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 moneyâ€”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 FSBâ€™s systems? Why canâ€™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, theyâ€™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 itâ€™s been such a pain to get. Everyoneâ€™s information is available onlineâ€”Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Twitter. The digital realm has become niche and personalized. Simply using a recipientâ€™s name in a subject line increases open rates. Itâ€™s no surprise that publishers wantâ€”and expectâ€”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. Iâ€™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 â€śdata overlayâ€ť 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.
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 didnâ€™t send copies to the military or South America, or because they did in such small quantities that red flags wonâ€™t be raised.See Also: Magazine Distributor Shuts Down While It Restructures DebtBut 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 Interlinkâ€™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, PMGâ€™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.
Programmatic is still very sexy. After coming to the fore in 2013, it remains a keyâ€”if not the keyâ€”buzzword of 2014 (and, yes, weâ€™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 canâ€™t ignore the very real benefits with respect to streamlined workflow, cost efficiencies, and transparency between partners. So, itâ€™s not a matter of who will ultimately use programmatic, but how quickly everyone will use it.Â And weâ€™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 isnâ€™t true. At least not for everyone. And thatâ€™s what some of us are forgetting. All-programmatic as a strategy works particularly well for a certain type of publisherâ€”specifically, those with long-tail networks that donâ€™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. Itâ€™s also critical for campaign optimization. It's worth noting, too, that a premium programmatic relationship requires direct engagement between the customerâ€”usually a trading deskâ€”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 isnâ€™t there to leverage programmatic for high-engagement custom or native programs, so it will be some time, if ever, until we see publishers thatÂ 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. Itâ€™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.
The latest entry in TV celebrity publishing debuted in early February with the launch ofÂ Dr. Oz The Good Life. Dr. Oz is a ubiquitous presence on women's and self-help magazine covers, and has generally been very successful in selling copies on the newsstand. The Good Life's publisher, Hearst, has done very well with previous TV-related magazine launches, including HGTV and Food Network magazines (not to mention Oprah Winfrey's O, The Oprah Magazine), and they assembled a talented edit and design team for this debut issue. However, the March/April cover is very disappointing and is one of the weakest covers of a major magazine launch in recent memory.
When I first saw this cover I actually thought it was a prototype instead of the debut issue. There's a generic look to the cover photograph, a flat, by-the-numbers quality to the headlines, and most importantly, an underdeveloped logo that does nothing to create and build a dynamic brand. The result is a cover that looks more like a low-budget, one-shot newsstand special rather than the exciting debut of a powerful new media entry. Other similar Hearst magazines like HGTV, The Food Network, and O have modern, engaging, energy-packed covers that leap off the newsstand and give a sense of the rich multi-faceted content inside. This cover lacks that sense of excitement.
There's nothing special about the image. It feels like countless other images of Dr. Oz that are used to promote any of his numerous projects. When I worked at O I attended a photo shoot with Dr. Oz and saw how incredibly warm and charismatic he is--both in person and in front of the camera. And while this is certainly one of his more handsome photographs (and I like that they left in a few wrinkles around his eyes!), I don't see much of that magnetic personality coming through. I think it's partly a matter of scale. It might have been nice to see Dr. Oz's face a little bigger so his smile and the twinkle in his eyes could have been more evident.
The cover lines also feel prototype-ish to me. They're generic in the sense that they could appear on any women's magazine. There's nothing that seems unique to Dr. Oz, or original and exciting. They read more like the dummy headlines that art directors throw on covers when they start designing, waiting for editors to develop perfectly-crafted blurbs that reach out and grab the readers. And most importantly, the cover typography overwhelms the logo.
The logo is baffling to me, and is definitely the biggest problem on the cover. I'm confused by the structure of the title. Is it Dr. Oz The Good Life, or The Good Life, with a Dr. Oz kicker? There's nothing distinctive about this logo, and it's lost among the jumble of other type and colors. It almost looks like just another headline on the page instead of the name and brand of the magazine. Compare this logo to HGTV and Food Network (which were based on pre-existing network logos), or to the custom logo design of O, The Oprah Magazine, all of which are unique and instantly recognizable. Interestingly, in the initial cover that was used to promote the magazine in its prototype stages, The Good Life logo was bigger, filling edge to edge, and designed in multiple colors to give it more flavor and character. I like that version much better.
According to recent press reports the launch issue design director and photo editor have left The Good Life, and a new art team is being brought in to reconfigure the magazine's look for the second issue. I'm guessing that Hearst recognized the less-than-stellar results of this first cover and that the next one is going to be much stronger and more memorable. Incidentally, there was a very nice Dr. Oz cover for Hearst's Good Housekeeping published last April. It featured a very warm, fun photograph (Dr. Oz loves those blue sweaters!) and a nifty set of headlines, smartly designed with lots of texture and excitement. I hope the next cover of The Good Life looks as good as that one.
With the new year well under way, one item that has been of focus to the audience development department at NewBay Media is lead generation. Below Iâ€™ll discuss how we can help our publishers in gating white papers, digital supplements, etc., in an effort to generate leads and keep track of what our readers are interested in. Itâ€™s a win-win situation if done correctly.1. First itâ€™s important to understand that yes, itâ€™s more work for the audience development department to take on the responsibility of gating these products in an effort to generate leads. However, itâ€™s important to capture all the information we can on our readers and have it in one database instead of having these leads kept outside of it and out of our control.2. At NewBay Media we use one of our fulfillment houses to gate the forms that will in turn give access to the reader.Â 3. We work with the sales person or publisher to ensure that we are collecting the information they need from these leads. Once we have that information we work with the fulfillment house to create the gated form.Â 4. The gated form is linked to our database, where all the leads are fed into a specific path that is later accessible to us to either download or email other potential products/information to those leads.5. We then move on to create the email (again with the approval of the publisher) that will provide information about the product and a link to the gated page. Once the person fills out the form, they gain immediate access to the white paper, digital edition, etc.The beauty of this process is that once you set up one form all you need to do is have the form cloned/replicated to use for a different product. So the more you do it the easier it gets. And the main goal is to feed all the information that the reader is providing on the form back into the database and tied into their record. This helps us build a more robust database of our readers.
Customer and audience frustrations are fertile ground for new revenue opportunities. Sometimes it's easy to map those frustrations to a new data product or service, and sometimes you hit a brick wall. When that happens, it helps to get outside your comfort zone to find solutions.1. Generate Data From ScratchHere's a real example: A data publisher supplies data about a certain commodity to the financial industry. They identified a need for real-time data about shipments of this commodity into and out of U.S. ports, but the buyers and sellers closely guarded the information and would not sell it. Undeterred, the publisher set up webcams at all major U.S. ports and used some simple software to assess shipment volumes based on how high in the water the ships rode. That company has created a proprietary data product that is sold at a premium to commodities traders who use this data daily. This "brute force" approach might seem a bit unrealistic for most of us, but it shouldn't. There is still plenty of opportunity to build new data products by going out and grabbing data that nobody has bothered to get yet, and then presenting it in a way that's immediately useful to someone.2. Create MashupsThere is also revenue to be mined from simply packaging or combining data to make it more useful or compelling. If you want to capture some of this revenue, you should do it quickly, because there are few barriers to competition. Someone is going to beat you to it or the government is already doing it well enough that it's not worth trying to monetize. Case in point: How do I find an unbiased, detailed evaluation of rehab facilities near my elderly parents' home? There are several commercial operations that have tried to make a go of this, but this Medicare site is better than any of them. That's because the ratings data is generated directly from government inspections of the facilities, and even the government is now figuring out how to present data usefully to consumers.A bigger example of this kind of disintermediation is how Google has obliterated traditional b-to-b directories and buyers guides. There is a way to transform some of these into data products someone is willing to pay for, but it's an uphill slog.3. Leverage Your Existing DataDo you do a "Top 10" or "Top 100" projects, products or technologies? Many awards programs can support a data product spin-off. Does your editorial coverage regularly include industry statistics and information your readers see as competitive intelligence? If so, and assuming you don't cover financial services, energy or pharma, there is likely an opportunity for you to create a data product, and to explicitly blend that with your editorial coverage. Done correctly, editorial can be the marketing funnel for a data product or services. Skift CEO Rafat Ali has some interesting thoughts on this concept. Wardsauto.com is a good example of this paradigm.Data product opportunities don't last forever, and those willing to roll up their sleeves and map the way forward are far more likely to capture the bulk of the profit potential.Â
In my last post, I talked about how to match your digital magazine's features with your audience. Here, I'll carry that forward into measurement. It is imperative that you measure the effect of your digital edition initiative very carefullyâ€”and honestly. You need to set your goals in advance, but there is no reason why these goals cannot change providing there is a sound reason to do so.See Also: Matching Your Digital Magazine Features With Your AudienceCirculation professionals long ago learned that the editor who said, â€śJust send people one renewal. People love this magazine, theyâ€™ll renew,â€ť was never correct. If you think that works, give me a call, I have a bridge I can sell you. It is important you base your decisions on actual results compared to what you are trying to achieve. I know it is going against popular thinking, but a 20 percent open rate is really not that impressive because what a 20 percent open rate really means is that 80 percent didnâ€™t. What should your strategy be if you're faced with this situation? First, is the open rate approximately the same each month and is it the same people each month? If the answer is yes to these two questions, then you need to concentrate on the 80 percent who are ignoring you. You also need to ascertain how many people in the 20 percent category actually download the magazineâ€”the more the merrier. Those people who open the email, but do not download the issue need to be addressed. There are many reasons why they didn't download it, but you need to know because it could be something that is easily fixable.How you approach improving the digital response depends on what it is you are trying to achieve with your digital issue. If your digital issue is just to support the print product as an added benefit, then a low open rate may be acceptable. If you are trying to move to a digital-only platform, a low open should not be acceptable. The reason people renew a magazine is because it helps them professionally or entertains them privately, but in both cases, this requires the reader to actually have access to the magazine. A print magazine has an advantage because it can sit on a desk or table and have visibility until the cleaners come, but a digital magazine lurks on a computer and is not as visible. Put simply, people forget.If you are creating digital issues based on demographics, or regions, check to see if there is any variance in open rates because it could be a certain demographic does not respond as well as anotherâ€”and the same goes for regions. It does not make sense to create something that is being ignored but unless the data you are reviewing is measurable, making a decision is difficult.The key thing is to work on the 80 percent who don't open the edition. The more you can reduce this figure, the better off you will be. Whether it is fair or not, digital magazines get judged differently than print because data is available on digital deployments that is simply not available on magazines deployed by the post office.
HDA is aÂ St. Louis-based distributor that has been the magazine and book supplier of specialty magazines to specialty stores since 1983. Recent events, however, have indicated the company is dealing with some major problems. A client of mine had been blindsided by HDAâ€™s refusal to receive 57,000 copies of their magazine. The copies were bound for Lowes, Menards, and Dollar General. A confused shipper contacted the client to find out what was up. The publisher had no idea.Neither, it appeared, did anyone else. Calls to national distributors were received with shock and confusion. Calls to some of HDAâ€™s retail partners were met with blank disbelief. Even now, no official announcement has been made. There is no press release, notice, explanation, or any kind of acknowledgement at all on the HDA website.According to Bob Ketterer, HDA Inc.'s president, CEO and chairman, the company is working through a significant debt restructuring. â€śWe donâ€™t intend to file for bankruptcy protection," he said in a phone call. "We are in a reorganization, but have neither declared nor been forced into bankruptcy. Our intention is to continue as a book and magazine distributor. The process had to be sped up because of our arrangement with the bank. We ship to 16,000 locations around the U.S. The locations are 100-percent SBT (scan based trading). What that means is that we own that debt load. It drove up the debt to a level the bank and the secured creditors found unacceptable, and we were forced to cut overhead dramatically. Banks are both risk-averse and unfamiliar with the way our business works. The restructuring process was hastened based on the bank demands.â€ťHDA employees, I am told, showed up at work Monday morning to find the doors to their company locked. Each received a letter indicating that it was the last day of work and the last day of insurance coverage. People with whom I spoke were stunned. There had been a shared perception that things had been going well; only a few days before they had been informed by Lowes that they could count on continuing as magazine category manager for the Loews stores through 2017.â€śIt wasnâ€™t ideal,â€ť Ketterer acknowledged. â€śIn fact, it was one of the saddest days of my life. I started this business 30 years ago. Some of those people were with us 15-20 years. It was rough. But we really had no choice.â€ťÂ What about the hundreds of magazine and book publishers with whom they work to distribute several thousand titles to the specialty market? What about the outstanding payments owed? I asked Ketterer about my clientâ€™s receivablesâ€”the publisher, whose publication is Loweâ€™s top-selling magazine, is looking for contractually agreed-upon payment that hasnâ€™t been received. â€śWe want to continue to do so. Weâ€™re still very much in business. We are working with the bank and an investor to restructure and move forward. We are going to be leaner and meaner. We would like our publishing and retailer partners to work with us.â€ťAccording to a source, HDA hopes to re-open within eight to ten days, and hire back a team from the employees turned away on Monday. Ketterer did not immediately confirm this.I mentioned this to my publisher client. â€śItâ€™s got to be a two-way street,â€ť the publisher replied. â€śWe have always worked cooperatively with HDA, delivering to them Lowes' top-selling magazine. Lowes has been paying HDA every week, based on the very-healthy POS sales. I havenâ€™t seen that money, and I havenâ€™t had a return call from the distributor. If Iâ€™m to work with HDA, HDA needs to work with me.â€ť
Welcome to the first edition of Face Up Online.
If you're a reader of our Magazine then you're familiar with the concept. But if you're new, it's simple: Designers from around the industry critique various magazine covers. The critiques are often highly technical and aim to help designers consider certain practices before they go out and plan their next package.
Face Up in print does have a few hitches though--timeliness, frequency and sometimes space. There are so many great covers being produced week after week, but we only get to focus in on a dozen or so each year. Face Up Online gives us the flexibility to start conversations about more covers on a regular basis, and in some cases, when it matters.
We didn't want the online version to look like a magazine replica. Print allows us to slow the story down and speak with a multitude of creatives, and tell the tale behind the cover from a magazine's perspective. Here, the objective is to extend the franchise but shake up some mission-critical elements by adding historical context, cross comparisons, emotional response and insightful storytelling.
Design vet Robert Newman will be teaming up with us and every other week to offer his expert opinion. To kick things off we showed him a handful of covers to consider and he quickly narrowed it down to Arizona Highways' January issue.
Here's his take:
This is a solid, well-done cover, featuring crisp easy-to-read typography, understated, tasteful color and of course a powerful image. Arizona Highways is known for spectacular scenic photography, but even by their high standards this picture is a great one. I've looked at the magazine for decades, and I'd rank this photo of "The Wave" as one of their all-time best.
Arizona Highways' current cover format engages the readers with headlines and teasers much more than it did in the past, and creative director, Barbara Glynn Denney, is very skilled at integrating type and graphics while leaving plenty of space for the cover photograph to breath and luxuriate. There's a strong attention to detail and positioning as well; an obviously keen eye is assembling the parts and polishing them into a very elegant package.
That said, I think the main cover headline, "10 Rare Opportunities," is a head scratcher. I think if you're going to put a headline of that size over a picture with that kind of impact, it really needs to be a lot more direct and engaging, instead of sitting there thick and dense like a big old slab of petrified wood. Imagine this headline attached to an online story or a tweet, and how little attention it would attract. It seems to me that a main cover headline should captivate and promise as much magic as the photograph it accompanies (and the story it's representing). This headline does not come close to doing that.
At the risk of sounding hopelessly old school, I wish that Arizona Highways could return to something of the graphic flavor of their covers from the 1960s. And yes, I know that classic logo of theirs that I love hasn't appeared since Nixon was President, but there was something about it that gave the magazine a very specifically Arizona and Western flavor, something that is lacking in the current slick but place-unspecific design. A number of regional magazines, including Los Angeles and Atlanta, have created very characteristic logos with a hand-crafted feel, that help give them a dash of local flavor.
The design of Arizona Highways, separate, of course, from those wonderful cover photos, feels like it could be from Oregon, or Philadelphia, Vermont, or anyplace else. Those 1960s Arizona Highways covers feel very contemporary to me, reminiscent of some of the very polished and elegant indie magazines that have been sprouting up in the U.S. and U.K. At a minimum, perhaps Arizona Highways could do a split run cover, and give their subscribers a version with minimal cover lines, and a photograph presented in full, unobstructed glory. -BN
Robert Newman was most recently the creative director of Reader's Digest. He has been the creative director of Real Simple and the design director of Entertainment Weekly, New York, Details, Vibe, Inside, The Village Voice, and Guitar World. He was also the editor of The Rocket, a music and culture magazine based in Seattle. Visit his site and read his full bio and follow him @Newmanology.Â
If you are a media company, your top-selling product for 2017 probably hasn't been invented yet. This was one of the more headline-worthy findings of JEGI's 2014 Media Growth Study (pdf). You don't have to believe in Kurzweil's Singularity to see that the rate of change in information technology is accelerating. The shrinking time-to-adoption curves in this plot illustrate that technologies go from invention to mass adoption more quickly every year.
It's easy to be overwhelmed by the rate of change, and get caught up in chasing the latest technology as the savior of your business. But when new technology goes mass-market so quickly, the competitive advantage it confers to early adopters doesn't last very long. Soon everybody has it and it's just table stakes. All industries are in the process of being disrupted by information technology, even if they don't all see it yet. I believe the only way to maintain competitive advantage is to be better and faster than your competitors at translating customer needs into new business models. The promise of predictive analytics based on Big Data may allow deep-pocketed companies to build defensible market positions for themselves for a time, but automation and optimization can only go so far. We aren't yet at the point where algorithms can make the leap from vaguely-expressed customer frustration to ground-breaking new product concept. Where do you start? In the JEGI study, 31 percent of executives said they had a structured innovation program for generating new product ideas, while 71 percent said launching new products or services would be a top growth driver over the next two years. That's a disconnect you can take advantage of. Create and embrace a structure for innovation in your company and you'll innovate faster and more effectively. What does that structure look like? Sounds like a great topic for another post.
Is your website converting visits to revenue efficiently enough? Getting people to fill out a registration form or click through on an offer is difficult, but getting it right is critical in the battle for revenue and market share. The most effective thing you can do is to learn directly from your users how to lay out your site and what to offer. The benefits of this approach are well-documented, but the example that resonates with most of us is the ACA or "Obamacare" website. This site was built the way many publisher sites are, without doing any usability testing up front. We all know how that turned out.Let's review the typical approaches taken by publishers:Focus Group of OneUse internal staff as "stand-ins" for your users. Editors know their readers, so this should work, right? It's popular because it's really easy. The dismal results of this approach are everywhere. Research Best PracticesStudy the latest best practices in user interface design, lean UX, persuasion architectures, and the many sources of insight about how to remove friction from your conversion funnels. This is worthwhile, and applying these lessons to your site will likely generate measureable improvement. However, there are problems. Which expert do you believe? How do the cumulative results of user behavior on many other sites compare to your users, your industry and your content? Best practices give you insights like "send your newsletter on Tuesday morning" or "make action buttons bigger." They can't be specific to your users because they represent aggregated, normalized data, not detailed feedback. Researching and applying best practices is a lot better than the focus group of one, but it's still a scattershot approach.A/B or Multivariate TestingTools like Adobe Target, Google Experiments or Optimizely can allow you to test copy, layout and graphical elements to see which combinations yield the best conversion rate. What this kind of testing can't reveal is why users like Page A more than Page B. You might get lucky, but this kind of testing is best used to optimize products that have already been designed with direct input from your users. Usability TestingUsability testing involves the user going though a number of tasks while giving constant feedback to the researcher. Everything the user does is captured in a screen recording, and in a video that captures the user's reactions at every stage. In this way researchers understand in detail how well users are able to use the website or app, what confuses or annoys them, and what they'd really like to see but don't. Then you go build according to what you learned, and before launch, you test it again to make sure you got it right.Think about the last major brand site that left you frustrated. For me it was trying to add minutes to my kids' AT&T prepaid phones. An hour of bouncing between website and phone representatives finally finished what should have taken a minute of navigating and clicking. I can guarantee you that AT&T skipped usability testing, with a very frustrating result for millions of customers like me. Do you think a poorly-designed subscribe process is any less frustrating for your users?Usability testing isn't cheap (figure $20,000 to start) because it involves a lot of time, resources and logistics. That price tag is dwarfed by the amounts publishers regularly spend on designs that confuse and confound users. Publishers who apply usability as part of their regular process would prefer that you continue to view it as something that can be safely ignored. If you want to make more than incremental improvements in your next site redesign, budgeting for usability testing is a smart move.
More and more publishers have a digital version of their magazines and if you are about to embark upon the digital road, there is a great deal to consider before you take the plunge.Digital magazines can do a lot to boost a publisherâ€™s presence, but there are many issues to keep in mind. The savvy circulation professional knows to look at both the positive and negative possibilities as a matter of course. The savvy circulation professional recognizes,Â Â for instance, that a 70 percent renewal response really equates to 30 percent of the file disappearing. The savvy circulation professional will recognize that you need to evaluate what kind of digital magazine will work for your market.Digital magazines have one major advantage over print: you can adapt them to individual readersâ€™ requirements. Print cannot do this easily, although it has been done for longer than you may think. The Economist, Time, and Newsweek as far back as the seventies used to change the pagination of most issues to reflect readership simply by moving sections of the magazine around.In deciding what will work for your magazine, you have to look at what you have available. You also have to decide what you want to achieve by producing a digital version. Is it going to support the print product or branch out on its own? Is it going to replace the print product? Does the editorial department have the ability to be proactive in possibly producing â€śpersonalâ€ť content? What information can you access on your subscribers to make their digital experience worthwhile?Answers to these questions will dictate the digital path you need to take. Digital magazines arguably have a disadvantage over printâ€”and that is accessibility, ironically enough. You need something to read the magazine on, be it a tablet, phone, laptop or desktop. Some of these options are more portable than others, but the fact is that a print product just needs to be picked up and you are good to go. You need to make readersâ€™ experience as memorable as possible otherwise renewal and requalification rates will start to fall and this is something we already know, certainly on controlled circulation as response rates differ vastly between print and digital.At its simplest your digital magazine can just be a copy or replica of your print publication. Not only is this the simplest solution, it is also probably the cheapestâ€”and the most boring. However, as noted above a digital strategy is a companywide thing, it relies on the abilities of production, editorial, advertising as well as circulation or audience development. You can split a digital edition out by geographic area, and this could be as broad as continent or as narrow as zip or post code. If you have demographics on your subscribers, you could gear your editorial according to those demographics.Â The more demographics or information you have, the more defined your digital magazine can be.Next week weâ€™ll discuss how far you can take your digital initiative and what you need to measure to see whether it is workingâ€”or not.