, bear or wolf; 3. a rugged dude with a gun and dead game. In fact, as I looked back at past issues, I couldn't find another cover of Hunting that didn't feature a gun or an animal.

The April/May cover created by art director Tim Neher is very modern and artful, the kind of design and image one would expect to see on one of the "intellectual foodie" magazines that are mentioned in the cover story, or even someplace like New York magazine. The white background, the shiny, high-detail photograph, and the sophisticated typography all combine for an arresting cover that jumps off every platform. I do question to what extent the bulk of Hunting's readers will appreciate this very contemporary design. My own experience with enthusiast magazines is that their readers tend towards very traditional approaches to content and imagery. I assume that the guns and game style of previous Hunting magazines is popular with their readers, and I'll be very curious to hear the response to this cover.

I have a couple criticisms of the cover typography. First and foremost, Hunting has an unorthodox habit of using the cover image to obscure a good chunk of their cover headlines. They do it here, and have done it previously on the March 2014 "Predator Rifle" and September 2013 "Big Game Forecast" issues. Now, I'm all for pushing the envelope on covers, but I tend to want to see the headlines full and complete for the most effective reading. I also have some beef with one of the secondary headlines, "Grilling Skills That Will Kill in Camp." Generally I think it's never a good idea to reference cooked meat and dying in the same thought, but a bigger problem is that the story is actually a gear guide, with the much funnier and better headline inside "Grills Gone Wild." There may be a grilling tip or two, but to be accurate, as the editors say in the story's subhead, they "field-tested the hottest grills on the market."

More importantly, I think that the typography and design on the cover, separate from the brilliant image, is a little too delicate and under-baked. The light, thin type seems at odds with the overall message of the magazine. I'd prefer to see some bolder, huskier, aggressive typography to match the cover photograph. For that matter, I really miss the old Hunting logo, which was replaced by the current one several years ago. It was very distinctive, had a lot of character and it bounded off the cover. The new logo looks out of place and to my eye would fit better on one of those "intellectual foodie" magazines.

Interestingly, recent covers from competitors also feature close-up still life photographs. The April 2014 Field & Stream shows a huge fish head ("Catch Giant Fish" is the cover headline), and the May 2014 Outdoor Life features a large ax, accompanied by a headline that reads "Great Blade Skills." Both covers have a nice mix of headline styles, color and supporting graphics that are much more energetic and engaging that those on the Hunting cover.

All that said, I really like this cover a lot, and congratulate the editors and visual team for creating such a smart, remarkable departure from their previous work. Regardless of any flaws, this cover is imaginative and graphic, and shows a passion both for rugged magazine-making and the content inside.

Regular readers of Face Up know that I'm obsessed by old school magazine design. Any discussion of outdoors and hunting magazines would not be complete without a mention of the covers of Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Field & Stream and others from the early days of the 1900s up to about 1960. During that time the covers of those magazines usually featured beautiful, elegant illustrations, done in a suitable-for-framing style. And then there were the men's adventure magazines, which featured heart-stopping images of real men battling nature. There are numerous websites out there now that display these vintage covers, and offer reproductions for sale. Two that I spend way too much time visiting are Magazine Art and Classic Outdoor Magazines.

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Roy Beagley

Four Crucial Tips for Testing Your Campaigns

Roy Beagley Audience Development - 04/01/2014-15:04 PM

 

Testing is not just a good idea, it is paramount to everything you do. Regardless of whether you are trying to build an audience, build circulation, change direction or change focus you need to test to make sure you head in the right direction.

However, you need to make sure your test will give you meaningful results and there are some rules that should be followed.

1) When testing, only test one element at a time. As soon as you put in another variable, the results of the test will no longer be valid. You will be tempted to test more than one element at a time, but if you do, whatever the results of the test are, you will not know which element triggered the result, so you will have learned nothing.

2) To ensure the results are statistically valid, you need to test at least 5,000 names; anything less will not give you a response that you can accurately project. In this day and age of virtually instant response from email blasts there is a great temptation to test “a couple of hundred names to see what happens.” This is not going to work and any results you get, and follow, will lead you in a false direction.

3) If your test consists of 5,000 names, then a response in excess of 50 to 100 orders is what you really need to be able to draw conclusions from that test.

4) When you conduct a test, you cannot assume the results of that test can be extrapolated across other platforms. For example, if you get a 10 percent response using one channel, you cannot assume a 10 percent response on another channel to the same market segment. The only real assumption you can make is that your promotion is worthy of a test across that platform as results suggest a positive outcome.

We all like to think we know our customers, but in a world that is changing faster than ever before, the chances of messing up are greater than they have ever been. Far better to mess up and annoy 5,000 people on a test than send an offer to your whole file and have it blow up in your face.

Many of us have met the editor who cannot understand why we need to send more than one renewal reminder. More and more magazines are now owned by companies that are not print-centric and the editors have been joined by other people of influence who also believe one renewal is enough. Are they right? Most of us know the answer to that one, but that is why we test—to prove or disprove ideas, both good and bad.

 

 

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Who's Who in Baseball

Robert Newman Design and Production - 03/28/2014-12:50 PM

March 31 is opening day for Major League Baseball, so I thought it would be appropriate to review the cover of a baseball magazine. And there isn't a better publication to look at than Who's Who in Baseball. It's a thick, 360-page digest-sized annual. It describes itself as "a handy reference guide to batting & pitching stats," and the inside is packed with obsessive line-by-line and team-by-team listings of over 775 major league players.

I may be stretching the definition of a magazine cover this time around, since Who's Who in Baseball is really more of a bookazine, given that it's an annual publication sold at newsstands and bookstores. Like a mini-phonebook, it's printed on cheap newsprint, but the cover paper stock is slick, glossy and heavy. First appearing in 1912, and every year since 1916, this year it will celebrate its 99th anniversary.

Many years ago I worked at Harris Publications, the magazine factory that publishes Who's Who in Baseball. I was given free access to help myself to back issues, and delighted my baseball friends by giving them a series of presents of those very-collectible vintage copies. Ever since, I've been aware of the strong affinity baseball fans have for this little publication, and how it evokes both a passionate love for the game and the heart-tugs of nostalgia.

And nostalgia is the most important component of the Who's Who in Baseball cover design. The basic format of red cover background and black type has been used since the 1940s and the current logo is an iteration of one developed in the early 50s. The present cover design has been static for at least 20 years, save for a little tightening of the logo. In fact, the only basic difference between this year's cover and the 2013 edition are the pictures of the players. The format is so recognizable to readers that the editors feel comfortable covering up most of the word BASEBALL in the logo.

That said, this cover design is clean and well balanced, with a highly efficient organization of material, instantly identifiable photos, and a pop-off-the-newsstand graphic sensibility. There are a lot of lessons here for small (and not-so-small) publications that are looking to develop a consistent graphic brand on a limited budget. One could describe this cover as retro, or a more critical analysis might call it old fashioned. Still, I think it's brilliant and I never get tired of looking at it (they got my $9.95, I might add!).

Nevertheless, as much as we love a good retro cover design, this is a publication begging for a visual branding update. Perhaps Who's Who in Baseball could draw some inspiration from their extensive archives, which are a treasure trove of baseball graphic delights. A little more playfulness, a diversity of graphic elements and a small nod to the 21st Century might not be a bad thing for this cover.

And speaking of nostalgia, Tom Hoffarth at the Farther off the Wall blog smartly pointed out that the current Who's Who in Baseball cover mirrors another cover the publication did 50 years ago, in 1964. The 2014 cover features Los Angeles Dodgers pitching ace and Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, while the 1964 cover highlighted Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, another Dodgers pitching star and Cy Young winner. Of course as a New York Yankees fan, I would have rather seen Derek Jeter and Tony Kubek on those covers!

Fans of classic baseball visuals will also enjoy these vintage covers of Baseball Digest, another obsessive sports publication that has been in existence since the 1940s. Actually, there might also be some inspiration there for the editors of Who's Who in Baseball as they gear up to design the cover for the 100th anniversary issue.

 

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