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Katelyn Belyus

Magazine Anniversaries: Put a Plan Behind the Party

Katelyn Belyus Consumer - 03/25/2014-13:55 PM


I love to celebrate—I am always looking for a good party, and I even moonlight as a caterer for fun. My love affair with the celebratory extends to publishing where I've been working to gear up for The Nation’s 150th anniversary—that's 150 years as a continuously published weekly. We've been around since the year that Abraham Lincoln was shot. Pretty wild.

What is unique about the majority of publications’ anniversaries is that they celebrate a publication mostly rooted in print—most places didn't have a major online presence until 10-15 years ago. Now that tech has grown so quickly in such a compressed time, it can be quite challenging to prove that old printed content can be still relevant in a digital environment.

Successful anniversaries engage with their readers across multiple platforms, including social. They surface archival content with new commentary; they do not just regurgitate content. They remember why they were excited to launch the publication and that they've maintained that excitement through forty, 100, and yes, even 150 years—and they remind us. They create editorial products to appeal to all sorts of readers: from the hardcore fan to the occasional retweeter. But most importantly, they package their content in such a way that it deepens the engagement between people interacting with their brands across the board.

After perusing a slew of anniversaries, I discovered some terrific and some terrible, even for brands I love. Here is my list of anniversary Do’s and Don’ts:

Do know your intentions. Are you using the anniversary as a relaunch of the brand? Are you reinforcing an older message? Are you trying to increase subscription sales? Boost overall revenue through events? Or merely paying tribute to a 100-year-old brand? Treat the anniversary like any business plan—do the research and let the objective inform the venture so you don't get stuck worrying about the allocation of resources and prioritization. You should know before you begin.

Do know your audience. Are you targeting subscribers only, high-ticket donors, tradespeople, Internet browsers, industry insiders, Christian fundamentalists, Millennials, boozers, shakers, earthquakers? Know this before you start planning. The audience for different aspects of the anniversary may vary, and that's okay: as long as the cord tying the audiences together remains tight. In January, The Sun launched its 40th anniversary issue quietly and offered exactly what it knew would appeal to Sun readers: a free download of the first issue, printed by Sy Safransky in the '70s.

Don't assume that subscribers are the end-all, be-all.
They're awesome, but they won't be around forever. Consider using your anniversary as a way to entice new readers. Even if they don't subscribe, you're engaging them with your content and cultivating a seedbed of future ambassadors of your brand.

Do surface archived content in a meaningful way. Your readers don't want to slog through lists; they expect you to do the heavy lifting for them, and you should want to do this because it allows you to control your message. Curate content, and make it relevant. Use images. Well-chosen photo galleries, especially in a Tumblr-like environment, are shareable magic. Vanity Fair and W both did this exceptionally well. Offer easy share links, and incentivize sharing. Anchor content to a current event or touchstone, and you'll be surprised at how meaningful that is for people, particularly young people on Facebook and Twitter. They won't retweet a story about reconstruction in the South, but connect it to Yeezus, and you get more traction (plus a culturally relevant refresh, which you can repackage in any number of ways).

Don't overcrowd your anniversary with junk. Just because it exists, doesn't mean it needs to be highlighted. This is the perfect time to let your editors do what they do best: edit.

Do produce an anniversary issue, but don't make it boring. Make it available across multiple platforms, punctuated with images and videos. Sell it at a premium, and continue to offer it as a back issue. Vanity Fair put Kate Upton on its 100th anniversary cover with accompanying behind-the-scenes video footage. And another Upton-friendly pub, Sports Illustrated, celebrated its 50th anniversary of the swimsuit edition with a covers gallery and interviews with former cover models. And use the content to move throughout the digital space, don’t keep it insular. The Atlantic had great content for its 150th but I couldn’t find anything beyond the issue. Blow it out! Do as much as possible without losing focus of audience and objective.

Do create products to sell. Some brands are better suited for this than others, but be creative! For its 125th anniversary, National Geographic sold everything from premium archive access to collectors' editions to maps to week-long excursions.

Do leverage partnerships. These could be writers, experts, celebrities, schools, or other likeminded organizations. Nat Geo, a powerhouse of photography, leveraged its relationship with the Annenberg Center for nearly 6 months. List the people who you think or know would be interested in working with you, and use the list. A lot of people will get on board with a brand ONLY during an anniversary or celebration, so know exactly what it is you are asking of them. Ask people to do specific tasks—if you want John Stamos to tweet for you, write the tweets.

Do keep it fresh. Do use timelines, but consider different “ways in” to the content. Nat Geo went with famous firsts, but WWD cataloged “moments” to celebrate its 100th. The Advocate enmeshed its own history with that of the greater LGBT community, in many ways because the two went hand-in-hand. New York went with important events. I'd say the best timeline belonged to Wired, which alphabetically cataloged technological and cultural 'hits' of the past two decades (ie: Reddit, Sheryl Sandberg, Science).

Do encourage reader participation.
In the age of selfies and overshares, people want ways to self-promote—give them the platform, even if it’s silly or quick. Esquire is always on the cutting-edge of reader interaction, but it hit the nail on the head with its 80th “Life of Man” anniversary issue. Not only did it issue its trademark “trailer” for the issue, but it gave readers an easy way to become a part of the “Life of Man” history by uploading a photo and bio to its digital collage—and it donated $1 for every photo uploaded to the United Way.

Do make it last beyond the anniversary year. Think about how the content is attracting new people and what you want to say to those people. Are you asking them for money? To become an advocate for your organization? Maintain the anniversary content on the site so that it is searchable. Keep a clear head about future tie-ins. You can celebrate as many anniversaries as desired, but only if you keep it fresh. Don't dilute the message.



Meg Estevez

What Digital Edition Engagement Reports Can Tell Us

Meg Estevez Audience Development - 03/20/2014-11:37 AM


As we find ways to get our digital editions opened by our audience on any platform, we also need to understand the level of engagement we have within the digital editions. Below I’ll discuss the various levels of data that you’ll need to compile into one report to understand your digital readers and to help your publisher sell the digital edition banners and different ad spots more effectively.

What Data Should You Compile?

Our digital edition reporting is done via Comscore. It’s not very user friendly, but with some basic training and patience you should be able to get all the information you need to compile this report. First, start by collecting the number of emails that are deployed with the digital edition link to your subscribers. This includes sents, opens, and click-throughs. Then, download your issue data from Comscore (or whichever reporting system that is linked to your editions). This will include traffic report, platform report, clicks on links by page, page view summary, editorial page report, sponsor banner ad report, plus other data depending whether you have videos or other rich media in the digital edition.

Here are some examples:

Email Deployment Stats

This is the report from your email deployment system.

Traffic Report: Comscore

This report comes from the Comscore reporting system. It provides information that is similar to what we are used to seeing from Google Analytics for our Web pages, but for our digital editions. This is one of the most important reports because it gives you an overall picture of how many unique readers are interacting with the digital edition by issue, as well as page views and average time spent per open.

Platform Report: Comscore

The platform report provides data the traffic report has, but it separates the audience by the platform that they used to access the digital editions. This report will tell you the level of interactions you have on different smart devices versus those accessing the issues via desktop browsers.

These are just a few of the reports or engagement information that you can compile for your digital editions. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you need to compile what you need to make smarter/better branding or promotional decisions as well as what your publisher needs.

It takes a lot of time and effort to keep these reports up-to-date on a monthly basis, especially if you handle multiple brands. At New Bay, we have been able to help our publishers gain more information about our digital audience engagement with these reports which they in turn can use to sell ads. (Many brands have been able to successfully sell digital ads due to this data). On the audience development side, we're able to understand what impacts our increase in unique readers and we're working hard to increase our engagement with every issue.



Linda Ruth

Changes at Time Warner Retail

Linda Ruth Audience Development - 03/18/2014-14:22 PM


For those who are wondering, Time Warner Retail did not just lay off its field force. At least, not all of it.

With rumors flying, I called a high-ranking executive still with the company. He didn’t want to go on record, but he did answer my questions.

I had gotten a lot of snippets from a lot of people. People working in agencies who said it looked as if the Regional Managers had lost their jobs; other people in the industry who said the Order Regulation was being outsourced to India.

There’s a kernel of truth in many of the rumors, but, my source explained, the truth is very simple. The industry is changing, and Time Warner Retail is changing with it.

While it’s never easy to lose people, the changes, he explained, were inevitable.

“We followed the trail of business,” he said. With the continued consolidation of the magazine distribution channel—over the past few months wholesalers in Canada, Minnesota, Texas and elsewhere have gone out of business—a consolidation of field personnel became inevitable. As agencies closed, people at the agency level lost their jobs. Much of the business moved to agencies where Time Warner Retail already had people, who were able to accommodate the shift in retail coverage.

While it has reduced its distribution team, my source continued, Time Warner Retail has expanded its marketing team.

“Time Warner Retail is more retailer-centric than any distributor," he said. "We put more focus into calling on retailers than any other part of the distribution channel. That is the portion of our business we are building.”
Time Warner Retail is also, he said, using technology to manage its business to a degree no one else in the industry is doing. Its MagNet-driven AIMS process enables the company to manage distribution electronically from a centralized location to the wholesaler place of business.

Centralized in India?, I asked.
Time Warner has some employees in India, but the order regulation is not outsourced, was the reply. Some backroom operations might be outsourced, but the order regulation, regardless of where on the planet it is done, is done by Time Warner employees, using MagNet data, making changes in the wholesaler system from their remote location.
The source did not provide any details on the number of employees let go. “I won’t give you a number,” he said, “but I will say that we still have by far the largest representation of all the companies in the business. I could probably combine the other three and we'd still have more.
“And any time any business goes through a re-organization, rumors fly. Time Warner Retail lost a few long-timers, and that was tough. But we’re in a tough industry. We have to adjust for the changes in the field. But overall, there have been more positive twists than negative.”



Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Newsweek

Robert Newman Consumer - 03/14/2014-08:31 AM

The cover of the relaunched Newsweek is one of the best debuts in recent memory (to the extent that a cover for a magazine founded in 1933 can be called a "debut"), with a stunning illustration, bold, simple design, and an elegant printed format that creates a distinctive, memorable look. There has been much hype about Newsweek's return to print, and a good deal of controversy about the Bitcoin cover story, but from both a creative and a brand perspective this cover stands as a highly-successful work, one that hopefully lays the groundwork for continued success for the publication.

This Newsweek cover is built on tradition. The logo is basically a mix of the late 1980s version drawn by Jim Parkinson (which was part of a redesign by Roger Black), and the iteration used on the magazine's last redesign in 2009, before it was sold to IAC. But the type has been tweaked (and improved), and the red background panel made more graphic and modern. The striking illustration by Ben Wiseman is cool and contemporary, but the understated simplicity of the cover headline is reminiscent of the covers of Newsweek (and Time) from the 1960s and early 70s.

The cover design is by the team of Priest + Grace, who are the creative force behind the exciting new Eight By Eight soccer (or football if you live outside the U.S.) magazine, and have previously given creative direction to O, the Oprah Magazine and numerous other publications. For Face Up we usually base our reviews on digital copies of the cover, but for this issue I actually went out and bought a copy. I will say that I searched literally dozens of magazine stands and stores (there still are a couple) in Manhattan before finally finding a big stash at Grand Central Terminal in a beautiful display. I'm glad I got a printed copy, because it comes on an elegant, thick matte cover stock with beautiful, crisp printing that is so rich it almost looks silkscreened.

This is a strong, smart look with lots of character that definitely sets the magazine apart from other weeklies (apparently they're identifying The Economist as their "role model" and chief competitor). Newsweek has been doing a series of weekly covers for their online edition that were very traditional and undistinguished. This is a sharp break from that. Over the years Newsweek tried to differentiate itself from Time by running more photos and less illustration on their covers. Let's hope that this debut illustration is the beginning of a new direction for the magazine's cover look, because it helps gives shape to a very forward-looking design aesthetic.

If there's any hesitation in giving total love to this cover, it's because I wish they had broken more from the traditional Newsweek name and logo and gone for something completely new and different (there was a period in the Jon Meacham-edited era when there was actually a prototype developed with a new format and a name along the lines of NW). It also might have been nice if there was some nod on the cover to the "return of print." Newsweek ended their print edition with the #LASTPRINTISSUE hashtag on the cover, and it would have been fun to see them play with the flip of that somewhere on this one. That seems like a missed opportunity.

I asked Arthur Hochstein, the former Time art director (he created close to 1000 covers for the magazine) what he thought about this Newsweek relaunch. Arthur has also done covers for Businessweek and even did a short stint with Newsweek a few years ago.

Hochstein says, "It's an auspicious debut: the flat, vector-graphic style evokes the posters and graphics of Mad Men. The effect is well done. It cleverly uses the Bitcoin symbol to make a mask; the darker black of the shadow against the slightly-lighter black of the background enhances the effect of the mask being pulled back, to reveal the ‘mystery man.'"

Newsweek's past covers are woefully hard to find online. When it was owned by the IAC they started a Newsweek Archivist Tumblr page that briefly collected a good series of covers dating back to the 1930s. The page isn't active, but it's still available for viewing online, and contains many choice cover treats.

Roy Beagley

Design and Material Tips for Your Print Collateral

Roy Beagley Audience Development - 03/13/2014-13:40 PM


If some of the recent cover wraps and tip-ons I’ve received are anything to go by, just because something looks good in a PDF format does not mean it will look good when printed on paper. Here are a few tips to make sure your printed matter stands a chance of working.

First, consider the type of paper you are printing on because the same design is going to look different depending on your stock. Coated stock usually handles reverse type well, but stock used for tips and cover wraps tends to be cheaper and soak up more ink.

Reversing type really means being be able to see the color of the paper stock you are using, but now it means any color out of a dark background—so black and white, black and yellow or black and a light cyan all work well. Using a dark color for the type is dangerous. A tip-on I recently received was totally unreadable because the purple had bled into the black.

Remember, using a large reversed area will use more ink and will cost more. If you are going to reverse out smaller type, don’t use a serif font unless you are printing on really good stock, the effect will be lost on cheaper stock. And reversing out really small type—6 pt or smaller—makes reading the copy nearly impossible.

Speaking of fonts, just because you have over 1,500 of them does not mean you have to use them all at once.

Promotions printed on paper are trimmed to size after printing, so getting too close to the edge of the paper can result in some of your copy being trimmed off.

Designing work that can be used across several platforms such as websites, email and print is not difficult and is made considerably easier if you give some thought to the final output. You may have to adjust some colors, perhaps some fonts and perhaps some final positions, but this is something designers have been doing for many years—the more things change; the more they stay the same.



Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Mad

Robert Newman Design and Production - 02/28/2014-14:03 PM

Mad magazine's April 2014 cover parody of The Lego Movie is bright, fun, engaging, and perfectly executed, with a smart illustration. This cover not only fits right in with Mad's snarky, wacko cover legacy, but would also feel at home on the front of Entertainment Weekly or Time (without the Alfred E. Neuman character, of course!). It's a grown-up cover on a young person's magazine.

Like many folks my age, I grew up reading Mad, and of course my parents thought it was a corrupting influence and threw out as many copies as they could find. Somehow I kept buying issues and sneaking them into the house, hiding them under my bed. When I look at those issues from the 60s now, they seem very tame compared to the current edition, which is much more risqué in terms of sex and general raunchiness. That level of provocative offensiveness is exactly what appeals to a younger audience!

The basic Mad cover hasn't changed much since the late 60s. They still heavily rely on parodies of popular TV shows and movies combined with the antics of Alfred E. Neuman. The April issue, illustrated by Mark Frederickson and art direction by Sam Viviano, is something of a departure. Recent covers have been rawer, somewhat gross and more juvenile. Mad's February 2014 cover, also illustrated by Frederickson, featured a nasty image of Miley Cyrus and her now infamous twerk. Another cover from last year depicted, in a very rough, cartoony style,  Alfred E. Neuman peeing on an amusement park water slide (this is Mad, after all). Frederickson is a frequent cover illustrator for Mad, essentially taking the place occupied by Norman Mingo on the classic covers of the 1960s and 70s. He's a highly skilled artist who works in multiple styles and who has a great sense of humor.

I love the artwork on this cover, and I love the way it works as a stylistic whole, parodying both The Lego Movie poster and Lego packaging in general. Rather than just being a funny illustration slapped on to a Mad cover, this is a brilliant, holistically-designed package, complete with Lego logo and integrated typography. It's highly-sophisticated conceptual work. I wish more magazines took this kind of overall care, both with imagery and design.

But wait a minute! Is that a good thing for a magazine like Mad? I called on my resident expert, my daughter Lillian, to get her opinion. Lillian is 13 and a regular Mad reader (I confess to throwing out more than a couple of her copies when I thought they were inappropriate). She's also the daughter of two art directors (her mother, Chris Curry, is the illustration editor at The New Yorker), so she has a good graphic sensibility.

I showed Lillian the Mad cover and her first response was "It's so cute! It looks like the instruction booklet for the Lego sets." However, she then said that she liked last issue's Miley Cyrus cover, because "It's funnier and I get it right away."

If a parent likes a Mad cover, does that make it uncool? I'm curious to see how Mad's audience responds to this gentler, more parent-friendly approach, or whether they prefer the cruder (and admittedly funnier) covers.

If this critique has got you thinking about past covers, be sure to visit Doug Gilford's Mad Cover, which is the essential destination for fans of all ages. Gilford has an archive of every Mad cover from 1952, including illustrator credits and in some cases, back cover artwork (the archival covers included in this story are via Gilford's site). And you can see more of Mark Frederickson's illustration work, including a good number of Mad images.

Linda Ruth

Reports of Continued Distribution to U.S. Military Were Premature

Linda Ruth Audience Development - 02/28/2014-10:20 AM


I don't have a complete new post today, just an update—but it's an important one.

My last post reported that PMG, distributor to the U.S. military and other locations overseas, had closed its doors for its military, South American, and Hawaii business. The important U.S. military portion of the business was said to be taken over by TNG (formerly The News Group).

Today we hear that the agreement with TNG has not, in fact, materialized. As of this morning it appears that there is no finalized agreement to ship magazines to the U.S. military overseas, not with TNG, not with anyone.

Publishers are instructed to hold all product directed to U.S. military and to await further developments.

Mitch Speers

Mobile Deep Linking: Should You Care?

Mitch Speers emedia and Technology - 02/28/2014-09:37 AM


A group of mobile tech companies participating in something called the Mobile Deeplinking Project made an announcement yesterday that you might have passed over. Have you ever opened a LinkedIn Groups update email on your phone and wondered (for the 500th time) why it couldn't just launch the app?

Instead it drops you at the login screen in your browser, helpfully suggesting you download LinkedIn's fabulous app. That is the very definition of throwing away vast, profitable amounts of user engagement. How many people are really going to tap-tap-tap their credentials into the teeny browser (again) or manually launch the app and try in vain to find that discussion that first caught their eye? Nearly nobody, that's who.

With mobile deep linking, tapping on that interesting discussion thread in your email would launch the LinkedIn app and deliver the exact page you were expecting, i.e. 'deep linking' you to the otherwise impossible to find page inside LinkedIn.

So what does that mean for publishers who now see a path to making their apps a viable place to sell ads? If your 'app' is a simple digital replica of your print product, none of this will matter. If you have a useful app that extends your brand, then read on.

Let's say you are like CNET and have well-regarded product reviews that millions rely on to make good decisions when purchasing electronics. If you put all those reviews into a well-designed app and promoted it well, you could get lots of people to download it. Then the app will most likely never get opened again, lost among dozens of other unused apps on millions of phone screens.

However, if CNET sent out a weekly newsletter that leveraged deep linking, suddenly their app starts getting used, perhaps promoted to users' home screens and regularly updated. Otherwise, all that effort to develop the app will continue to show a crappy ROI. 

It is this new set of standards and best practices that has the potential to put the native app versus mobile web debate to rest. Now apps can be just another, slicker part of the web instead of these islands of awesomeness that are forgotten because they're too much trouble to get to. Publishers will be able to point to engagement data instead of downloads when pitching to advertisers.

These standards are open source and therefore a moving target, so there will be some hiccups. But it's all laid out pretty well, complete with code libraries for your developers to leverage. If you have a great idea for an app that you've never built because you couldn't see how to get enough users to matter, this may be the time to revisit that decision.



Roy Beagley

Optimizing Your Direct Mail Efforts

Roy Beagley Audience Development - 02/27/2014-16:45 PM


Now is the time to plan your spring direct mail campaign. And just because you do not currently do one, does not mean you should not be thinking about it.

Direct mail is still the only source of new orders that can be projected with any degree of accuracy and until digital marketers get excited at net orders rather than open rates, that always will be the case. The question is: Apart from the usual marketing tools available to help increase response, what else can be done? Direct mail can be expensive, but there are things you can test that might help increase orders and offset some of the cost.

If your magazine is on the newsstand, consider increasing the draw in key markets for a couple of issues to coincide with your direct mail campaign. Newsstand sales often increase because people see your magazine on the shelf and decide to give it a try. Do not go crazy here because this will add cost to your bottom line, but sometimes a little bit can get you an awful lot.

Also consider giving people access to a digital version of the magazine to check out how great it is. This could simply be your current digital edition or the current digital edition with interactive components relating to the mailing—including several different ways people can pay online.

Making direct mail profitable is what it is all about, but unless your family name is Midas and you have “the touch,” chances are you are going to lose money on new business direct mail campaigns. However, the objective should be to lose as little as possible. So, consider testing the automatic renewal option for direct mail orders in your mailing. I am big not a fan of this technique, but more and more I see publishers using an automatic renewal option in their new subscription promotion so it is certainly worthy of a test. But, test this carefully.

The more you can do to increase exposure of your magazine the better off you are going to be. As that wise old sage of publishing once said “The Economist is its own best ambassador, so it is sensible to offer sampling.” Now of course we can sample online which makes sampling even more cost effective, but proves yet again The Economist almost always makes the right decisions.

Next time we will look at specific ideas and techniques you can test in your direct mail package to help increase response and will not break the bank.



Katelyn Belyus

A Publisher's Perspective on the State of Fulfillment

Katelyn Belyus Audience Development - 02/25/2014-16:07 PM


I work for a small title, and we use one of the biggest fulfillment service bureaus (FSB) in the US. We could never fulfill in-house. Our business would come to a grinding halt. The sheer quantity of services that the FSB provides is staggering: all that boring nonsense you can't think about because you're too busy actually trying to acquire subscribers. They manage your renewal and billing schedules, your subscriber database, your banking deposits, your efforts, your customer service, and in some cases, hosting your webpages and transactional emails.

Fulfillment has solidly managed to do what it does well but it has been slow to adapt to digital, relational, and customer needs. Back in the good old days when a publisher had subscribers' names and addresses, and all they needed was to mail renewals and bills and keep track of expiration dates, one database was sufficient.

But like all things, publishing grew. There were lists to be rented, emails to append, credit card numbers to store. Advertisers wanted to sell ads by state, by region, by household income, by gender and circulators needed to provide. We turned to our fulfillment houses to collect and store that data.

The problem is this: many FSBs spent so many years designing a system made for the primary focus (names, addresses, payments) that they can't go back and amend the system. The systems they built are big and outmatched by newer, sleeker technology. There exist marketing databases and customer service databases and list rental databases, all which talk to each other through APIs and add-ons, and all which cost stupid amounts of money—stupid amounts of money for information that we pay the FSB to house the first place.

And FSBs know that we have no option but to pay stupid amounts of money for stuff like that, so they remain reticent about sharing what other publishers are doing. I'm not talking about giving away company secrets; I mean sharing practical experiences with connecting to an FSB's system. How are other publishers handling bogus agents? Who is so-and-so talking to at Amazon to get their needs met? How seamless was that publisher's integration with Apple's software? Which API has worked the best with the FSB’s systems? Why can’t an FSB authenticate a subscriber and lift the paywall based on number of articles read? Which company did another client use to append political affiliations onto their files?

Where fulfillment houses should be the conduits for these conversations, instead they create a runaround effect: they need to find out how another publisher is doing something, then they approach that publisher and ask to share what they've found, then report back to me. This process could take two or three weeks, and the results are usually a basic statement that Publisher X isn't comfortable with sharing information, which makes me reluctant to share when I'm approached. It's a frustrating cycle, and it's boring.

Publishing is constantly changing, and we shouldn't be at each other's throats; we should be helping each other understand the best ways to navigate. A rising tide lifts all boats and all that.

There are some houses that 'get' it: that is, they’re newer, with better tech, and have built relational databases that are ready to rock. Remember ARGI? They got it. But what they understood in tech, they missed in basic fulfillment: most of their fulfillment services were farmed out to other vendors. As a result, they cost a fortune.

ARGI was ultimately merged with iPacesetters, but other FSBs can prevail: by modeling themselves on ARGI in reverse. Big FSBs have fulfillment down; what they need is better tech. Unfortunately, that's the catch-22: bigger publishers are less likely to sign with a smaller fulfillment house because they don't have other bigger clients, and smaller fulfillment houses have a difficult time attracting big clients because they don't have any. So, the onus really lies with the publishers to trust a smaller FSB. The publisher has to weigh the merit of industry experience against the perceived demerits of a smaller operation: which is worth more?

Increasingly, as mail volumes continue to ebb and flow, and processes become more mechanized, publishers need relational databases. The whole reason we've become obsessed with Big Data is not because it's a new thing to want; it's because it’s been such a pain to get. Everyone’s information is available online—Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Twitter. The digital realm has become niche and personalized. Simply using a recipient’s name in a subject line increases open rates. It’s no surprise that publishers want—and expect—to be in on the action. But Big Data isn't worth anything if we can't use it in concert with our own subscriber database.

So publishers have struggled to become more active, and FSBs have become reactive. It's a classic defense move. I’ve worked with a number of people at fulfillment houses who have told me: "I don't know how to do that." "No one has ever asked for that before." "I've never encountered that problem." That's it, end of discussion. They ask their buddy in the next cube if anyone has ever synced a subscriber and nonprofit database, for instance, and the answer is a tentative "maybe we could build an API, but it's gonna cost you." Again with the API!

Fulfillment houses are great because they've been able to negotiate cheaper mail rates for all clients with the USPS. Many are even banding together to fight postal hikes. FSBs have buying power in their vast mail volumes, and it's a model that they could apply to so many aspects of their business.

I work in a 3-person circulation department. I barely have the time or influence to gain the attention of an B&N rep in a way to discuss meaningful changes to my contract. That's where my FSB should step in. It's already working on behalf of other major clients with Amazon, Apple and Google. They should be working as advocates for all of their clients, exercise the power of numbers, and use their volume as leverage. Amazon, Apple and Google can't sell a magazine that's gone out of business; it's in their interest to have products to push. Fulfillment bureaus should advocate for those products.

Maybe this sounded like a rant, and maybe a little bit of it was. But the truth is, I like fulfillment houses. They've been around for a long time because they're good at what they do, and they have a lot of smart people working for them. They make my life infinitely easier. But I also know they can be better. I know they're our best allies in the fight with the USPS. I know that they're the springboard for innovation as it relates to all publishers, and that if they'd just loosen up a bit, we'd all benefit from a nice, casual conversation about how to improve DM response or finally nail those fraudulent agents. I know that there's life beyond the Scotch-taping of systems, and that in the future we won't need a “data overlay” because the data will all exist in one place.

But the big FSBs need to change fast if they want to stay viable, because the first time a big publisher moves from a large FSB to a small one, an exodus will follow. If the big guys don't move quickly, those little guys are going to outpace them triple time. Remember Prodigy? Or Netscape? No one wants to be remembered as the loser company that mailed CDs of free hours of service.



Linda Ruth

Distributor to U.S. Military Overseas Ceases Operation

Linda Ruth Audience Development - 02/20/2014-14:52 PM


Not too long ago, notifications were sent to publishers from all national distributors that PMG International, LTD was to cease operating its facilities that service Hawaii, the Caribbean, South America, and the U.S. overseas military.

The notifications indicated that all magazine product on its way to those locations was being put on hold at the printers or shippers. Publishers with issues ready to print or ship, were instructed to put those issues on hold as well.

The news was quickly overshadowed by the startling developments with HDA, the distributor of magazines and books to specialty stores including Michaels, Lowes, Dollar General, and Menards. Though many publishers did not do business with HDA at all, for the ones that did, the quantities could be significant. By contrast, for most publishers, PMG allotments were relatively small. Many might barely notice the loss, either because they didn’t send copies to the military or South America, or because they did in such small quantities that red flags won’t be raised.

See Also: Magazine Distributor Shuts Down While It Restructures Debt

But for publishers that pay attention to their international distribution and sale, PMG was important. The importance of the military to publishers comes from several factors: the audience is American; it may be appropriately targeted to a publication; and, since the bases serve an English-speaking market overseas, military distribution makes up an often-significant portion of overall overseas sales for American publishers.

Since that tough week, some solutions have emerged for publishers losing distribution from PMG. Copies bound for Hawaii were briefly diverted to Source Interlink’s California facility, then veered to settle on TNG, through their West Sacramento warehouse. TNG is also picking up the important overseas military through their Atlanta, Georgia facility.

In the midst of these changes, there are some small bits of good news. The word is that Phil Bagnall, the well-liked publisher liaison, will still be involved as magazine buyer. Also, PMG’s Mexico operation, DIMSA, which does a good bit of volume, is to remain in business.

The rest of Latin America remains to be settled.


Mike Kisseberth

Why All-Programmatic Doesn’t Work for Everyone

Mike Kisseberth Sales and Marketing - 02/18/2014-09:03 AM


Programmatic is still very sexy.

After coming to the fore in 2013, it remains a key—if not the key—buzzword of 2014 (and, yes, we’re only two months in). But beyond buzz, programmatic is a legitimate force in advertising.

Not only will it account for just under 30 percent of all display ad spend by 2017, already, 85 percent of advertisers are using it, in some form. We also can’t ignore the very real benefits with respect to streamlined workflow, cost efficiencies, and transparency between partners. So, it’s not a matter of who will ultimately use programmatic, but how quickly everyone will use it. 

And we’re seeing this play out in the market. Just recently, Federated Media and Demand Media both made headlines, deciding to completely forego their direct sales efforts to focus solely on the still young, but increasingly successful, programmatic and RTB category.

The news fit neatly into the ongoing, polarizing direct versus programmatic debate, while heightening that schism and making the sexy, all-programmatic approach appear to be better suited for the long-term. But, while this was a very compelling narrative, it just isn’t true.

At least not for everyone. And that’s what some of us are forgetting.

All-programmatic as a strategy works particularly well for a certain type of publisher—specifically, those with long-tail networks that don’t sell highly-customized or native campaigns.

For more premium buys, whether in display or native, direct sales is still very much needed to provide buyers contextual grounding and more strategic insight. It’s also critical for campaign optimization. It's worth noting, too, that a premium programmatic relationship requires direct engagement between the customer—usually a trading desk—and an informed sales person.

While the all-programmatic approach works for some players, those with a fuller and more complex mix of inventory still need to rely on a direct sales team to get the job done right.

The technological infrastructure simply isn’t there to leverage programmatic for high-engagement custom or native programs, so it will be some time, if ever, until we see publishers that offer this deeper mix of inventory going all-programmatic.

At the same time, the all-programmatic approach will continue to grow. We will see more long-tail players adopt this strategy over time, with it becoming the norm for some publishers. It’s just a cost-effective business model for them, given the inventory offered.

From my own experience, for premium publishers, the best strategy is a happy medium, employing a combination of direct and programmatic to best serve clients and partners. This dual approach is the most effective, allowing them to have the best of both worlds, as the two models are working together, plugging gaps, providing insights on how to best optimize campaigns, and delivering overall better outcomes for advertisers and publishers.