Over the past few years, the word âdigitalâ has gone from merely denoting a replica of a print magazine to just about anything you do electronically. Engaging people through the various means we have available to us takes time, effort and, dare I say it, some money, as well. It also needs another thing that many do not currently haveâa strategy.
Whether you engage people via a Web site, an iPad or smart phone app, through email or via any other platform, you need to have a strategy in place to make sure your customers or prospects engage with you for a long time to comeâwherever they are. Assuming you plan to reach people through more than one platform, youâll need a strategy to integrate all of them.
How frequently you need to engage with people really depends on what youâre trying to achieve. A newsletter, a tweet or an updated RSS feed certainly works on a daily basis. You can update your Facebook page or make an entry on LinkedIn to keep people involved, too. Whatever it is, you just need a plan to reach your entire market.
Newsletters are a good way to engage people and keep them involved, but your strategy must make sure your newsletter carries information people are going to benefit. This is where some spare cash may come in useful. Do not overwhelm people with content. You are more likely to drive them off a cliff rather than toward your product.
Some say sending an email first thing in the morning, so it appears at the top of the recipientâs inbox, is a good thing. Others claim sending email after 10:00 A.M. is better. All this really proves is we donât always know what works and what doesnât. I would venture to suggest it depends a great deal on the market with which you are dealing. After all, a night workerâs shift ends when most othersâ start and an email at the end of their shift may indeed work very well early in the morning.
If you are going to engage via social media, make sure your strategy details when you plan to do this. You should add content on a regular basis and testing should determine the optimum frequency. You should also add content when the situation demands like with hot news or a special story. Donât forget that this content should always be worth sharing.
Wherever you post content, keep an eye on it to make sure people donât abuse your efforts. Check Facebook and other (anti) social media at least once day. When people ask to be removed from lists, remove themâno muss, no fuss. Just say âthanksâ and move on.
More and more, digital is part of our world. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, I have yet to figure out. For now, it is here and we need to embrace itânot willy-nillyâbut in a well-ordered manner so we can take maximum advantage whilst we may.
Last month, Monica Ray, VP of consumer marketing for CondĂŠ Nast, spoke in Des Moines at the annual summit that CDS, one of the major magazine fulfillment companies, hosts for its clients. Monica Ray on Amazon? Des Moines in Autumn? Crab Rangoon pizza at Fong's? Of course I was there.Ray was likeable and smartâyou could practically hear her brain whirringâand it was obvious that she is deeply creative. She also seemed very conscious about what it means to work for one of the biggest magazine companies in the U.S. and still maintain a sense of serendipity.If you've been living under a rock, Ray was the force behind CondĂŠ Nast's groundbreaking deal with Amazon. No one should be surprised. In 2011, she told Wired magazine, âWe believe strongly in Amazonâs buy-once, read everywhere model, too,â when CondĂŠ Nast at the time partnered with Amazon's newsstand on the Kindle Touch. The latest Amazon deal was right around the corner (or maybe not right around the corner, but it was within view). Ray and Amazon are right. Consumers want a simple model, they want freedom to read anytime, anywhere, in part because of the culture that Amazon (and its spin-off, AmazonPrime) has created. It's the reason that Amazon has thrived, and it was smart for CondĂŠ Nast to hop on board.But at what cost to smaller publishers?As touchy-feely as Amazon's Jeff Bezos pretends to be, he's a down-and-dirty businessman. He's notorious for being cutthroat, and good for himâclearly it's working. But it means that the stringent Amazon policies, the bullying contract, that deep cut of publishers' profits, make it difficult for small publishers to exist, let alone thrive, in Amazon's marketplace. It is my opinion that Amazon's typical âfeeâ of 30 percent created a norm where there's no more room for publishers to budge in other marketsâindeed, 70 percent net has become an accepted standard. This may not be bad for larger companies which may pay out even more for new business acquisition, but it does pack a punch to us smaller ones, especially when we don't get to own the customer relationship. Amazon's longstanding argument is that a magazine subscriber who comes in via Amazon is an Amazon customer, not the magazine's customer, and as such, Amazon retains the right to the relationship.But that doesn't mean we won't exist in Amazon, and it doesn't mean we won't try to thrive. Iâm not interested in a world where Amazon is all there is. But if Amazon is giving consumers something that no one else can, or no one else can at this scale, then we should comply on some level. Let's face it: Bezos has created a culture around online buying that is unparalleled to any other, to a devastating effect on the little guys: where there were 4,000 independent bookstores twenty years ago, there are now only 1,900.No wonder Monica Ray wanted in.In that conference room in Des Moines, Ray described her vision of a checkless society (meaning physical checks). She wanted one-click marketing; Amazon was a natural partner. It was a smart move, and one I'd absolutely do if I had the money, the clout, or the array of CondĂŠ Nast titles to even get a meeting with Amazon. I'm sorry, does that sound a little jealous? It was meant to.Ray cut the ultimate deal, at least in principle (I am not privy to her numbers). Each of her titles' sites offer subscription pages where a consumer can use Amazon to purchase either a print or print + digital bundled edition (according to Ray, CondĂŠ Nast still offers the choice to subscribe via an old-school offer page, but when I tried subscribing to Vanity Fair, I could only do so via Amazon. If there was another option, they did a great job of hiding it). This is not a Kindle sub; this is that same sub you've been buying for years online at a magazine's website. It's platform-agnostic. And because most people have Amazon accounts, it's easier than managing a separate database of user names and passwords on different title's content management systems.In short, it's pretty genius.But Ray developed her vision further, describing a world where you build a community within your brand, offer an action that's pleasing to interact with, gain an experience or insight with the brand as provided by the publisher, and stick with the brand in the long-term. It's what we know as consumer marketers; it's the whole basis of traditional circulation retention models. I mean, we do it already. But what's different is that now the level of intimacy with the brand is expected by a consumer in a way that requires that level of engagement by the publisher. It's not time for us, small or large, to pull back from ways to reach our audiences; it's time for us to push further.Monica Ray is doing it. CondĂŠ's doing it. Amazon has been doing it consistently for years, and if you think AmazonFresh is not going to be a major contender in the food delivery space, think again.Many months ago, I was at a dinner with a very famous and very old writer. He was telling me about his vision of bodegas in Manhattan: he wanted to buy them and house curated bookshops so that people could immerse themselves in the beauty of reading books and magazines again.It was sweet but naĂŻve. What he failed to grasp was that we still live in a world where people immerse themselves in the written word, it just may not have pages or covers, but it's there. And if it's there, and people want it, then publishers need to be there too. We just need to be smart about it and not give Amazon more power than we'd be willing to give any other agent.
If you are working on a publication with a November audit cycle and you still have to get more orders, here are some things you might like to try.If you need new orders, try calling your existing one-year subscribers to ask them if there is someone else in their organization who would benefit from a subscription. Then, email the prospect and inform them their colleague suggested they might like a subscription and see if you can get them to order from that email. If not, try calling them. If you are still trying to re-qualify your file, now is the time to send a short-form email. Short forms work well, but remember even though the age of the subscription will be one year, the demographics will not be updated, and this is something you need to make a note of for next year. You can also do a short-form phone call as well, and since you are not asking all the demographic questions, most telemarketing companies will give you a good rate, providing the telemarketing company can make room for the program in its schedule.If you have fax numbers on your file, and permission to fax, send one out for re-qualifications. Faxes are so old they are new again. While results are not earth shattering, they may be the butt-saver you need. Use a purl in the fax so people can reply online as well as a fax number for responses.The somewhat anti-social social media may be of use to you. If you have a Facebook page, trying offering a new subscription on your page and if you have a Twitter presence, why not tweet out a new subscription offerâevery order counts. If you have a LinkedIn page, create an offer there too, it can do no harm and while social media may not be the best responder, it is certainly worth a try.
It took a little longer, but I'm sure you'll find it worth the waitâthe FOLIO: 100 is now online, and will be hitting your desk in print in the October issue. The list of magazine media's most innovative and entrepreneurial thinkersâand some of the biggest trends that inspire and influence themâhas been greatly expanded from its roots as the FOLIO: 40, which used to appear in the April issue.Like it does every year, the list recognizes executives, managers and even junior staffers who have had a major impact on their company or the industry at large. Now there's just more of them. The reason behind the expansion of the list sits squarely among the trends that are impacting magazine media. The very definition of a magazine publisher has changed so muchâfrom the products it creates to the way it builds its audienceâthat a list of 40 innovators seemed positively quaint. The industry itself has also expanded to include digital, mobile and social entities that intersect magazines in crucial ways. To not recognize individuals from those sectors, and many others, would be a glaring omission. Some of the list-makers will probably seem obvious, but many more are folks you've likely never heard of, making the FOLIO: 100 a true reflection of our wide-ranging coverage of magazine media in every corner of the market. The FOLIO: 100 Awards Ceremony
This year, too, marks the debut of a special awards ceremony we'll be holding in conjunction with FOLIO:'s MediaNext event. It's a chance for us to salute the FOLIO: 100 list-makers in personâa prospect we're very excited about. For more on the awards breakfast, visit the MediaNext site.
Once upon a time, there was old media. It was reported, edited, top-edited, copy-edited, and fact-checked. It was good.Â And there was new media. It was fast, hungry, loosely edited, quick to fix the mistakes it often made. It was good enough.Â For a while, readers and journalists alike seemed willing to accept that there might be different standards. People expected less of digital in the early days; it was, everyone said, âjust the web." Accuracy and fairness and good writing and smart designâall that mattered, of course, but it was sometimes hard to square those demands with the implications of everyoneâs favorite analogy, that the web was âthe wild west.âÂ These days, the web seems a bit less wild and more polished. Everywhere you look, there are signs that publishers are importing traditional journalism values to the constantly shifting digital environment. The web continues to do what it does better than printâdelivering on-the-minute stories with a conversational tone to an always-connected audienceâand the blog post, as one distinct unit of digital journalism, still offers what Andrew Sullivan called in 2008 âthe spontaneous expression of instantaneous thoughtâŚaccountable in immediate and unavoidable ways to readers.â But increasingly, digital journalism does its business while embracing certain core beliefs typically associated with old media.Â Take design. As recently as five years ago, the web was mostly text. Rivers and rivers of text, without much thought given to breaking up the grey. Over time, digital publishers discovered that even a little bit of old-media design loveâa sharp photo or illustration, a crisp chart or map, a well-crafted pull quoteâcan make a story more appealing (and more shareable in social media). Then came Snowfall. That, of course, refers to the digital treatment that The New York Times gave to its 10,000-word storyÂ in December 2012 on 16 skiers caught in an avalanche in Washington stateâs Cascade Mountains, three of whom died. The article, with its panoramic photos, embedded videos, interactive satellite maps, slideshows, and sidebars, set a standard for splashy web treatment of a big story. (Or, as some have argued, not suchÂ a big story.)Â Within weeks, snowfall became, in a kind of comic-desperate way, part of the vocabulary in digital circles, as publishers sought to create their own snowfalls and advertisers asked to be adjacent to (or integrated within) snowfall stories. Of course, few publishers have the multimedia and developer resources to pull off this treatment; even the Times has been understandably stingy about doing the full snowfall for more than aÂ coupleÂ ofÂ stories. Still, more and more outlets are creatingÂ their versionsÂ of this type of digital storytelling. From ESPNÂ andÂ Rolling StoneÂ toÂ PitchforkÂ and TheÂ Verge, the results can be impressive.Â It wonât be possible for digital publishers to bring this kind of ambition to every web story, but of course thatâs not the goal. Even the glossiest of magazines reserves the most resourceful design for cover stories and other major features, while front-of-the-book stories rely on templates. The point is that enterprising treatment in the service of storytelling, once the province of print, has edged into the digital mainstream.Â When it comes to traditional journalism values now trumping hoary digital truisms, itâs also worth looking at the question of velocity. Without paper, printing, or postage costs, the main limitation on how much you publish is how many stories you can wring from the dayâs developments, broadly defined, each day. So a lot of us, seeing the success of a Huffington Post, tried to compete on volume. We soon realized that yes, we were running a lot of posts, but relatively few of them were attracting big audiences.Â During a series of experiments, we played with the quantity-quality matrix: Could we draw more readers by publishing fewer posts, if those posts prized original analysis and creative thinking? The results suggest that, while thereâs always the case of that quickie aggregation post that goes viral, readers do reward enterprise. Itâs been refreshing to confirm that, on the web, as in print, quality, however it might be defined or measured, is the ultimate driver of success.Â The changing newsroom culture may be one of the best opportunities for transmitting mainstream journalism values to the new order of things. In the early web days, newsrooms were segregated. You had the digital nerds in one corner and the âregularâ journalists at the center. At The Washington Post, digital operations were for years located not in the paperâs massive building near the White House but across the Potomac in suburban Virginia. At Wired, where I worked for seven years on the print side, I learned (to my shame, and only after I left in 2008) that the sometimes-disrespected web team referred to the corridor that separated us as the Berlin Hall. Even as recently as a few years ago, while executives were boasting about their digital-first cultures, a lot of folks on the web continued to feel like second-class citizens.Â Those days really are over. Change didnât happen just because people started sitting near each other. At The Atlantic, where the print and digital teams have long shared space, there has recently developed a culture of cross-training. Digital writers are doing stories for the monthly magazine; print editors are running web projects. One of our newest products, The Atlantic Weekly, is a slick magazine-style presentation, on the iPad, of some of our best digital stories that week.Weâre learning each otherâs languagesâand each otherâs tricks. And that old gap between good and good enough is closing fast.
Yesterday, I read a well-done blog from a writer and social-media consultant named Paul Gillin lamenting the death of BtoB Magazine, which Crain Communications said it is folding into Ad Age as of the first of next year. What especially caught my eye was this observation: âThe advertising market for business publications is in free fall, and since most of the magazineâs advertisers are themselves B2B media companies, BtoB has suffered along with everybody else.â Being a student of the media industry, I wanted to know why. I have a few theories, and I like to test them out on other smart people. Sometimes they agree, and other times I suspect they think Iâm way wrong. So I wrote a comment to Gillinâs blog that asked him what he thinks is driving that free fall. Specifically, I asked:â˘ Is it that print advertising has become an inefficient way to deliver brand messages? â˘ Is it because software products have emerged in the media industry that render third-party suppliersâadvertisersâless essential? In other words, is it a case of, 'we can build, so we don't need to buy?'â˘ And also, do we buy less? For example, online, 'we don't need a printer in a continuous relationship, we need a Web development firm just once every few years.'â˘ Is advertising in free fall too because new channels and technologies have emergedâsuch as Facebook, Google and database-management toolsâthat allow marketers to more effectively identify and communicate with prospects? â˘ And if that's the case, does that mean that the audiences that media companies have traditionally aggregated are less valuable and less compelling to marketers?I donât know the answer to these questions. I donât even know if theyâre the right questions to ask. But something is driving the decline in advertising, not just in media on media, not just in b-to-b media, but in many print publications.
Iâve been updating readers of this blog about the Mercury News situation.
If you have newsstand distribution, whatâs happening with Mercury News has been affecting you whether you have kept track of the details or not. Mercury has been on shaky financial footing for some time, and there has been a lot of speculation as to who will pick up the distribution.
It isnât an inconsequential question. Mercuryâs footprint was big. Back in May, I reported that Cowley (a TNG marketing partner) had negotiated to buy out Mercuryâs distribution in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and northwest Mississippi. At the time it was believed that Mercury would keep its Texas accounts and focus on them.
Today we are told that TNG (formerly The News Group) has entered into an agreement to assume responsibility for servicing Mercuryâs retail accounts in Texas and the southern Arkansas markets, effective October 2013.
Mercuryâs final distribution is to be October 3. After that, all remaining product will be received into the TNG system. For now, and until the transition is complete, there will be no change in the title mix or allotment levels.
Weâll be hearing more as things develop, but for now itâs a relief that we can look to some stabilization of a volatile situation.
See Also: Waiting to See How the Mercury News Situation Shakes Out
Despite best intentions, it seems as though response to email efforts is still difficult to predict. Quite why this is, I am not sure, but the âusualâ rules of marketing just donât apply to an email effort, be it for new subscriptions, renewals, re-qualifications or other products.Even the rules that have been established do not apply all the time. I am constantly told not to send an email out on Friday, yet many of the email blasts I send on a Friday get good results. The problem is, what works this Friday may not work next Friday, but there is no obvious reason why. I am told the best time to send an email is at 6:00 am, so the email is in the recipientâs inbox when they start to look through their email. I tried this. It failed the first time, worked the second time, and the third time most of the messages seemed to get delayed since many of the responses came back the following afternoon.Until the rules are standardized and predictable, you need to be the rule maker. Try a few simple tests to see what works and, just as importantly, doesnât work for you.1) Do an a/b split on your email blast and send half in the morning, half in the afternoon and see if one responds better than the other. Do this several times to see if you can determine a pattern.2) Test html and text versions of the same email. Text may but ugly, but ugliness did not stop Frankensteinâs monster from getting a bride!3) If the first email does not succeed, send it again. Very often response is better on the resend (and resend of the resend) than on the original deployment.4) Make sure your html does not have too many images because this can cause spam filters to go into hyper drive.5) I know spam filters supposedly hate the word âfree,â but test it, you may be surprised. âFreeâ does work in some cases.It is a good idea to send out a re-qualification effort on controlled books over a three-week period. The first is deployed on Tuesday, the follow up nine days later on Thursday and a final follow up six days later on the Wednesday. Very often, the response on Wednesday is higher than the previous Thursdayâs response. Why? I donât have a clue, but that is what makes being the rule-maker fun!Â
In my last post, I laid out the importance of the mobile web to publishers and dove into two strategic and operational mobile questions that CDOs need to address. In this post, Iâll pick up where I left off, and address three additional questions:â˘ Which devices should you support?â˘ What content should be available on the site? â˘ Whatâs your mobile revenue model?Which Devices Should You Support?The first step in deciding which devices to support is to review your mobile data from Omniture or Google Analytics. During this process you should evaluate both the devices that are most in use today and their relative growth over the past six months. Consider breaking this information down into the following categories:â˘ Smartphones vs. Feature Phones â˘Â Tablet Devices vs. Smartphonesâ˘Â Operating Systems (i.e., Android, iOS, etc.)â˘ Operating System versions (i.e., 6.0, 6.1, 7.0)â˘ Browser (this is an upcoming category as more users choose to use a browser other than their default mobile browser)Once you have the data, I suggest focusing your design and development capital by applying the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. At ALM, for instance, when we embarked on the creation of our mobile strategy, we found that 15 percent of our visitors were already accessing ALM content on mobile devices. Of that 15 percent, 80 percent were on Apple devices and more than 90 percent were on smartphones. Equally as important, we identified Tablets as the ânextâ platform for growth Less than four months after launch, weâve leveraged our understanding of our audienceâs mobile inclinations to grow overall mobile traffic from 15 percent to almost 25 percent of our user base. Weâve seen tablet usage increase by 7 percent. We accomplished this by investing in a more iOS centric look and feel, launching a tablet-optimized site (not just a smartphone version) and by ensuring backwards compatibility to earlier iOS operating systems. What Content Should Be Available on the Mobile Website?Smartphones: When youâre considering what content to include on your smartphone-compatible website, your biggest consideration (and your biggest challenge) is screen size. How do you fit all your web content onto such a small screen? The answer is: You donât. Instead, focus on understanding what content do your users read âon the goâ and make that content available to them. In this process, remember that mobile readers snack on content, often taking it in little bites, because theyâre usually looking to either solve a simple problem or to fill in free time (e.g., in the elevator). So, you want content thatâs to-the-point, easily consumed, and easily read no matter the size of the screen. Everything else should be excluded from your mobile website. While tailoring your mobile site to meet these standards might feel like a recipe for denying your readers needed content, itâs actually a great opportunity for both the product team and editorial to rethink their content strategy. Over the past few years, an everything-in-the-kitchen sink approach to posting web content has prevailed. Customizing a mobile site permits you to refine your content and your overall message about what your site really means to each reader. And, if youâre really still concerned about readers missing out on content that they want, a simple solution is to add a link to your online site at the bottom of your mobile webpage, thereby providing the user with the best of both worlds. Tablets: While most publishers today are repurposing the same content across all devices, content for tablets probably shouldnât be the same as that for smartphones due to different use cases (âon the goâ vs. âon the couchâ), but Iâll have to hold off on this for a future post. Assuming you are going to repurpose, hereâs the most important thing to rememberâpay attention to inoperability issues with tablets. Two important differences to consider: (a) Flash wonât work on many devices, and all those great infographics may not display properly and (b) Navigating by your finger is different than navigating by a mouse and inherently changes the userâs experience with certain content pieces. A Reminder: While your primary focus will likely be on repurposing your editorial content, you also must define your non-editorial content for smartphones and tablets, including advertising and classifieds. For many readers, those print ads were valuable content in and of themselves. You should be sure to integrate them thoughtfully into the mobile experience. Also keep in mind the sales challenges of having a separate mobile site:Â For example, do you need to have one-to-one parity between ad units online and mobile web ad units? Whatâs Your Revenue Model? While this is theoretically a straight-forward question, many people invest in the mobile web without understanding the ROI or how it fits in with their overall strategy. Generally, the mobile web should be an extension of your online and print business models. This means that youâll need to incorporate access control parameters at launch, and align print and digital ad operations and sales. Hereâs a breakdown of some issues to take into consideration as you develop your strategy:Mobile Advertising: Marketing dollars allocated to mobile ads are increasing exponentially and represent a huge opportunity for companies. For instance, Facebook is realigning its entire business to capture the growing mobile audience and mobile revenue. However, as publishers, we need to remember that mobile ads have the lowest CPMs around (hopefully youâve heard the adage âprint dollars, to online dimes, to mobile penniesâ). This is compounded by the reality that there is typically only one ad per mobile page versus 4 -6 ads per page online. Add to this the fact that new creative is needed for mobile and itâs not worth it for many b-to-b advertisers to boil down their messages into a 320x50 actionable ad unit. Now weâve got ourselves a real business challenge. As a result, I would suggest that you be realistic when projecting your ROI and give the market time to adjust to the new realities and opportunities. This is going to be a big opportunity, it just is going to take more time to develop.Subscriptions: Most publishers will extend their online subscriptions to mobile devices at no additional charge. The only real challenge in doing so is to be sure to redesign the sign-on and subscriptions screens so that they are optimized for smartphone and touch-screen devices. Forcing users to tap and zoom to enter a password and not keeping them automatically signed in are user behaviors you want to avoid. SummaryIn short, mobile web is the next big opportunity for publishers. More users are reading content on mobile devices each day, and as a result, more advertising dollars are flowing to mobile web daily. That said, getting to a great mobile web experience requires significant time, energy, and investment from across your organization.
October is a big month for American Express's Travel + Leisure. Actually, 2013 is shaping up to be a big year for the luxury travel title.
Sure, ad pages are up 28 percent in October year-over-year. And, yes, the aggregate count is up 7 percent compared to 2012--impressive figures when considering how many publishers are looking at red ink this year. But the real cause for celebration in October, and 2013 for that matter, is that editor-in-chief Nancy Novogrod is celebrating her 20th anniversary at the helm.
20 years is a big milestone, and one that's ordinarily recognized by employers and colleagues. However, the celebration and recognition for Nancy at American Express has been anything but ordinary.
Earlier this year, Travel + Leisure's publisher, Jay Meyer, knew he wanted to do something special to honor an individual that he believed defined the brand. What he introduced was an almost yearlong celebration, one that is capped off in October's issue with a 20-page feature tribute and 18 customized ads from the brand's loyal travel partners.
"I'm happy to say it was my idea," Meyer says. He admits that it didn't take long for him to understand what Novogrod meant to the brand and, to the travel industry as a whole, until he had the opportunity to attend a trade show with her in France.
"Walking into that show with Nancy was very Hollywood-like," he says. "People were coming out of their spaces to say hello, and ask her to sit down or if she'd like some coffee or had time to chat. She introduced me to probably 20 people in less than 5 minutes, it was really a special moment and very eye-opening in terms of what these travel partners think of her, what she does and how she supports the travel industry."
Meyer says the pitch to advertisers wasn't a hard sell, "The general response was âyes, of course we want to celebrate Nancy.'"
And likewise, the concept was well received in the C-suite. "As we made our way through producing these custom ads, I had a catch-up meeting with our CEO, and he--in a way I hadn't seen in a while--was blown away, primarily because the custom creative that you see within the section was just so heartfelt," Meyer says. "And you could see the time, the energy and the thought that went into the messaging."
Generating excitement for advertisers on a paper medium has been tricky lately, to say the least. But it seems American Express has tapped into a something many have lost sight of--the importance of relationship building. Not only that, but it's also a reminder of how editorial can impact business.
Transactions have changed in every industry. And more and more the relationship between buyers and sellers is being left on autopilot in order to promote efficiencies. While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, the problem is that sometimes it's human exchange and human voice that pushes a buyer through the funnel and sustains business.
The clients who bought ad space in October's Travel + Leisure weren't buying space in a magazine; they were buying an opportunity to thank an individual they developed a quality relationship with over two decades.
Obviously Novogrod's situation is unique, and not something very many publishers can leverage themselves (at least not overnight). Still, there is an important lesson at play here--people are your most valuable asset.
Image: courtesy of American Express Publishing
Weâre doing something revolutionary at The Nation: weâre finally testing different paywall strategies. Sharing this is like dumping my purse on the table of a restaurantâitâs a mixed bag of embarrassment and pride. Why havenât we done this sooner?Itâs a little tricky, of course, being a subscription-based publication with a 150-year history of an audience allied to very strong editorial content. We have become increasingly forward-thinking with our approach to advertising, but at the core of it, our subscribers fund the magazine. At The Nation, Editorial Rules. Weâve been slower to test for all the reasons you think: less money; limited staff; an audience of truth-seekers who find paywalls a moral hindrance if nothing else; a founding prospectus that emphasizes our role to engage open, critical discussion of political and social issues; a staunch belief in the freedom of the press.Though it may seem anti-climactic to you, given the rigorous discussion and testing around other publicationsâ paywalls, this is giant for us. Weâve finally moved from discussion to doing, and I, for one, could not be happier. Movement and experimentation, not standing still and hiding, is how smart business decisions are made.Previously, half of our content was behind a paywall that pushed people to subscribe. Now, the majority of our new content will be paywalled for at least a day or two, as itâs released. Editors will gradually rotate all pieces in front of the paywall during the week, so that every single piece will get its chance to circulate for free. This allows editors to better control the timing and PR strategy surrounding the release of content, but especially helps the efforts of the marketing team. Because our issues go live each week, the impact of our paywall is to encourage people to pay for instant access to our content.One of the most unanticipated pushbacks has been not from readers, but from writers who worry about cutting off eyeballs to their page. Our editorial staff has done a good job of communicating the necessity of testing, and I hope that my points below help other publications open a constructive dialogue about paywall strategy with their writers.1. Our financial vitality is necessary in order to further our editorial mission. Being a subscription-based publication, we rely on money from our readers in ways that other places do not. Iâm not giving away free copies of The Nation at the dentistâs office; our basic annual rate for a printed magazine is $79 (a pittance compared to $138 for The Economist). We are not beholden to advertisers or a ratebase, leaving us to refreshingly cover what we want how we want. News media across the board have been fighting an uphill battle against free news on the web for years; The Nation is not immune. But I sense a shifting of the tides, and the industry has been teaching readers, little by little, that good, factual journalism costs something. Sending a reporter to Egypt or Russia or a photo-essayist to Detroit costs more than travel feesâthese reporters are in Syria or Russia or Detroit, and readers should expect to have to pay people for the work that surrounds these issues. Believe it or not, solid, rigorous reporting isnât done from a desktop or pieced together from a bunch of Wikipedia facts. Real journalism, like a crane operator or a chef, requires nuanced skill, time, and expertise. Writers know this. But itâs easy for them to lose sight of this in a vacuumâespecially in an era weâve created where we make clicks and pageviews count more than actual content, which practically demands a reversal. What needs to be reiterated is how, in order to avoid becoming a slogfest of half-truths and online âfacts,â we need money to fund their work. If weâre not relying on advertising, then we need to rely on circulation. And in this day and age, a paywall is just another type of circulation.2. Our readers, not our advertisers, are our future. I liken our readers to Packers fans. Green Bay is the only community-owned sports franchise in the country. Cheeseheads are rabid about their Packers because they have a psychological stake in the team (no dividends are paid out; extra monies go to a variety of non-profits throughout Wisconsin). The structure is different, but the sentiment is similar: The Nationâs writers give readers a point of view they donât often read. We need them both on board to continue our work. As long as we push affordable business initiatives to a new audience, we can build said audience with a greater psychological investment in our content provided by the writers. The readers and writers work in tandem, walking along a tightrope of limited funds, and without those funds, both will falter.3. Leverage the exclusionary aspect to inspire a bigger audience. Itâs not rocket science: the glut of crap on the internet is astounding, and we all read it, but we donât remember it (when was the last time you quoted a Yahoo News statistic at a meeting?). Everything has been bit.lyâed to the point where news has become trivia questions, not actual substance. But the writers can fight that, with their own followings and via their own audiences, by talking about their âexclusiveâ content on The Nation. Itâs a way to leverage money for the paywall, but also for readers of their content. They want more eyeballs, not less; their resistance is to the general idea that a paywall will reduce eyeballs. This may be accurate on the outset. But the ownership is on everyone at the magazineâfrom the PR team to the writersâ own connectionsâto emphasize the importance of their pieces, offer teasers, and establish a firm stance that there is a reason we are asking you to cough up some money (in our case, $9.50) to read content. Weâre like an exclusive club that costs next to nothing to join.4. Finally, this too shall pass. This is only temporary. This is only a test. Remember: it will either work or it wonât. If it works, then youâve got the eyeballs, and weâve got money to pay you. If it doesnât, we experiment with something new and try a different angle. I promise you, itâs not in my interest to pour money into a continually failing strategy. Trust that your business staff is doing the best they can in your interest and in the publicationâs, and that we wonât do something that will hurt the future of magazine.