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 HDAâs 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 HDAâs 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. âWe donât 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.âHDA 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.âIt wasnât ideal,â Ketterer acknowledged. âIn 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.âÂ 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 clientâs receivablesâthe publisher, whose publication is Loweâs top-selling magazine, is looking for contractually agreed-upon payment that hasnât been received. âWe want to continue to do so. Weâre 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.âAccording 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. âItâs got to be a two-way street,â the publisher replied. âWe 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 havenât seen that money, and I havenât had a return call from the distributor. If Iâm to work with HDA, HDA needs to work with me.â
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 publisherâs 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 âpersonalâ 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 printâand 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 cheapestâand 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 weâll discuss how far you can take your digital initiative and what you need to measure to see whether it is workingâor not.
My first day at work in 2014, I was delighted to get a call from a very dear mentor of mine, a former wholesaler who built his business in the years when there were hundreds of them and closed it when independent wholesalers were losing their place in the changing distribution model.This wholesaler has a few bookstores left from the old days and keeps his finger on the pulse of magazine distribution through his stores and his friends in the business. Heâs always had a remarkable sense of the ebb and flow of business trends and what they indicate, so when Iâm lucky enough to hear from him I always listen attentively to what he has to say. Naturally I wanted to know what he thinks about our current magazine landscape.What he sees is opportunity.âThe business today is just the same as it was when I first got into it,â he said. âDominated by very large distributors who couldnât maintain profit by sending product to such far-flung locations. Magazines are disappearing from the shelves because no one could afford to distribute them to the stores. Racks are getting smaller as a result. Handling all those magazinesâthatâs a lot of work.âMaybe so, but where, I wondered, was the opportunity? It looks like the opposite, doesnât it?Not for a trucker or a shipper or a warehouse, my friend responded. Not for someone starting out and looking for a need to fill. âIf I were a young man, Iâd do now what I did then,â he said. âIâd start a wholesale agency. Iâd pick up local businesses, the stores that canât make it work getting their shipments from thousands of miles away, and Iâd bring them magazines and Iâd do it well. We had consolidation, then we had fragmentation, and now we have consolidation again. Itâs time for the pendulum to swing back.âMy old friend is quick to acknowledge the differences todayâthe national chains doing their buying nationally, the loss of the mom and pop businesses that once played such a key role, the growth of digital sales. But problems, in his world, equal opportunities, and a broken model demands fundamental shifts.âThroughout this country we still have local businesses,â he said. âTheyâre starting up all the time. Chain stores are closing down here and there and independent retailers are moving into their old space. And some chains want local service for their stores.âYouâll be seeing changes in the coming years, even just in this year. And one way the changes could go is to have new local agencies pop up, to do the work the big guys canât.â
Harlan Hogan said âyou never get a second chance to make a first impression,â which is almost as annoying as âthere is no âIâ in team,â but even more annoying is both these sayings happen to be true.Whether you are sending a new offer, a renewal effort, an invoice or an order acknowledgement, your outer envelope speaks volumes about your publication. Therefore, before you decide on outer envelope copy, make sure you understand your audience. âYo Dude! Hereâs a mega awesome offer!â is probably not going to work well if you are offering a new subscription and your audience is CEOs, expectant mothers or students of English literature. Keep in mind the audience you are serving. Sending a letter to chief executives in a plain envelope without any copy whatsoever almost guarantees the letter will be opened, thus proving the adage âless is moreâ is just as annoying as âthere is no âIâ in teamâ as well as Mr. Hoganâs message noted earlier.Keeping the message on target is important, but urging the recipient to do something is also a good technique. If I get an envelope that states: âYou need do nothingâ, then I do nothing and throw the unopened envelope away. If I get an envelope that says: âYou need do nothingâŚ but what about 5 extra issues?â my trash can may not fill up quite so quickly, since now I am intrigued by the offer.Iâm not sure how many people only send renewal notices by email, but if you do not put at least a couple of renewal efforts in the mail, you are missing an opportunity. I know more and more people are getting and paying their invoices on the Internet but many are still convinced itâs unsafe for personal data. Donât let âbeing greenâ stop you from mailing some renewal efforts. And be creative. Done correctly, you will see a good response to mail efforts, probably better than your email response.Putting an acknowledgement of an order into the mail is not a bad idea. You can use this notice to offer people an opportunity to extend their subscription term (called a renewal at birth), or offer them other products. Hereâs suggested copy: âThanks for being part of our family and as a valued member, here are some other products we thought you might like to know about.â This approach makes you a) look as if you really care (which you do) and b) get more revenue just for being nice.However, all of this relies on one thing, getting people to open the envelope. Ask yourself what makes you open an envelope. The promise of a benefit? Something free inside? Engagement, such as a short quiz?Think long and hardâŚand prosper!
Native advertising and programmatic buying were all the rage in 2013âand for good reason.According to eMarketer, native ad spending will exceed $3 billion in just three years. Publishers are trying to take advantage, of course, with nearly 75 percent now offering online native ads across their sites. Any why not? BuzzFeed, the poster child for native, is both profitable and growing at a time when many media companies, new and old alike, are finding it increasingly difficult to do either of those things.Still, native advertising only shared annual buzzword honors with programmatic buying. Programmatic is expected to account for nearly 30 percent of all display ad spending by 2017âor over $9 billion. Thatâs because 85 percent of advertisers use it, with 91 percent expected to do so in the next two years. And like native, publishers are going where the money is. 72 percent now have programmatic offerings in place.Long-term growth for both native and programmatic is clear. But the two categories are still very young. Over the next year, how might the way in which we use them change? Here are a few predictions.Native Advertising1. Standardization Is ComingWith the recent release of the IAB's Native Ad Playbook, weâll see continued standardization of native ads and native ad serving. Rememberâwhile native spending will likely hit $3 billion in just a few years, the concept is, again, relatively new. Implementing structure and a consistent framework will only help both buyers and sellers maximize opportunities and take full advantage of the trend.2. âAnsweringâ the Scale QuestionThe next big hurdle in native advertising will be to close the programmatic-native gap. The pressure is on figuring out how to automate native, similar to RTB and programmatic, so that publishers can create custom content quickly and with little overhead, to drive actual scale.3. Expect Greater RegulationDisclosure and transparency in native advertising will continue to be top-of-mind for the industry. Expect stronger guidelines and standards to be considered by the FTC in the New Year, with the industry encouraging self-regulation, as seen with the IABâs Native Ad Playbook.4. Native will Be More Data-drivenSuccessful native campaigns will be heavily reliant on the data and insights gleaned from programmatic initiatives. This means that understanding how creative functions and drives programmatic performance will become increasingly useful in planning native campaigns.Programmatic Buying1. Buyers will Grow into Tech ExpertsAs automation and programmatic continue to take center stage, media buyers will become increasingly technology-proficient to interpret data and provide strategic insight to clients.2. Premium Programmatic will Be KeyThe industry is still confused about what programmatic, and especially premium programmatic, really means. As more and more publishers adopt programmatic strategies in 2014, the emphasis will shift from understanding the medium to progressing it. This means more emphasis on âpremium programmatic,â mobile, video, etc.3. Marrying Programmatic and Native2014 will be the year we see native and programmatic begin to court one another. In 2013, we created a false dichotomy between the two formats, with native on one side, programmatic on the other. Rather than separate the two, we need to understand how they can work together, plugging each otherâs gapsâscale and quality, for exampleâto improve message delivery.4. Direct Sales will Go ProgrammaticWith more dollars moving towards programmatic buying channels, I expect greater pressure on the direct sales teams in the New Year. As a result, one of the things we will see is direct sales teams working hard to acquire the skills and relationships needed to drive premium programmatic deals. ---The future is obviously very bright for both native and programmatic. In 2013, they solidified themselves as key growth areas for the long-term. In 2014, however, we can expect evolutions in each category, with more synergy between the two to better deliver for advertisers, marketers, brands and publishers.
Marissa Mayer was the emcee of her own keynote presentation at CES on Tuesday, deflecting the spotlight from her and onto the key people leading some of the changes at Yahoo. A packed theatre at CES welcomed the hour-long advertisement from the Yahoo CEO because, well, it was interesting and entertaining. It was about the most important people: us.Â Whether it was David Pogue, the new vp of content, unveiling the Yahoo Tech digital magazine or Katie Couric, the new global anchor for Yahoo, talking about the importance of trust-worthy journalism, Mayer made sure the key takeaway for stockholders (and us) was that Yahoo was innovating, pivoting and rejiggering for none other than us. Yahoo is a platform customizable to your habits, so much so that it just acquired a service called Aviate that predicts which apps youâll need at any given moment and moves them to your homescreen (we donât have time anymore to swipe to the next screen).Â The CES audience, which comprises what Pogue called "the Geekheads" versus 85 percent of everyone else, âthe Normalsâ, wanted to hear what Yahoo has done to become relevant again and what it will do to become more useful. As is evident in the 3,200+ exhibits at CES this year, technology is complex and the choices for how we spend our time are abundant. Yahoo and other brand leaders are answering the call to give us what we want when we want it.Â Mayerâs goal could mirror most brandsâ: to turn âcomplexity into clarity.â For Yahoo that means focusing on four key areas: Search, Communications, Digital Magazines (mini-sites, not actual magazines) and Video. Its acquisition of Flickr and Tumblr validate what we already know to be true: that photos and storytelling are the future, and most likely on your mobile device. Its hiring of Katie Couric sent a message to its community that a quality interview requires a great interviewer. A few SNL "Weekly Update" cast members, plus a John Legend mini-concertâall during Mayerâs keynoteâwere crafted to showcase Yahooâs coolness. Â Â Â Mayer and her cohort of presenters representing Yahoo wanted us to know that personalization and simplification are what we should expect from this media brand starting now. It should get many marketers and media companies thinking the same thing about their brands.Â The challenge is that being simple is not so simple.
In earlier posts, I wrote about the value of having a mobile app for your brand, and briefly touched on the associated marketing and sales challenges. In this post, Iâll dig deeper into how to successfully launch an app and build an audience.
See Also: So Your CEO Says You Need to Be a "Digital First" Publisher? Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Unlike the Web, publishers cannot passively accumulate an app audience, but rather need to take a very active role in driving downloads. The adage, âIf you build it they will comeâ doesnât hold true for apps. The reason for this is that app stores are islands unto to themselves and the benefits of the open Web (i.e., people stumbling upon your app via search) arenât available. Compounding this issue are App Store discoverability challenges, including:
â˘ Limited Search Identifiers. Search in app stores is based on a limited number of key words that you select when you upload the app, rather than the metadata associated with the content/articles themselves. Google just started testing the ability to index and deep link into an app with the release of KitKat but the outcome is questionable, while Apple doesnât even offer such capabilities. Â â˘ Too Many Apps per Category. The idea of a user browsing a category (say news) and finding your app is laughable because of the sheer number of apps in any category (i.e., 26,134 apps in the news category alone). Simply put, there are just too many apps for people to browse through.Â
â˘ Ranking Is a Chicken and Egg Problem. An appâs rank in a store (both for search and by category) is generally dependent upon its rating, but without any downloads the app starts at the bottom of the list. As such, the act of putting an app in an app store doesnât guarantee any downloads.
Given these discoverability issues, when launching an app you need to have a well-thought out marketing plan. The good news is that as media companies we have a certain advantage over others in that we have media channels available to us that we can leverage to drive app downloads. These âfreeâ channels include running print ads, email ads, online ads and mobile Web ads in publications we control. To drive the most downloads, your media plan should include all of these free channels as well as paid placements on competitor sites/apps (if youâve got some extra marketing dollars lying around). Three tips to keep in mind are:
â˘ Calls-to-Action on Mobile Devices Work Best. In my experience, the most effective tool in driving downloads is to pop-up a âdownload now adâ when the user goes to your mobile website. The messaging in these âadsâ simply ask the user if sheâd rather view the content via your app or via the mobile website. This is not so much a marketing exercise, but rather a product development exercise.
â˘ Print Ads Require Short-Codes. If you are going to use offline (e.g., print) ads to drive downloads be sure to use a âredirectingâ short-code thatâs easy to use and remember (e.g., at.law.com/apps), rather than the full appstore URL.
â˘ Make Money From the âDownload Adsâ. If youâre smart about leveraging the marketing channels you already own and have a good sales team you can also turn a âdownload adâ into revenue by packaging it with a sponsorship opportunity. This has been a tried-and-true approach for us at ALM where weâve sold compelling sponsorship packages to advertisers that combine offline and online channels. These ads typically say something like âDownload the new XZY app brought to by ABCâ with the sponsorâs brand effectively incorporated into the ad.
To sum things up, driving downloads takes time and effort.Â With hundreds of thousands of apps out there, building an audience is as much a function of your marketing efforts, as it is the value of the underlying app.
Years ago, user-generated content (UGC) was typically perceived as "low-quality" media, or at the very least, "lowbrow" entertainment. While the bite-sized content was often engaging, if not inspired, brands tended to shy away from it in fear that an unsavory YouTube clip or crazy cat meme wouldn't sit well--or neatly--next to their carefully crafted brand message.
That's no longer the case, though--not when 80% of online content today is user-generated. Social media and self-publishing tools have created a glut of online amateur content while also increasing the overall quality of the material. As a result, we've seen a sea change in the way publishers work with and integrate UGC onto their sites, and the way they sell it as a value-add for brands.
Smart publishers have found ways to produce professional content, while also tapping their communities to enhance that content with their own. Also, more publishers now have a reputation platform in place allowing them to surface the best UGC and gather a wealth of data on the best experts in their communities. By doing so, publishers get brand-safe material to leverage-and opportunities for new revenue in the bargain.
Still, it's a nascent, unique model that only a handful are embracing effectively. Here are, in my view, the top three.
Most everything about BuzzFeed is highly curated, user-generated content. From the imagery and videos in the actual posts, to the recently launched BuzzFeed Community, BuzzFeed has made UGC the cornerstone of what's become a very successful and now profitable business.
The potential promise in BuzzFeed Community, however, from both a branding and revenue perspective, is especially fascinating and, I think, an eye-opener for online publishers.
Launched in May, BuzzFeed Community is a platform for readers to submit their own BuzzFeed-branded or styled pieces. It's basically a user-generated content pipeline. But if you think of it from a brand advertising point of view--the best user-submitted pieces are featured on the site's homepage and down the road BuzzFeed could possibly repackage that content for "reader-first" native advertising--it's ripe with potential.
Gawker Founder Nick Denton has been referred to as "the most disruptive force in online media right now." When you look at what Gawker is doing in the space today, with respect to both its brands and own technology, that's not an exaggeration.
Like BuzzFeed, Gawker has blurred traditional boundaries between reader and writer. The company recently developed its own proprietary commenting system, for instance, deploying it across its portfolio of sites and empowering its audience to be all things at once-"a writer, an arbiter, an editor, and a publisher." It turns publishing on its head and, similar to BuzzFeed Community, could evolve into reader-driven native ads.
Gawker is monetizing standard comments, too, turning them into native ad experiences of their own through brand-sponsored discussions within a page's comments section.
On the surface, Forbes and UGC may seem like an odd pairing. When you think of Forbes, its pedigree and authority as a venerable professional publisher is what stands out. But if you look closely, Forbes is innovating the use and value of UGC online.
In 2011, Forbes debuted a "Called Out" comments feature on Forbes.com, a social layer beneath every post's headline that surfaces selected conversations between the post's author and individual readers/commenters. It's a tool that points to the "best" UGC.
At first glance, this was a fairly simple feature-add, built to generate engagement across the site. But, when paired with Forbes BrandVoice, Forbes' branded content platform for paying advertisers, it becomes much more than that. "Called Out" comments deliver a relationship-building tool for brands within native pieces, while also allowing brands to highlight on-brand comments as a form of third-party validation.
As a result, comments become another asset that Forbes can market to advertisers, making their overall offering that much more attractive to potential customers. The Future-Role Reversal
As UGC has grown into a significant value-add for brands, UGC-first networks are also trying to evolve as publishers to take advantage. Take LinkedIn, for instance.
While it started as a social networking site, LinkedIn's success with its Influencers content submitted by power users has gained considerable attention among specialty publishers. It shows how engaging lightly edited, user-generated content can be when coupled with the right user base and tools, and how blurry the line is between "traditional" publisher and social networking community. To further blur these lines, the company's ability to cull data from its members' profiles allows it to work as an aggregator of professional content and push stories to us with better performance than a traditional publisher.
In fact, LinkedIn reports an eight-fold increase in traffic to all its news products since Influencers was launched earlier this year, with many posts recording more than 100,000 views.
And LinkedIn isn't the only UGC-driven network making headway in the publishing category. Medium and Quora are also making moves that spell greater ambitions in this area and that could pay off down the road.
Moving forward, pure community content can still be tough to trust (see: Yelp and Amazon). It takes a smart publisher that can blend together a variety of disciplines--content, technology, community moderation, audience quality, advertising, etc., to make UGC work. But, when done right, it translates into significant upside for those publishers and their advertising partners who recognize user-generated content as a real opportunity.