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Nick Cavnar

Is Your Database Unified or Integrated and Do You Know the Difference?

Nick Cavnar Audience Development - 08/06/2013-14:52 PM



Back in 2005, I proudly debuted my first audience database for a b-to-b media company focused on residential construction. Working with our fulfillment company, I’d pulled together all the subscribers from forty-some magazines and email newsletters into one consolidated database.
“Look at this!” I told the sales and marketing groups working with surveys and events and webinars. “Rather than just pull a list for our home builder magazine versus our remodeler magazine versus our architect magazine, we can identify all the builders and remodelers and architects we reach across all our products.”

The response was pretty much:

“Wow, that’s great! But for this particular effort, we only want to focus on remodelers. So let’s just use the remodeler magazine list.”

Yes, for all our hype about audience integration, many b-to-b marketers still think of audience as a mailing list or email list for each product and brand. Maybe it’s because we’ve done such a good job of establishing brand identity for advertisers—“If you want to reach Group A, you have to use our Magazine A!”—that  we find it hard to look beyond brand and see our audience as one pool of customers whom we touch through multiple channels.

Even many of the new integrated database systems being offered by fulfillment and email vendors focus on audience as a collection of lists. I’ve worked with several systems that simply compile multiple lists, so that an individual involved with several products ends up with multiple separate records. Yes, those individual records are matched up, so when you combine lists you’ll get a de-duplicated total. But the database is essentially just a big merge-purge, with no real integration of the records.

That type of database is sometimes called a “unified” structure, as distinguished from an “integrated” structure that builds a single consolidated record per individual. On a practical level, you can see the difference in the actual process of building a selection. Can you start by selecting all customers with a particular characteristic—everyone in certain states or with a valid email—regardless of what list they are in? Or must you always start by selecting List A and then List B and then List C, and combining the three for a de-duplicated total?

Both approaches have their advantages. A unified database is generally simpler to set up and manage. The structure makes it very easy to add new lists from multiple sources—a big help for media companies struggling to combine contacts and registrations from different channels. You don’t have to map each new source to update a consolidated individual record, with endless business rules for when one mailing address should override another or which business demographics have priority.

The “list first” query process of a unified structure also matches the way many of us think about list selection. In fact, if all you really need from your audience database is the ability to create targeted lists for promotions, a unified database will more than meet your needs—and probably cost substantially less in both time and money.

However, if your company is looking beyond easier list creation, and hopes to move into the big data world of communication and advertising targeted by individual behavior, then a simple unified list of lists won’t take you too far. You will need a true integrated database structured around the individual audience member, with a single record that ties together all of that individual’s registrations and history and activity.

I think most b-to-b media companies are still struggling to find big data business models that work in our small industry-specific niches. Most don’t need a true integrated audience database right now. But if you are picking a database solution today, keep in mind the structure you may need tomorrow.



Bob Cohn

Good Comment, Bad Comment: Fixing a Broken System

Bob Cohn Editorial - 08/02/2013-09:29 AM


One of the great promises of digital journalism is that it breaks down barriers between publications and readers.

Consider print: You publish a story, wait for the reader emails to arrive, choose the most interesting, run a fraction of those (heavily edited for space) in a letters-to-the-editor section, then wait for readers to see your selections in their next encounters with your magazine or newspaper. (If that sounds cumbersome, recall that as recently as two decades ago those letters came not by email but as dead-tree contributions.) Sometimes even the best letters can be confusing to readers, since they respond to articles that may have been read days or weeks ago—if they were read at all.

Now consider digital: You publish a story, make it possible for readers to write comments that appear directly beneath the article, and encourage them to respond to each other as well as to the author of the piece. All in real-time; at Atlantic sites, as at other web properties, comments typically start appearing minutes after a story is published. The average post may attract a dozen or two comments, but it’s not at all uncommon for a post to have hundreds. Or (less commonly) thousands.

At their best, comment threads can put topics in a new light, stir discussions, create community, even uncover new talent. Richard Lawson, now a senior writer at The Atlantic Wire, rose through the Gawker ranks from anonymous commenter to star writer. At The Atlantic, senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates had a particularly incisive commenter who went by the handle Cynic. We thought his observations in the comments section were so good that we asked him to contribute to the site under his own name. Now Yoni Appelbaum, a doctoral candidate at Brandeis, writes for us on everything from the Civil War to presidential politics to Amtrak.

Of course, commenters frequently are not at their best. Too often, comment sections are cesspools of vitriol, magnets for haters and trolls and spammers. Threads get hijacked so they are only tangentially connected to the topic of the underlying post. The lack of friction—mere seconds elapse between furious keystroking and posting to the world—can privilege snark over enlightenment.

The main issue here is whether comments create such a negative environment that they detract from the reading experience, a proposition to which many would answer yes. But some researchers fear the problem is deeper than that. A study by professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that people who read a neutral article about nanotechnology followed by uncivil comments were more likely to perceive risks with the technology than people who read the exact same article with civil comments appended. The alarming implication here is that the comments affect how readers understand the journalism.

So what’s a publisher supposed to do in the standoff between the world of good and bad comments? Some are, understandably, giving up. The ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., became so exasperated by the “mean-spirited, and at times hateful comments” that last month it pulled the plug.  “These comments provide no value to our readers and are time-consuming to moderate,” wrote the station’s director of new media.

There’s the rub. It takes a lot of moderating time to foster a positive commenting section. Writers or editors have to jump into the conversation to keep it on track, or to mete out justice by removing comments or even banning the worst offenders. It’s nice to think we’ll just let a thousand flowers bloom; in reality the garden needs to be weeded. But who’s got the resources? Coates says that at one point he was spending as much time moderating his comments section as he was writing posts for the site. That’s untenable—though, it must be said, Coates’s hard work created a terrific environment for readers and for himself. (When Ta-Nehisi won a National Magazine Award earlier this year for his magazine essay, Fear of a Black President, he thanked his commenters for the good suggestions they had made as he reported and wrote the piece.)

So if you believe—as I do—that comment sections can be good when aggressively moderated, but you don’t —as we don’t—have the human resources to undertake that moderating, what’s the answer? There are software solutions out there, like up/down voting systems that privilege the “best” comments by promoting them higher in the thread.  Likewise, publishers have tried various star systems to reward the best commenters and algorithms to identify and promote Most Favored Commenters, so the good stuff stays at the top and the bad stuff recedes. Some sites require commenters to register with their real names, a solution that can certainly promote civility but has its own costs.

At The Atlantic, we’re also trying something more radical. Earlier this year, we deputized two of Coates’s most faithful readers, giving them the keys to the site and assigning them to moderate his comments. They have the power to discipline and even ban. Ta-Nehisi says he chose readers who are “wise” and who had already “done the work of moderating by cooling down threads that were on the cusp of becoming knife fights.” The verdict: So far, so good. We’re watching this experiment closely, wondering if it can scale to other parts of our sites.

There’s an argument, of course, that in the age of social media, traditional commenting threads are archaic. If the purpose of a comments section is to foster discussion by amplifying reader feedback to an article or column, certainly much of the worthwhile discussion is taking place on Facebook and Twitter, not just at the bottom of a post. So a better system might integrate social media with traditional commenting.

New technologies and creative thinking will no doubt combine to build a better commenting system. In the meantime, publishers and readers alike have to decide whether our current imperfect system adds or subtracts to the journalism.


Pete Sheinbaum

Insure Your Content

Pete Sheinbaum emedia and Technology - 08/01/2013-13:52 PM


You buy a home and you get insurance to protect it. You buy a car and immediately sign up for insurance coverage. But, how many web publishers are insuring their content, which is their most important asset? The stark truth is none, or at least very few.
I’m not referring to insurance that protects media companies from hackers stealing their information or people re-using content on their own websites without permission. Rather, I’m talking about publishers making sure they’re not losing money on every page view and that they’re getting the most out of every site visit.
I’ve heard Steve Horowitz, COO of Ziff Davis, liken visitors coming to websites as a game of “Plinko for publishers.” Users come in, bounce around and fall into a slot. If the chip falls correctly, they land in the $100 slot, but, more often than not, it’s the $1 slot. It’s a complete game of chance. And this is a very risky game, now more than ever, as publishers and marketers find themselves shifting more of their budget from SEO to traffic acquisition.
Risky why? SEO has helped publishers yield readership for more than a decade. The rule was you spend a $1 on SEO, and you could predict the return. The recent changes in search algorithms (e.g., Panda and Penguin 2.0) have turned this upside down for publishers, effectively shaking this very predictable model to its core. Enter content marketing and other direct traffic-acquisition models. While these new techniques are a more stable and predictable way for publishers to spend money on readership acquisition, they’re also producing smaller margins.
To succeed in the Plinko analogy, publishers need to do their due diligence before acquiring readers and bringing them to the site to ensure they’ll remain engaged once they get there. This includes optimizing them for engagement, and instituting a process to funnel visitors to their most valuable pages and sections. Without this forethought, they can quickly find themselves with a bleeding budget.  
Here’s an example: A publisher named gets traffic on their site organically. They make a $20 RPM from ads or other monetization strategies, which equates to 2 cents per page view. Each visitor spends about three pages per visit (PPV), which puts 6 cents into the publisher’s pocket. If it costs them 4 cents to build their content and keep their site running, their profit is 2 cents or a 33 percent margin. Not bad.
But, if they are also buying some of their traffic, then this formula could quickly go sideways into the gutter of unprofitability. Think about this—6 cents in revenue, 4 cents in cost, and now 4 cents to purchase a visit? They just instituted a program that could cause them lose 2 cents on every visit. Ouch. This is actually a common occurrence within larger companies that have disparate teams responsible for purchasing traffic, operating the site and selling ad unit space.
So what about this insurance idea? How can publishers safeguard against losing money when rolling out their traffic-acquisition strategy? First and foremost, before any publisher decides to launch a traffic-acquisition program, they need to take a hard look at their website and figure out how to squeeze every ounce of engagement they can out of each visit. A/B testing must be employed to peer into the effectiveness of changes made to page architectures and layout, in addition to analyzing which content performs better than others. Are visitors drawn to video, slideshows or text articles with photos? What are they inclined to touch or click on to go deeper? Are in-content text links, interstitial or sidebar units effectively guiding readers to other high-quality pages? It must be balanced to ensure you’re upholding a premium reader experience, yet tested to determine the best efficacy with the audience itself. Rinse and repeat when the analytical tealeaves show their pattern.
By optimizing their websites, publishers can ensure that their marketing dollars are stretched to the limit. The math starts getting better too. If our publisher can increase each user visit from three page views to four, the 2-cent loss they were seeing now turns to break even. And, if they can stretch this to 4.5 or five pages per visit (not impossible), they are back in the black.
Traffic acquisition should be one of several techniques to increase awareness of a publisher’s website and generate page views. However, it’s exceedingly important that publishers and marketers take the time to optimize their websites before they acquire traffic or they risk quickly losing money on every visit. In essence, insuring their content to protect their profits.


Katelyn Belyus

FoxNews and Reza Aslan Both Win

Katelyn Belyus Consumer - 07/29/2013-15:57 PM




Here's the thing with Lauren Green's interview with Reza Aslan about his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth that aired on, which you've absolutely seen passed around Buzzfeed and Facebook like a cheerleader's slambook post-prom: It's 'gotcha' journalism. It wasn't meant to inform or engage (that is still the goal of journalism, right?). It wasn't meant to be thought provoking or to inspire debate. brought Reza Aslan on for an interview to boost ratings, period. He was asked that first question: “You're a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” because it was incendiary. FoxNews knows who is not its audience as well as who is its audience, and if they’re not going to make money off you for clicking a story because you like them, then they may as well make money off you for clicking a story because you don't like them. The network wanted a viral story, something with bite even if it had no teeth, because crazy press is bad journalism, and bad journalism equals good press, and all press leads to clicks, which leads to those sweet dollar bills, y'all. I mean, the first thing I thought was, “Craaaap... is Rupert really losing that much money?”

Aslan has over twenty years of experience researching religion and history. He is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, putting him the ranks of those other rabble-rousers, Horatio Alger and R.W. Emerson. Saying Reza Aslan, a known scholar of religion, shouldn't write a book about Christianity because he's Muslim is like saying Paul McCartney shouldn't write a book about vocal harmonies because he's a guitarist. [Did that make sense to you? No? Good.]

Let's be honest: No one really cares that Reza Aslan wrote a book about Jesus even though Aslan is a Muslim. Murdoch doesn't care. Ailes doesn't care. Lauren Green didn't even care enough to read the second page of Aslan's book where he notes his Islamic faith. And the bravado with which she goes after him is alarming, considering that she herself is a Christian who, as noted by Eric Hananoki at Media Matters, frequently reports on Islam.

The people who care about the Aslan-writing-about-Jesus bit are those easily-manipulated, fear-mongering Americans, because FoxNews has told them to care, and it's spent a decade building an empire that depends on a good chunk of its audience being afraid of Muslims.

In an interview with John Oliver on The Daily Show, Aslan talked about who Jesus really was, in the context of his time: “... [he] stood up for the weak and the powerless, the outcast and dispossessed... [Jesus] went to the cross on behalf of these outcasts he was fighting for...”

According to Aslan, Jesus was a rebel badass. And FoxNews can't have you agree because FoxNews doesn't make money if you agree. Jesus loved the underdogs so much, that he went to bat for every single one of them. It’s pretty hard to find controversy in a selfless Jesus, regardless of your religion. So instead, FoxNews switches the focus to the seemingly incongruous notion of a Muslim writing a book about Christianity. Otherwise, the network doesn't have a story, its audience doesn't have anything to get worked up about and the rest of the media has nothing to jump on.

So is FoxNews' crappy journalism a pretty genius marketing move? Only their ad team knows for sure. But given that Aslan's book just hit number two on the New York Times bestseller list, I'd bet they're happy to argue all the way to the bank.




Hugh Byrne

3 Lessons Learned With Responsive Design

Hugh Byrne B2B - 07/25/2013-12:18 PM


If you're like most b-to-b publishers, you're delivering a PC-optimized Web experience in a soon to be post-PC world.

So it's time to migrate your website(s) to responsive design: Displaying content that arranges automatically based on the device and screen size of the viewer.  This lets you provide optimal reading, navigating, and viewing from any device, from a desktop PC to a mobile phone.

In this post, I'll tell you about the transformation underway at GreenBiz to mobile-first, what we've discovered—and what we have yet to learn.

It's true that most b-to-b users are still using PCs to browse websites, but that's rapidly changing. In fact, PC shipments are forecast to drop 7.8% worldwide in 2013, IDC reports.

So it makes sense that Mashable declared 2013 the year of responsive design (conveniently announced shortly after launching its own responsive-design site). With the rise of technology to support multiple platforms, you'd think every publisher would have made the switch by now.

The diminishing clout of the PC is further highlighted by the dramatic rise in mobile traffic:



Tablets are clearly picking up ground. They have so far surpassed laptop sales in 2013, and are projected to outsell all PCs by 2015. And smartphones appear unstoppable, on pace to sell nearly a billion units this year.

At GreenBiz, our site has won awards for years. We want to continue winning awards, and so we are midway through a site overhaul, having drunk the Kool-Aid for adopting a mobile-first strategy. But like many things in life, what seemed like a no-brainer decision still presents a few challenges.

What we are finding:

1. Mobile Loves Pictures
Creating multiplatform news requires rethinking the role of images. In a desktop environment, our images are often an afterthought, stock photos providing a graphic complement to a largely text-based news item or blog post. On a mobile device, the feature image plays a larger role (literally) in drawing the reader into the article. Our editors are going to be spending more time thinking about images and how they contribute to telling the story across platforms.

2. Farewell My Leaderboard
Ad-serving technology is still playing catch-up to responsive design. There's just not a great solution for 728x90 leaderboards, and while you can use javascript code to swap ad tags based on device size, it's an inelegant solution with a decidedly workaround feel. But the 300x250 size is a happier story, as it works just fine across all platforms. And sponsored content is particularly well-suited for mobile.

3. Plug-Ins Need to Catch Up
Like a lot of publishers, we've added capabilities to our website that involve skinning third-party tools to appear native on our site. Things like our job boards, directories, e-commerce tools, and marketing automation, all neatly integrated into our site are going to stick out like a sore thumb when applied in a tablet or mobile phone environment. We're re-evaluating these vendors based on their mobile roadmap, and in some cases will be seeking new providers.

These are just a few of the challenges we've encountered, and as we near launch in the coming months there will undoubtedly be more. I'll keep you posted.


Stephanie Paige Miller

5 Digital Metrics Your Magazine Should Consider

Stephanie Paige Miller Editorial - 07/24/2013-15:04 PM

Brands get a lot of power from metrics, and everyone should take advantage of useful quantitative data. But although they're key indicators of brand health, page views and unique visits aren't everything. Social media should absolutely be part of your 360-degree view.

Why? Because social media creates a consumer narrative, telling you where users are coming from, what they're doing and what they're saying when they get there. This kind of qualitative data can fill gaps in your brand strategy.

A monitoring tool such as Adobe Social, Hootsuite, Chartbeat, or any of the Salesforce products (like Radian 6) will help you craft your social consumer narrative. And there are five critical metrics (often overlooked!) that you should focus on:

1. Social Referral Activity
Do your Twitter followers behave differently than Facebook fans once they land on site? For those coming in via Pinterest, are they consuming more pages than those who came in from Tumblr? Pinpointing what social followers are doing on-site allows you to anticipate consumer needs and will help inform your editorial calendar.

2. Quality of Your Followers
Sure, you may have 200,000 likes on Facebook, but how many of these users liked your page to get a deal or as part of a sweepstakes entry? (And complicating matters, less than 15 percent of them sees your Facebook posts thanks to Facebook Edge Rank). I'd argue that it's more valuable to have a small, highly engaged social following than a large, flat number-especially if advertisers want to see click-throughs, conversions and comments.

3. On-Site Social Engagement
Having a grasp on the most pinned, liked and tweeted content is important because it indicates what stories have the most virality. Include share buttons on slideshows and blog posts and pin-it buttons on all images. Encourage readers to share, comment, tweet and pin on every page. And when you discover something's hot, by all means, repurpose it: Consider leading your weekly newsletter with one of your most-pinned images, or incorporate copy from the most-tweeted blog post as part of a subject line, then monitor open-rates.

4. Share of Voice
How does your brand perform during a key moment in time? Whether it's a b-to-b trade show or a red carpet event such as the Oscars, is your brand surfacing as an authority in its space? Set metrics that will demonstrate how your social media presence boosted the number of @ mentions on Twitter, lead to heightened activity on Pinterest, increased tags and followers on Instagram or influenced more connections on LinkedIn.

5. New and Returning Visitors
Consider your seven-day and 30-day visitors. There may be a loyal following that returns to the site every day, but how long can you depend on that traffic? Are returning visitors exploring new sections or coming back to a specific page or tool? If your brand's audience refreshes seasonally (Bridal magazines, for example), it's important to have social strategies in place to keep unique traffic consistent.

What do you think? Tweet me the most over (or under) rated metrics @StephaniePaige.

Tony Silber

Native Advertising: Sticky or Icky?

Tony Silber Sales and Marketing - 07/22/2013-08:38 AM


The second story on BuzzFeed’s website Friday morning was…wait for it…“12 Comebacks We Can All Agree With.”

(I say ‘wait for it’ because anyone who knows BuzzFeed’s editorial approach knows its love for lists.)

It was a sponsored story—paid advertising—posted on behalf of Hostess, whose Twinkies and other brands are back after the production ceased and the company downsized nearly out of existence last year.

But the comebacks listed in the BuzzFeed story never once mentioned Hostess. It was all about other stuff.

It was actually a pretty good list, and pretty funny, too, despite small errors and its ‘intern-pulled-the-factoids-off-Wikipedia’ feel. So were the comments, not all of which were complimentary. “Uh, Arrested Development was canceled in Feb 2006, and the new season, specifically for Netflix, had 15 episodes. It really isn’t hard to check up on simple facts before submitting an ‘article,’” went one.

At the FOLIO: and Min MediaMashup event in April, one of the speakers was asked to define native advertising. “Advertising that doesn’t suck,” he said.

That’s an awesome description, for native or traditional forms. But with native, there are new ways to create superior value for an advertiser (and reader/user) and also new ways to mess things up.

Check out for a clean, elegant way to do in-stream native advertising. Consider that the advertising is in the form of storytelling. Not a marketing pitch. Think too about the value provided to an advertiser to be fully integrated into a site’s content stream—where you see the ad as you scroll, and the ad’s content comes up in a search. That’s incredible advertising value.

But then there’s the flip side: Done poorly, native advertising in a content stream can seem spammy. It can disrupt the flow of content, not enhance it. It can make your page look like a dissonant cacophony, and put your credibility at risk when people open a page and see yellow-tinted ads where you think they shouldn’t be.

It’s a double-edged sword, and I admit that I’m not sure I like everything BuzzFeed is doing. That might be, though, that their formulaic approach kind of gets old quick. The fun of media consumption is in being surprised, and even delighted, in unexpected ways.




Bill Mickey

Rolling Stone's Latest Cover: Terrorist Vs. Rockstar

Bill Mickey Consumer - 07/18/2013-16:18 PM


One of the more striking elements of Rolling Stone's latest cover story image is how Dzhokhar Tsarnaev looks like the kid next door. In a sense it has achieved a goal magazine publishers either embrace or run away from, attracting loud and impassioned criticism which leads to an enormous amount of coverage in mainstream and social media.

Some of the discussion focuses on giving an accused murderer the celebrity treatment—an aspect that's not to be downplayed. Rolling Stone does have a dual cover story approach that alternates between its celebrity coverage and more serious investigative pieces, but it appears many only remember its celeb covers. At least that's what CVS, Walgreens and other retailers have decided when they banned the issue from their newsstands. The rest of the debate reminds us that the cover is an alarming, journalistic, but honest, depiction of a face of terrorism we're not used to seeing. A microcosm of this conversation is happening now at FOLIO:'s Facebook page.

Here's Rolling Stone's statement in reply to all the coverage:

Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens. –THE EDITORS

In the meantime, here's a range of outlets that have weighed in on the cover:
The Boston Marathon bomber is a rock star, says 'Rolling Stone'

The New Yorker
The Inconvenient Image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Christian Science Monitor
Rolling Stone cover: Are stores going too far in pulling the magazine?

USA Today
Don't stone 'Rolling Stone' over Boston bomber cover

Rolling Stone’s Boston Bomber Cover Is Brilliant

Huffington Post
Rolling Stone Boston Bomber Cover Story: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Image Stirs Controversy, Boycotts

Jeffrey S. Litvack

So Your CEO Says You Need to Be A “Digital First” Publisher? | Part Three

Jeffrey S. Litvack emedia and Technology - 07/11/2013-14:05 PM

In prior postings, I laid out a high-level framework for turning your company into a digital first publisher. Now, I'll discuss one of the key drivers of digital success in more detail: the editorial e-newsletter.

Email is the number one way in which people sample content; at ALM, we've learned that the e-newsletter is in many ways the product. This is where most subscribers first experience and interact with our brand. If their email experience is bad, we've lost that reader, they will never click-through to our site to read our content. This makes intuitive sense.

With our printed magazine, we take the time to ensure that the cover is outstanding: It has a great photo, a beautiful layout and engaging calls to action, so that subscribers don't trash it with junk mail and are drawn to open it up and read it. Now, we put that same level of thought and effort into our e-newsletters.

So, where did we start? The first step was to evaluate whether we had the right e-newsletter platform partner, because technology is a big driver of the digital experience.

At ALM we identified five key attributes that we require from our e-newsletter platform:

• White-Listed Provider
• Mobile optimization options
• Personalization tools
• Excellent tracking and metrics
• A/B testing

I'd like to highlight the two that have been critical in our success to date (that's two months since launch) - having a white-listed provider and having mobile optimization options. These two are the most crucial components of ensuring that your e-newsletter is delivered and readable. In later posts, I'll talk about how you can use the other three categories to create a highly personalized, relevant e-newsletter for each of your readers, once they're receiving the emails.

White-Listed Provider

What is a white-listed provider? It's a trusted mail carrier. This means that e-newsletter platforms, like USPS or FedEx, have technical reputations, and you want to use a provider that is white-listed by all the major ISPs. Think of it like being on the VIP list at the club. You want to be the guy who can slip right in, not have to wait outside in the line and hope you get in.

If you use a white-listed provider, you are working with a company who is recognized for sending trustworthy emails. This means that when Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and other email platforms see email coming from these providers, they trust it. Their servers look at the IP address(es) that your emails are coming from and examine whether they are on the white list. Since your IPs are white-listed, you give yourself the best possible opportunity to get that newsletter into the inbox. By contrast, if you use a non-white-listed provider, your emails will get through if you're lucky, but more likely than not, they'll end up in a junk folder or they'll bounce.

Our hard bounce rate is 0.5 percent (a typical media bounce rate is about 0.7 percent). We've been able to get it down below the average because our provider's IPs are widely trusted by email servers. This might seem like a tiny difference, but every email that goes through counts tremendously.

Mobile Optimization Options

Once you've ensured that your e-newsletters aren't bouncing, you have to make sure that people can read them. In this day and age, the most important way to make sure that an end-user can access an e-newsletter is to create a mobile-optimized version of every email you send.

The cost of not making e-newsletters easy to access on a smartphone is high and rising. According to Bluehornet's recent survey of more than 2,000 Americans, 80 percent of users will delete an email if it is not optimized for their mobile device, up from 70 percent in 2012. Equally as important, the number of people who will unsubscribe from that non-optimized mobile e-newsletter has nearly doubled in the last year (from 18 percent to 30.2 percent). With more than 36 percent of readers opening emails on their smartphones, having a mobile optimized email is not a nice-to-have-it is a must-have.

In thinking about the presentation on a mobile optimized device, YesMail identified three important factors that should be considered (and from our reader reactions, we concur):

• The highest area of consumer frustration with mobile marketing emails is too much scrolling (42 percent)
• 29 percent say that the layout of messages is wrong for their mobile device
• 27 percent state there is too much content

Not all providers give you the option to create a mobile-optimized version. In vetting any provider you should ask both access their technology capabilities in providing optimized versions and also ask to see sample versions being run by similar companies.

One important caveat, a mobile optimized e-newsletter should be accompanied with a mobile optimized site-there is nothing more frustrating to the reader than going from an optimized experience to a slow-loading, hard-to-read, flash-loaded (i.e., doesn't work on iPhones) made-for-desktop website.

Our Results

Focusing on just these two concerns over the past two months has yielded incredible results for ALM. Since switching to the Sailthru email platform, a mere three months ago, we've seen the following results:

• Over the past two months, page views driven by e-newsletters are up 33 percent.
• Since we launched our e-newsletters as mobile optimized versions we have seen the click-thru traffic from mobile devices rise by an astonishing 72 percent.
• On a monthly basis, visits driven by e-newsletters are up 58 percent month-over-month with e-newsletters now responsible for referring nearly 30 percent of all traffic to our sites.

In coming articles, I will further elaborate on the remaining framework structural drivers, as well as provide focus on the ins and outs of personalizing email and performing A/B testing for e-newsletters.

Meg Estevez

Digital Edition and App Quality Control

Meg Estevez Consumer - 07/02/2013-13:54 PM


Once we are set with our digital subscription offers and people start subscribing—the calls, emails, and Facebook post complaints start pouring in. And just like with our print products, we need to make sure we have some quality control processes in place, bundled with a customer service that’s fast to respond to these inquiries. Here, I outline what we do at NewBay Media to ensure that our digital editions are rendering properly on all platforms, that they go live on schedule and how we handle the customer service.

Quality Control

This is one of the most important and time consuming processes that we handle in our department. Currently, New Bay Media has 23 Apple editions (with different circulation models), 9 Nook editions, 7 Kindle editions, 8 on Google Play and 2 on Zinio. The first thing we did was create a master schedule (just like we have for our print edition), which provides the due dates for file uploads, approvals and on-sale and live dates. We then use this schedule to go into all of our platforms and check that the issues go live on time and that they are rendering/displaying properly in the device.

It’s important to have this quality control in place so we can catch any problems that our readers might experience and fix them quickly. And if in the process we get a customer complaint we can inform them that we are fixing the problem. Our quality control person also checks the pricing on our single issues and subscriptions. This is especially important when we are doing discounted promotions for a certain time period; we want to make sure that what we are promoting is what the reader is seeing on the device.

Customer Service

By having our quality control process in place we are able to service our readers better when they call. We also feel it’s important to have one dedicated customer service representative handle all the inquiries from our Apple subscribers. We provide this rep’s name, direct email and phone number within our apps via banner ads (inside the issues). A tab in the container app also provides the customer service contact information and cross promotes to our other brands.


Our policy is to reply to our customers as fast as we can, especially since most of them are reaching us via email. Even if we don’t have a solution to their request we let them know that we are looking into it. Obviously, customer service for the digital platforms is not very different from print. Bugs, however, are an issue unique to apps and digital editions. In these cases, we have to be in constant communication with the readers who experience a technical glitch—asking them for screen grabs of what they are seeing on their devices and following up with them to make sure that once the bug is fixed they are not continuing to experience it.  

Apart from the complaints we get via email and phone, we also monitor the comments left on our iTunes and Facebook pages. For the Apple editions you can find the customer reviews link in your iTunes Connect account. This will give you a listing of all the comments for the all the different versions of the app. You cannot respond to the comments left on this page, but it does provide insight into the reader experience. On Facebook, we can reply to customer concerns and address any issues offline.

It’s important to have a quality control process in place for all of your digital platforms. This helps you prevent bad customer experiences and lets you catch and correct problems sooner. And as you move more of your magazines onto all the different platforms, your quality control process will get longer and more tedious, but it’s just a matter of scheduling and time management. Like anything else we tackle as marketers and circulators, we can intelligently deal with these issues no matter how many apps we have to review or how many customer complaints we have to resolve.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the different circulation models we have throughout our various digital platforms and our system for reporting them as qualified circulation in our BPA and ABC statements.

Until then…



Roy Beagley

Why It's Worth It to Revive Your Wrap and Tip Promos

Roy Beagley Audience Development - 06/27/2013-15:50 PM


There is a great temptation to use all things new in promotions and ignore the old—the wise circulation manager and audience developer will not fall into this trap. Not every promotion makes a profit, sometimes things have to be done for what they achieve rather than what they cost.

Insert cards for instance almost never pay for themselves, but they get orders from every issue and are a good source of low-cost subscriptions compared to other types of promotion. If you don’t believe me, ask the folks at TV Guide.

Wraps and tips were once very popular but fell out of favor when we started to push people to order or renew via a website rather than accept an order form sent in via fax or the mail. Some markets (and some people), despite the digital world, still prefer forms you can drop into the mail. If you have not tried a wrap or a tip of late it might be a worthwhile walk on the wild side to see what happens.

Tips and wraps are inexpensive to produce although both will result in an additional cost at your printer. However, the additional cost may be worth it. Tips and wraps can be used for both new subscriptions and renewals or re-qualifications, but with renewals and re-qualifications, you will probably achieve a better cost per order.

Keep the design simple. Remember, if people already subscribe they do not need to be told how wonderful the magazine is, they know that already. They need to be told in the kindest possible way why their life will be less pleasurable if they do not renew—the more suffering the better!

There is not a great deal of difference in cost between four-color and two-color printing anymore, but on controlled publications two-color will normally suffice. Your magazine printer will have size and trim requirements for tips and wraps so make sure any design is done in consultation with them. Indeed, give the printer the final sign-off.

These days you can include a personalized URL and a QR code but if your tip or wrap has an order or qualification card, it really doesn’t make sense to give people devices to avoid mailing back the order form. You should get a bigger response if you pay the return postage on tip and wrap order forms, but some publishers have dropped their BRM accounts so yours might have to say “Affix Postage Here”.

If you are selling or offering a new subscription using a sampling program, in many cases, a tip will work just fine because the prospective subscriber has a copy of the magazine in his hands and can determine its value immediately. 

Consider a tip as part of your paid renewal series, especially on the last issue the subscriber will receive, and if you grace your subscription file, I do mean the last issue they will actually receive.


Katelyn Belyus

Why We Should Give a Damn About Saving the USPS

Katelyn Belyus Audience Development - 06/25/2013-15:22 PM


"Print is dead." I hear it all the time. People love to say it. "No one reads magazines anymore."

Here's the thing, though: Print isn't dead—at least not yet. Digital is growing at an aggressive rate, but it hasn't obliterated print. In fact, according to a recent survey by AdWeek, 98.6 percent of all magazine consumption is still rooted in print. And with the majority of magazine readers reading print, then publishers still need to be concerned with mailing a print product—even if it feels like the U.S. Postal Service can't get it together.

It's not the USPS that failed us—it's Congress. The USPS can't make any major moves without its approval. We've all read the stories—the USPS isn't really broke; it's just been mandated by congress that it pre-fund future retiree health benefits, which costs the USPS over $5 billion per year. This is something no other federal agency is required to do; in fact, even few corporate plans are fully-prefunded. Esquire, Forbes and even my publication, The Nation have all covered it. And Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) are jointly sponsoring legislation which would reverse the mandate.

See, the discounted rates to mail magazines weren't created to support the Publishers Clearinghouses of the world. They were set up as a tactical way to honor the freedom of the press and to give a price break to media outlets educating the public. But let's be honest: The way Congress has screwed up its oversight of the USPS does not instill confidence in its commitment to a free press.

Let me be clear: Just because Congress has turned the USPS into a model of inefficiency does not mean that I support privatization (especially considering the economic impact of potentially lost jobs, and also the reliance of private companies like UPS on the USPS for delivery of non-USPS items). What it means is that we should treat the USPS like any other company that is faced with necessary changes. Let's remove the $5.5 billion/year roadblock to let it do its job and grow. Let's support a Congress that values a free press; that isn't focusing on slash-and-burn techniques to save the institution, but rather gives it room to adapt; that reinvigorates the USPS's role in American communities, rural and urban.

Publishers need to care because people still read print. At the gym, on the subway, in bed. For every 1 Alec Baldwin who refuses to turn off his cell after being asked by the flight attendant (full disclosure: I'm watching 30 Rock as I write this), there are, like, 800,000 other people who rely on print magazines during take-off and landing. These are people who identify with a brand—print or digital—and who read whatever is convenient in the moment. For everyone following TSA regulations, that would be print. And it's the publishers' job to engage people with their brand, not with a device.

Is print going to be around forever? I have no idea. As long as it is around, it is my responsibility to produce and deliver it as efficiently as possible, and to treat print readers the same as digital and mobile ones. My role with a publisher is to market the brand, not the delivery. And if people want their magazine delivered to their doorstep? Then I need to make sure it gets there.