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Tony Silber

A Media Company CEO’s Vision

Tony Silber Consumer - 09/09/2013-15:46 PM

 

 


 

Last week, BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti published a long memo on LinkedIn. It was titled a memo to the staff, but really was only partly directed to the staff. It was also a message to all external stakeholders and to competitors.

At any rate, it was brilliant. It was the most clear-headed, fully thought-out description of where media is going, and what attributes are necessary for success in a completely transformed media era, that I’ve seen. For those reasons—and because it serves as a great example of executive communication—it’s worth discussing.

First thing Peretti did was thank his team in what seemed heartfelt and was certainly gracious:

“Before anything I want to thank you for all your amazingly great work
over the last year. All of our success is because of you. BuzzFeed is on a significant roll, we have reached 
new milestones and our future looks tremendously bright.”

And that’s just the start. Peretti cited statistics illuminating BuzzFeed’s staggering Web growth. He outlined non-Web initiatives, such as an app, a YouTube channel and live meetups. He indicated the things BuzzFeed will not be doing: Live paid events, print magazines, white-label versions of BuzzFeed. And he reveals that his company is profitable—a rarity for Web-only startups.

As part of his thank-yous, he cites the work of various content, technology, data and marketing teams. Then Peretti gets into some interesting territory.

“Most other publishers integrate off-the-shelf products built by others, but this full-stack, vertically integrated approach was worth the significant, multi-year investment and is paying off fantastically today,” Peretti said. “There are great
 tech companies and great editorial institutions, but it is very rare 
for one company to take both as seriously as we do.”

This is a really important point. Very few traditional media companies look at their businesses this way. And that serves to ensure that they are perennially a half-lap or more behind technology companies like Google and Facebook, which understand the direct relationship between content and technology, and how it drives the new types of media consumption. It’s simply not about monthly magazines, with a front-to-back pattern, and traditional devices like the TOC, the front of book and the features anymore.

This leads to the really interesting core of the memo, where Peretti pivots into a discussion of the characteristics and economic prospects of BuzzFeed compared to traditional media companies.

“Despite the struggles of the traditional media, there remains an 
insatiable desire for great reporting, entertaining content, and
 powerful storytelling,” Peretti said.

“Facebook, Twitter, and the other Silicon
Valley-based social sites are amazing distribution platforms, but user
 generated content alone isn’t enough to fill the hole left by the
 ongoing decline of print newspapers and magazines. The world needs 
sustainable, profitable, vibrant content companies staffed by
 dedicated professionals; especially content for people that grew up on the web, whose entertainment and news interests are largely neglected by television and newspapers.”

This is all true. It’s important to hear, even if his point about the “Silicon
 Valley-based social sites” ought to be looked at with skepticism, because the basic dynamic of social sharing undermines the profit-generating ability of news organizations—and because BuzzFeed’s founding idea is about creating (and also finding and sharing) content for those same “Silicon Valley social sites.” You can’t have it both ways.

Still, Peretti is pointing to a new future, and he elaborates in nine additional points, covering everything from news to mobile, international coverage and more. (The point about being an international brand is especially valuable. Old-school media companies launch international editions. Technology companies, and, Peretti says, BuzzFeed, are one brand, one content package, translated and presented to different markets.)

One of Peretti’s points is that his company is investing in news. “There is a huge opportunity to be the leading news source for the 
social, mobile world,” he writes. “As we saw during the 2012 election, the Boston
 bombings, and our LGBT focused coverage of the Sochi Olympics, a new 
generation of readers are turning to us for news.”

You didn’t need to search very hard last week to find a contrary perspective, one that Peretti never addresses. Jeff Bezos, the Amazon CEO who just bought the Washington Post for $250 million, gave his first interview—to the Post. Bezos:

“The Post is famous for its investigative journalism,” he said. “It pours energy and investment and sweat and dollars into uncovering important stories. And then a bunch of Web sites summarize that [work] in about four minutes and readers can access that news for free. One question is, how do you make a living in that kind of environment? If you can’t, it’s difficult to put the right resources behind it.”

Bingo. If BuzzFeed is truly going to succeed in homegrown news, it needs to crack that code. Nothing that I’ve seen indicates anyone—including anyone at BuzzFeed—has figured that out.

And then there’s advertising. “Part of being a great business is being a “must buy” for advertisers
 who have many options,” Peretti said. “This means giving advertisers the full
 advantage of our scale, our data, our creative team, our social and 
mobile reach, and our technology platform. We have more
 expertise about social content than any other company. We can light up 
the social web for an advertiser across Facebook, Twitter, and
 YouTube, with content that is worth clicking and sharing.”

The challenge with that is that BuzzFeed’s own advertising model is based on a trend that works against media companies. BuzzFeed specializes in native advertising—advertising that looks and feels like and lives in the same format and in the same context as BuzzFeed’s (and other media companies’) own content. That is innovative, for sure, but it plays into another major trend—companies creating their own content and building audiences on their own, without the traditional absolute reliance on media companies. This, combined with the targeting capabilities social sites and Google, enables non-media brands to create content, engage audiences, identify leads and sell products and services without the same level of reliance on third party companies.

I love the clarity of Peretti’s vision. That doesn’t mean there aren’t significant trends playing against BuzzFeed. 

 

 

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Jeffrey S. Litvack

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

Jeffrey S. Litvack emedia and Technology - 09/05/2013-16:01 PM

If you've been following this running series, you'll recall that the last post focused on leveraging the editorial e-newsletter to drive audience growth. Since adopting this strategy at ALM, the e-newsletter has become the No. 1 driver of traffic to ALM's sites (yes, ahead of even search).

Driving this growth is a fundamental shift in our subscribers' reading habits-specifically, a move to mobile-first viewing. Click-throughs on our mobile optimized e-newsletters are up a whopping 120 percent in the past 3 months. We are seeing mobile devices replacing the desktop as the first place our readers connect with us.

Today, smartphones are ubiquitous parts of our lives. A recent study completed by Harris Interactive found that 72 percent of people reported being within 5 feet of their smartphone at all times, 55 percent admitted to using a phone while driving, and believe it or not, 9 percent admitted to using it during sex. Equally as important, in 2013, average time spent on a mobile device (non-talk) outpaced that of online, for the first time ever.

Based on these changes, if you don't already have a mobile Web strategy, you'd better get one quickly because your users are already there.

In approaching the mobile Web, I recommend that you consider the following five key questions:

• Who should develop your mobile site-internal staff or should it be outsourced?
• How should the site be built-as a responsive site or as a stand-alone?
• Which devices should you support?
• What content should be available on the site?
• And most importantly, what's your mobile revenue model?

I will cover the first of these two of these questions in this article and the remainder in a later posting. I will also cover mobile app strategy in a later post.

In-house vs. Outsource

The first question to answer is who should develop your mobile website. Here you need to consider the following elements:

• Does your development team have mobile experience and coding skills? Keep in mind which skills you'll need: Are you building a responsive site? Are you building a site in HTML5? Are you looking to incorporate any unique advertising/sponsorship opportunities/code. On the other hand, if you outsource, do you have flexibility in the look and feel of your site, or are you stuck with choosing from just a few templates?

• Are you willing to have multiple CMS systems: one for mobile and one for desktops/laptops? This can have a lot of implications for your editorial workflow as well as your mobile content offering. At ALM, we chose a FIFO (first-in-first-out) model based on feeds from our CMS to an outsourced provider in order to get to market quickly, but there have been some serious tradeoffs with this approach. We continue to work closely with our mobile partner to improve the reading experience.

• What's your time to market? The sooner you want to launch, the more likely you'll want to use a mobile-focused platform provider who has a turnkey solution already in place. Depending upon who your partner is, as well as your need for more or less customization, you could be up and running within as little as four weeks.

• What's your capital budget and risk propensity? Another good reason to consider a mobile platform provider is if you don't have the upfront capital dollars to invest in a mobile site. Many mobile platform providers will partner with you on a revenue share basis. Two off the top of my head are Verve Mobile and Polar (albeit, I'm not specifically endorsing either in this post). An additional advantage of these platform providers is that they have integrated ad serving platforms and mobile ad networks in their operations, which will help your monetization model from Day One and lower investment risk.

• Do you want your apps and mobile website to be under the same CMS and managed by the same team? Here you need to be even more thoughtful in your overall strategy. If you plan on creating mobile apps one day, you should consider the challenges and benefits between outsourcing vs. insourcing.

Responsive Design?

Responsive design is all the rage right now, using one code base to deliver experiences across multiple screens (from smartphones to tablets to desktops). But is it the solution that ails all digital woes? In my humble view, responsive design, has a place in your digital strategy, but it's not the ultimate solution.

The main advantage of responsive design is that it lowers site maintenance costs. Maintaining just one code base ensures that each new update and/or change will be "automatically" replicated across all platforms. Additionally, responsive design makes ad management easier as every ad on your website will also have a place on smartphones and tablets.

The main disadvantage to responsive design is that it creates what I like to call "the endless scroll" on smaller screen devices (i.e., smartphones); the page seems to just go on and on forever. This is especially problematic for sites that have a lot of content.

My personal view is that using a combination of responsive and native design lead to best-in-class reading experiences at the lowest cost. More specifically, use responsive design for online and tablets, and then create a separate native experience for smartphones.

In my next update, I'll address the three remaining elements of a mobile Web strategy: which devices you should support; what content should be available on the site(s); and how to drive to a positive ROI.

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Meg Estevez

Tips for Creating a Complete Audience Metrics Report

Meg Estevez Audience Development - 09/03/2013-14:09 PM

 

What should a metrics report include? One thing is for sure: it needs to be more than what we report in our BPA statements. But how do we decide what that 'more' is and who should have access to the data? Here I’ll highlight what a metrics report is and how to create one with all the data points needed to make it a complete report that almost everyone in the company will love.

First, a metrics report is a method of measuring the results obtained from different sources. In this case we are looking for our audience numbers. The kinds of sources we use in the metrics reports depend on how big of a picture, by brand, we want to see of our audience. At NewBay Media, our metrics reports include monthly numbers from our websites, newsletters, social media, digital platforms and print distribution.

It was important for us to have one central report that provides a big picture of our audience from all of these sources. This helped us determine if it made sense to report them in the brand statements for BPA, but also to keep track of how our audience might be growing on one end and decreasing on another.

Starting a Metrics Report

1. It doesn’t matter when you start, you’ll need to go back and gather all the numbers from December 2012 to current.
2. For the Google Analytics, you can either look the unique visitor and page views by month or you can select the time period you need, the metrics you want, and download to Excel.
3. Most of our brands have weekly or daily newsletters—we add an average for the month in the metrics report.
4. For Twitter you’ll need to capture this data at the end of each month, unless you pay for access to twittercounter.com or other service. If you are capturing this data to report on a BPA statement, you’ll need to do screen grabs of each month and save them for audit purposes.
5. If you have admin access for your Facebook page, then you can easily log in and download the metrics for the time period needed. If you are not an admin (if you aren’t, you should be) then you’ll need to create screen grabs as well.
6. Don’t forget to add your LinkedIn group metrics as well. You just need to create a screen grab at the end of the month.
7. Remember to include all your iPad downloads. This is important if you are going to be reporting iPad downloads on your BPA brand statement. The good thing is that all you need to do is either take the numbers from your Apple raw data reports or create an account with AppFigures and grab the numbers from there.

Once we had these reports created and up to date we were able to meet with the publishers and have them decide what they wanted to report in the new BPA brand audits. The most impressive thing that came out of these meetings was that the publishers wanted to see these numbers not just for BPA reporting purposes, but on a monthly basis for all of their brands, even those without a print component.

Why? Because of the “big picture” and how they can monetize this data by selling Facebook posts and tweets from the editors on behalf of the advertiser. This can also be done with LinkedIn groups. A discussion can be set up about a product and links on where to get more information. This will turn into leads for the advertisers. And last but not least iPad downloads show the audience we have with the container app, and this gives the publisher the ability to also sell to this audience.

 



Next Time:
I’ll talk about push notifications.
Until then…

 

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Katelyn Belyus

In the Battle of the Sexes, Men’s Magazines Win [For This Female Reader]

Katelyn Belyus Consumer - 08/27/2013-15:45 PM

 

I am [spoiler alert!] a woman. But women’s magazines have nothing for me. They’re great when I’m in the salon, but when it comes to reading magazines with bones, with guts, with something to say, the men take it every time.

I’m not talking about lad mags, those British imports from 15 years ago. I’m talking about “gentlemen’s magazines”: namely Esquire and GQ, but I also love Details, the dandier kid brother of the other two.

I have subscribed to these Big Three for years. I first started reading my father’s Esquire when I was a teenager. Its commentary on music, film and literature was second to none, and its tone was hilarious. Plus it was so cleverly wrapped: a high-end glossy chock full of honest, no-nonsense stuff that I felt smarter for knowing. Sure, it was peppered with self-indulgent photos of female celebrities barely concealing their ladyparts. But to me, it was an obvious statement on American consumerism: that to get people to read smart content, you’re going to have to sell it with sex.

My girlfriends were engulfed in the world of Self, Glamour and Marie Claire. Some of us even dabbled with Sassy, and later, Jane and Bust. They were the cool smart chicks of the bunch, but I always felt they were just...lacking. Sassy and Jane fell under (but Jane Pratt is going strong on xojane, and though Bust is still chugging along, its voice has gotten younger, cheekier and hipster. It may be the major magazine for a good pop-feminist read, but I’ve outgrown it.

Consider the sequence of a typical women’s magazine: letters, trends, fashion spreads, maybe an interview with a celebrity, more on trends (fashion, beauty, exercise), some obligatory group of “light” recipes, along with a longer editorial on A Serious Topic like genital mutilation or being catfished by a prisoner. It’s content crafted to make women feel guilty for not knowing what’s hot, smart for knowing that this magazine will reveal it, then ashamed for not being able to afford whatever this magazine has revealed. It’s cyclical, and it’s boring.

I thought perhaps I was in the minority, being a woman who loves men’s magazines. All of the Big Three’s media kits boast audiences with 30 percent women, so I’m clearly not the only one. Do women read men’s magazines differently from men? In a very unscientific survey (of my two brothers in their twenties and my friend Greg, in his forties), I asked what they liked about Esquire and GQ. My brothers prefer GQ and its fashion tips, the profiles of the women and food. Greg only reads Esquire. As he puts it, “Esquire is not about being a well-dressed, cool man. It’s about being the best man you can be. And even though you can't necessarily glean any of that knowledge from a magazine, it does a valiant job of trying.”

Men’s magazines revolve around cultivating taste: fashion, music, film, books, food, celebrity, sports, cars and (in Details’ case) design. They review where we’ve been and where we’re going, culturally speaking. They’d do better to incorporate more female writers—Stacey Grenrock Woods is a shining example of excellent men’s writing by a female and Jessica Pressler has pushed out some decent profiles for GQ. They don’t always get it right, but the point is: they dare. Yes, they, like women’s magazines, often commoditize gender and make money on reinforcing certain gender stereotypes. But they’re just so glib about it. Where women’s magazines champion us, trying to help us channel our inner sisterhood and answer our Burning Questions, men’s wryly acknowledge that, like most Americans, they’re just stumbling through this crazy mixed-up world, and even they don’t have all the answers.

I have plenty of female friends who read women’s mags because they’re mindless entertainment, and I get that. More than anything, I’m an advocate of reading what you enjoy.

But that’s just the point that men’s magazines make: entertainment needn’t be mindless.

Men’s magazines don’t curate culture; they curate content. They tell me what’s going on culturally and how they feel about it. Women’s magazines ignore what’s going on, because they themselves don’t know how to feel about it. They seem stunted, like the world is just too big for them to comment on—or worse!—that we won’t appreciate a woman magazine’s commentary on larger cultural paradigms. So women’s magazines overcompensate for telling us nothing by telling us everything about nothing (the healing powers of purple fruits! animal prints!). Men’s magazines have their share of frivolity, but they give me the thought stuff too—the national budget, war and PTSD, robotics, a profile of the Vice President. One of the best articles I read was Chris Heath’s coverage in GQ about the massacre of the escaped exotic animals in Zanesville, Ohio. It was a tragic story brilliantly told; and the story of the war between GQ and Esquire competing for the story was just as good. Both magazines published accounts of tragedy; both had writers (Chris Jones for Esquire) on site in the same hotel chasing the same story; both ran in each’s March 2012 issue. I read both articles voraciously, and came out in favor of GQ’s coverage. To my happiness, GQ got an ASME nomination for its story; Esquire didn’t.

That’s the other thing I like about men’s magazines: they’re nominated for awards for their journalism, like actual awards, against giants such as The New Yorker, the Atlantic and Rolling Stone. GQ and Esquire are for literary-minded people, for people who care about the actual words on the page.

Women’s magazines don’t say anything interesting about the state of culture, they just buy into it. They don’t have a sense of humor about themselves.

That’s why I’m sticking with the men—they’re funny, self-effacing and have some of the best editorial content around. None are offering the keys to the universe, but they have a good time trying.

 

 

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Brian Pagel

Get the Most Out of Your Sponsorship Program

Brian Pagel B2B - 08/27/2013-14:31 PM

Like most show managers, you probably view sponsorship sales as an opportunity to increase revenue for your event. As we all know, well-positioned sponsorships can enhance the look and feel of your event and, at times, impact attendee perceptions of your event. This is especially true when you think of banners in common areas that can impact how an attendee views your event before even setting foot on the showfloor.

In understanding the importance of sponsorships, are you thinking strategically about the development and fulfillment of your sponsor offerings? Have you taken a close look at your approach to sponsorship sales? Here are a few things you should consider before your next event:

• Have you reviewed your menu of opportunities recently? You should review your past sponsorship menu and pull off items that have run their course or that no one is buying. In this case, less really is more.

You should direct your customers to the items that are most popular and most profitable. You can always bring things out of the vault if there is an opportunity, but overall you should keep it simple.

• Have you recently reviewed your pricing model? Is it high or low, based on the health of your event and competitive set? Are you only charging rights fees, or are you positing your offerings as a turnkey program?

You never want to gouge your customers, but don’t be afraid to publish your offerings at a premium. It is always easier to go down in price instead of up midway through a cycle.

You should strive to charge a “rights fee only” for as many of your offerings as possible to avoid variable costs like printing, materials and installation. If the customer wants a turnkey program, you need to charge a premium for that service, as it will require resources to fulfill.

• When creating a custom program for an exhibitor, what sort of elements do you include? Of course, you want to create an offering that meets the customer’s specific needs, but consider adding elements that carry little additional cost to your event P&L.

This could include logos on kick panels, directory advertising, list rentals, publication distribution, blog posts, etc. If planned properly with enough lead time, you can leverage these low- or no-cost items and maximize your return.

• Often overlooked are programs and offerings for the smaller exhibitor. While not the big-ticket items, a few modest program offerings can drive new revenue streams from your customers with smaller budgets.

Take another look at your sponsor offerings and their price points. They can have a significant impact on sponsorship revenues at your next event.

Brian Pagel is a vice president at Emerald Expositions, where he runs The Kitchen and Bath Industry Show. Since re-joining Emerald Expositions (formerly Nielsen) in 2001, Pagel has also served as a vice president in the Decorated Apparel Group. A 15-year veteran of the publishing, convention and exposition industries, Pagel has also held senior account executive positions with Leader Publishing and Bill Communications. He can be reached at Brian.Pagel@Emeraldexpo.com.

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Bill Mickey

Folio:'s 15 Under 30 Nominations Are Open

Bill Mickey Consumer - 08/22/2013-14:35 PM

 

 


 

While the evolution of the magazine media business often rests on the shoulders of experienced executives, the younger generation is a constant source of innovation and change.

Here at FOLIO:, we're always on the lookout for new ideas that change the way magazine publishers do business and in that spirit it's time once again to turn the spotlight on the younger set with our 15 Under 30 list. 

With this annual recognition franchise, we profile selected rising stars and innovators across traditional publishing roles, never-before-seen positions in new lines of business, and market-shaping start-ups.

Last year's list featured a cross-section of talent responsible for ad ops, editing, technology and design.

Tell us who you think deserves to be on the list by filling out our simple online form. Our list-makers will appear in the October issue.

The only catch? All nominees must be younger than 30.

The deadline for nominations is August 30. Good luck and thanks for participating!

Nominate!

 

 

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Stephanie Paige Miller

5 Ways to Harness the Power of Pinterest

Stephanie Paige Miller Consumer - 08/20/2013-14:54 PM

 

Given the changing landscape of content publishing, it's no surprise that a social media community like Pinterest has emerged as a power player for driving traffic, growing communities and fostering reader engagement. For some, Pinterest drives more than 20 percent of website traffic, topping legacy referrers such as Google and Yahoo. Others are seeing follower acquisition on Pinterest increase at a strong-and-steady 15 percent month-over-month. Recently I participated in a Pinterest webinar with social editors from Martha Stewart Living, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, and media agency Huge. Here are the five common themes that emerged.

1. Pin During Active Times
Rather than dumping 30 pins into Pinterest’s news feed a couple times a day, use a tool such as Piqora or Curalate to schedule 10 to 12 pins across several time zones. This way, content is surfacing when users are most engaged. For example, when I shifted pin times for SELF, we were able to  increase re-pins and click-through rates by nearly 30 percent.

2. Collaborate and Co-pin
Connect with on-brand partners, whether a celebrity cover star, a contributing blogger, a chef or an entertaining expert, on a co-branded board.  You’ll leverage the built-in followers from their Pinterest footprint and expand both profiles. Also consider organic co-pin opportunities with advertisers and brand sponsors. While “pin it to win it” contests are popular, look for meaningful ways to activate your most influential or active pinners. The goal is always more re-pins—they’re like a simple yet powerful social “thumbs up.”

3. Realize the Lifespan of a Pin
A pin lives longer than any other piece of social content. A Tweet can disappear within minutes, and thanks to Facebook’s algorithms, a post might not even be seen by 70 percent of your audience. But with Pinterest, a site might experience a spike in traffic from content pinned 30 days ago. 

4. Pinning Indicates Purchase Intent
In a recent survey, about 35 percent of users under 35 said that pinning led to a purchase and 24 percent said they found the item they eventually purchased on a stranger’s board, not a brand or retailer. This suggests the power of a brand placement on an editorial board or, better yet, a Pinterest user’s board. Your editors also play a role here when recommending a product on their personal boards. And it’s worth thinking about what Pinterest can do for ad partnerships or value adds.

5. Leverage Insights to Inform Editorial Content
Take a cue from top-performing pins and incorporate them on your site, either within a newsletter or as a slideshow (with proper crediting back to the original source). You can also think of Pinterest as another avenue for A/B testing. Trying to decide whether to lead with a food or a fashion image? Look at the native Pinterest analytics or those within your third-party tools to help you make that choice.

 

 

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Roy Beagley

How You Should Be Using Gift Promos

Roy Beagley Sales and Marketing - 08/13/2013-14:36 PM

A few weeks ago, we reviewed some of the things you can do with gift offers, especially within your own magazine, and it can be very easy to lose sight of what you are trying to achieve.

Offering a gift subscription is not the same as creating a house offer, although many people do fall foul of this. When creating a house offer, be it an off-the-page advertisement, blow in or bind in card, you are trying to sell the magazine to the person reading your promotion; when creating a gift offer, you are selling the idea of giving someone a gift-the offers are not the same.

Copy for a gift promotion should be about the product and why your gift will give pleasure to the recipient, so avoid words like "you" and use "they" instead. A little flattery never hurts either, so copy such as "...they'll thank you for your generous gift all year long" could certainly be in order. And gift acknowledgement cards sent to recipients are much prized by gift givers, so be sure you mention that you send them to recipients in the donor's name. It you have price savings for multiple gifts, be sure to mention that in your gift ad, as well as how to enter multiple orders by phone.

The gift offer should not be over-designed (actually, nothing should ever be over-designed, but you know what I mean). The important things on a blow in card are the "from" and "to" address boxes, an offer that is clear, concise, easy to understand and an uncluttered form. You do not need covers galore, in most cases you don't need a cover at all-which is just as well, because there is not much room on a card measuring 4.25 x 6 inches.

Because of the information you have to include on the form, avoid using too much reversed-out copy. Stock for blow in and bind cards can soak up ink like crazy and with fonts tending to be smaller size, you can end with a fuzzy mess on your hands. If you are running an advert in your magazine, just about the reverse is true. You can drop out copy because fonts are generally larger and the paper stock usually better.

Bind in cards can be stacked so that you can have at least two cards and even three gift cards if you wish. Design the bind in so the bottom of your card gets trimmed off. That means there is one less perforation you have to worry about. Your run-of-the-page advertisement, blow in and bind in cards do not all have to have the same design, they can all be different.

Recognize the difference between gift ads and house ads, otherwise you may lose out on a lot of orders and at a time of giving, who wants to do that?

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Meg Estevez

Deciding How to Bundle Print and Digital Subscriptions

Meg Estevez Audience Development - 08/08/2013-13:49 PM

 

How do you decide whether to bundle print and digital subscriptions? Some say that we need to stop offering separate print and digital subscriptions so the audience can get used to the idea of reading magazines digitally. Why? Because that’s where we are moving and it’s our job to get our readers comfortable with the idea that they can get the same value out of reading a magazine on a desktop, tablet or smartphone. So how do you decide what to offer?

Here, I’ll discuss the different subscription models that we have at NewBay Media and the pros and cons of each; plus what we do to keep track of our digital circulation in all the different platforms in order to report them as qualified circulation in the BPA and AAM statements.

All of our Kindle, Nook and Google Play editions have a paid model. However, our Apple editions are more complex. We have 14 magazines with a paid model and 9 with a log-in for free activation. 

Paid Model: Apps Only

Under this model the magazines do not offer a combined print/digital subscription offer. When we refer to digital under this model; we are only referring to digital on the Apple, Kindle, Nook or Google Play editions. This model is straightforward. We have 3 offers: Single copies, one-month and one-year subscriptions.

Pros: It’s simple to execute. Offering one delivery method; subscribers get it on their smart devices. No programming expense to communicate with your subscriber database.

Cons: Subscribers complain about wanting a bundle subscription or they want to transfer their print subscription to a digital subscription on one of these devices.

Paid Model: Bundle

We currently have two magazines under this model. The subscriber is offered a print bundle that includes an all-access plan where they get the print, the desktop edition, iPad/iPhone edition and online access to the website. Or they can opt to get everything except the print.

Pros:
Subscribers use the form that is attached to our database. We have a handle on how the offers are doing and how our audience is reacting to the print bundles versus the digital-only access.

Cons: There is a lot of programming that needs to be done up front to create a log-in process within the app that pings our database when a subscriber wants to activate an account. Sometimes the log-in process is not very user friendly, which results in higher customer service calls or emails in the first couple of months.

Free (Activation Required) Model: One-Year Subs Only

This is one of the most involved models. We currently have 7 controlled magazines that offer free access to the iPad/iPhone edition, but the subscriber needs to authenticate a print subscription. This model works almost identically to the Paid Bundle Model referenced above; with the difference that we only allow free access to those controlled one-year subscribers on the file at the time they activate their subscription. 

This was set up with some programming between our fulfillment house and the app vendor. Immediate access is granted to one-year subscribers when they activate their iPad account. But two-year or older subscribers see an error message that tells them to fill out a form, available within the app. Once they fill out the form it feeds directly to our fulfillment database and grants access.

Pros:
Our fulfillment house is able to flag the subscribers that activate their accounts and those that renew their subscription, which means we know exactly who those readers are. And we now have a new benefit to offer our readers to get them to requalify sooner.

Cons: The programming involved to get this to work properly. The log-in process asks for an email address to log in. If they don’t have an email address on file with us then they need to contact customer service to have it added in order to grant them access.

As you can probably imagine, keeping track of all these apps and the different models takes time and a good detailed BPA approved report. That’s why we had to invest many hours to create a report that provides all of this information in one place. The report has been set up to feed from the raw data provided by all the vendors and our goal is to supply this report to the auditors so they can have a one stop shop of all the data they need to verify the digital circulation for all of these platforms—and in turn reduce the auditing hours that this will likely bring. As of today, we have BPA’s approval on the report, but we will not know how good it is until it passes through an audit. I’ll be sure to let everyone know how it does.  

Next Time:
I’ll talk about metric reports, what they should have and why they are important to almost everyone in the company.

Until then…

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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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 someawesomesite.com 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 someawesomesite.com 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.

 

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