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David Jacobs

Ad Tech in 2015: Programmatic Hits its Stride

David Jacobs Sales and Marketing - 12/16/2014-16:09 PM

Advertising technology has changed a lot in a few short years. The complexity of digital landscape has prompted demand for more streamlined and automated solutions, and 2014 is the year that the programmatic buying and selling of ads has truly taken hold.

Here's how I see programmatic technologies impacting publishers in the months ahead:

  • Follow the money — Publishers would be wise to follow the money, because their brand and agency customers are already onboard.

Case in point, during this fall's Advertising Week, MAGNA GLOBAL released a study on programmatic spending with estimates that media inventory transacted programmatically will reach $21 billion globally this year (up 52 percent, compared to 2013) and $53 billion by 2018. An October report from eMarketer estimates that automated ads will account for nearly 50 percent of the U.S. digital display market in 2014. And earlier this year, AOL Platform's survey of more than 175 brand, agency and publisher clients showed that 87 percent of participants would increase programmatic spend on display and video up to 50 percent in the next year.

  • Data-driven Selling — Much of the talk around programmatic technology has been focused on automation and efficiencies. And while streamlined buying and selling processes (sans manual insertion orders) can certainly be valuable from a cost savings standpoint, programmatically-charged data and transparency will also begin to empower publishers to boost ROI. None of this is possible without a sales organization that can speak to marketers through a programmatic lens. For example, by leveraging sophisticated targeting, frequency capping, brand safety and other data-driven tools (traditionally thought of as "buy side" technology) to more precisely identify and segment key audiences, publishers will be able to entice a greater number of premium brands to spend through programmatic channels.

Programmatic data optimization capabilities can especially help mid- to long-tail publishers capture more premium buyers-they can compete on the quality of the audience delivered rather than on name recognition alone. Smart publishers will also employ techniques like audience extension, retargeting and more to augment their offerings.

  • Bringing it all together — At the end of the day, the publishers who can best plan, execute, analyze and report-across audiences, screens, ad formats, time of day and content types-will see the greatest return.

Today's tech-savvy consumers interact with content on a variety of channels and devices and publishers that don't cater to, and capitalize on, changing media consumption habits will be left behind. Programmatic platforms will help publishers deliver the specific audiences that buyers want, and help them provide users with the most compelling and engaging experience.

Programmatic technologies are evolving fast and smart publishers are joining their brand and agency clients in embracing new innovations in the buying and selling process. Moving forward, programmatic will continue to transition from being used as an "efficiency/savings" assist on the sell side to a dominant means of driving more effectiveness, better outcomes and greater ROI.

 

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: 2014's Best Cover Brand

Robert Newman Design and Production - 12/10/2014-11:31 AM


2014 was a continuation of one of what is certainly one of the golden eras of magazine cover design. You only need to spend a few minutes on some of the sites that highlight covers, such as Coverjunkie, NASCAPAS or magCulture, to see the endless array of memorable, imaginative, provocative, finely-tuned design and imagery being produced at every level of the magazine making world. It seemed that every week there were great covers zipping around Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, generating excitement and buzz. Thanks to a talented batch of art directors and photo editors, an increasingly visually savvy set of editors and the fact that many magazines have been freed (not always by choice) from the necessity to sell big numbers on the newsstand, covers this past year were graphically forward and visually engaging. It helps, too, that magazines are increasingly chasing that coveted younger demographic, an audience who demands more instant, sophisticated visual gratification and less of the traditional (boring) design.

This year, rather than producing another Top 10 year-end list, we thought it would be more appropriate to highlight the magazines who created the most significant and memorable covers over the entire year. Plenty of publications created one-hit wonder covers in 2014. Instead, we're honoring those that produced top-notch covers throughout the year, issue after issue, and created  graphically powerful brand visions and an ongoing conversations with readers, both on the newsstand and online.

A few words about our methodology: First, because of FOLIO:'s range of coverage, the magazines needed to be based in the U.S. There was plenty of great design in the U.K. and Europe that didn't qualify, unfortunately, for this list. Secondly, we felt that to be eligible a magazine had to publish at least on a monthly schedule (of course "monthly" in these times often means printing 10x a year). There were many wonderful quarterly magazines with great covers in 2014, including 8by8, Lucky Peach and Nautilus, and we salute the energy and creativity of their visual teams. But they were not eligible for this list. Finally, we wanted to pick covers that significantly elevated the profile of their magazines, that made people pay attention, notice them online, and yes, even go out to pick up a copy.

It was a tight race and a tough decision but this year's pick for best overall magazine cover design goes to The New York Times Magazine. Credit to its team; design director Gail Bichler, photography director Kathy Ryan and editor Jake Silverstein. The Times Magazine consistently created sparkling covers that were imaginative and surprising, and produced on a weekly schedule. Although the team hasn't been in place the whole year (Bichler has been doing covers since former design director Arem Duplessis left in January, but Silverstein didn't come onboard until early May), they have already created a series that has redefined the visual voice of the magazine. From the faux punk gig poster style of the August 10 Rand Paul cover to the Abortion By Mail package of August 31 to the classically elegant military justice photograph on the November 30 issue, the magazine has served notice that it's breaking out of its traditional format. This year's covers are imaginative and graphic, mixing stylized alt-weekly techniques with modern illustration and powerful photography. And they look like they're having more fun than anyone in the business (a title held for the past several years by the folks at Bloomberg Businessweek).

The Times Magazine covers have always been designed at a very high level, among the best in the business. What's new and exciting about the current visual direction is that they've broken out of the traditional, Timesian format of the magazine, which tended towards powerful imagery and restrained typography. Now, on a relentless weekly schedule, the covers are being designed in a completely original way, offering readers a surprise (and treat) every week. It's still early in its genesis, but this first year has delivered much excitement, experimentation, and the evolution of a sharp, intelligent visual voice.

These days, cover design is as much about viral shares and clicks as selling copies (or in the case of the Times Magazine, giving readers a reason to pick up and open the magazine), and the new cover direction is perfectly positioned to take advantage of that. I would say that with the exception of the past few years of Bloomberg Businessweek covers, there's no magazine that has been so consistently creative and forward-thinking in its design, especially on a weekly basis. Since the Times Magazine recently added the very talented Matt Wiley (ex-design director at Condé Nast Traveler) as art director, it's reasonable to assume that 2015 will be another stellar year for the brand.

Speaking of Bloomberg Businessweek, they were easily our runner up for the year's best. They also have a new design director, Rob Vargas, who succeeded the much-heralded Richard Turley early in the year and built on the powerful existing visual format while crafting his own aesthetic. Vargas has carved out a distinctive visual path, crafting covers every week, which are a marvel of punchy graphic design, hyper-creative typography and poster-like imagery. The covers are bright and popish, with perhaps a little more thought to directness and commerciality than Turley, who seemed to revel in being a visual provocateur (which was one of the many reasons I loved his work).

Whether it's a fat bottle of Coca-Cola asking "Would You Believe I'm Just Big-Boned?, a photograph of Apple's Tim Cook overlaid with naïve, childlike typography, or an intense, blood-like painted "Ebola Is Coming" headline, these are covers that push and poke and shout and demand attention. They're great, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Vargas and editor Josh Tyrangiel continue to develop them in the coming year.

I continue to be awed by the work that Chris Dixon is doing as design director at Vanity Fair, in collaboration with editor Grayden Carter. This year he really established his own vision with the covers, blending a stunning series of engaging and active celebrity portraits with a masterful array of typographic coverline treatments. This is classic magazine art direction and design that reminds me both of sophisticated publications of the 1940s and the covers of Rolling Stone designed by Fred Woodward in the 1990s. There's nobody working today with such a mastery of typography, with its dense layers of information stuffed into every corner, while maintaining a sense of elegance and relaxed sophistication. This is one magazine that still depends on a lot of newsstand sales, so the marvel of Dixon's work is that he mixes commerce with art so brilliantly, creating a cover image that pops off the racks, but still is rich with subtlety and artistry. Just take the latest Vanity Fair cover, featuring Bradley Cooper, and put it into a magazine design hall of fame for its incredible level of detail and polish!

Out magazine also takes inspiration from classic magazine design, but their current cover look owes more to the simple, stylish elegance of fashion magazines from the 1950s designed by Cipe Pineles and Alexei Brodovitch. Creative director David Gray utilizes sparse, sleek portraits of celebrities like Beyonce, Sam Smith, and Michael Sam to great effect, adding very understated and minimal headline typography. These covers reflect much of the clean, minimal design that is so popular right now in the indie publishing scene, especially in Europe and the U.K. Brilliant in their simplicity, stylishness, and graphic confidence, this year's series of Out covers provide a perfect visual branding, and through social media have made a huge impact well beyond the magazine's small circulation. Each cover this year has been a stunning work of art.

Finally, there's the Little Engine That Could of 2014, Time Out New York, the scrappy NYC weekly that produced an outstanding series of covers on a very limited budget. The new TONY team of art director Chris Deacon and editor Terri White has revitalized the franchise, producing fun, engaging and original covers, an energetic visual branding that seems perfectly in sync with its young, dynamic audience. With a mix of modern illustration and rock ‘n' roll graphic treatments that owe as much to U.S. altweeklies as to the U.K. music press, Deacon has created an exciting body of covers that promises much more for the coming year.

There were lots of other great covers produced during 2014. Magazines who did that smartly and consistently included Adweek, Audubon, ESPN, Harvard Business Review, New York, W, and Wired. I can't wait to see what they all do next year.

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Bob Sacks

Truth in Advertising?

Bob Sacks Consumer - 12/01/2014-13:58 PM

 

As the most recent MagNet reports came in, I started to ponder other recent changes in reporting on the magazine media industry. You will remember that the Media Industry Newsletter (MIN), which had until recently been chronicling the magazine industry's ad page performance for almost 70 years, was asked to stop tracking and distributing "sold" ad page data to media professionals with its legendary Boxscores. MIN editor-in-chief Steve Cohn reported that publishers were being discouraged from turning over their numbers as the MPA, the Association of Magazine Media, was getting ready to unveil a new way of calibrating the industry's performance called Magazine Media 360. Now that the Industry has done away with min’s Boxscore reports, what do we know about the performance of our industry?
 
As I read the most recent chart derived from the 360 numbers in MIN there was not a single negative number of followers  for any magazine, nor was there a difference in the % of Differential in Followers from September to October. So, Bravo to all! Web followers have not gone down in a month and in some cases they have grown considerably. According to the report, there are now mostly positive numbers for the magazine industry.

We also now have the ability to track the number of e-shares, e-posts and e-reply's on any given month. How are ad pages doing? That information is no longer distributed to the professional public at large. We can guess, but we do not know. Is guessing better than knowing? Perhaps in some cases it is.
 
At the same time as we all know, almost every magazine media company still counts on their print editions and not the web for the majority of their revenue. There has been some progress in gaining some web dollars in this exchange, but in most cases, they haven't come close yet to a print replacement. I believe eventually digital revenue will supplant print as a major revenue source, but clearly not quite yet and at least not yet for most titles.
 
Which brings me back to the MagNet report which noted that U.S. magazine newsstand sales fell 27% in third quarter of this year, a larger loss than usual, but for clearly obvious reasons—Source Interlink's bankruptcy. It worth noting that sales in stores that were uninterrupted in the third quarter by the Source-Interlink bankruptcy were only down 10% in sold units and this it turns out was the newsstand's best performance, in those stores in the last six years.

I thought I would try and discuss the industry's understandable wish to camouflage the continuous array of bad stats and sublimate them with always positive web-only engagement data.

Here's a question. What does a "like" mean to your business? Does it mean anything at all? The fact that it is now more important to track "likes" on Facebook, pictures on Instagram, and conversations on Google+ rather than to face the nuts and bolts realities of our publishing businesses' main revenue streams still seems a bit unusual. I must admit that eventually some of those numbers might be more important than actual print statistics, but not yet and not now, and not the numbers we are collecting.

According to Chris Gayomali in Fast Company in a recent article about social networking sites:
 
"The crux of the research suggests that brands are wasting their time, effort, and money on Facebook and Twitter to diminishing returns. 'A study conducted by (Forrester research) from earlier this year found that posts from top brands on Twitter and Facebook reach just 2% of their followers. Engagement is even more measly: A mere 0.07% of followers actually interact with those posts.'"
 
He goes on to say, "Basically, if your brand is looking for engagement on social media you're probably better off turning your attention away from giant networks like Twitter and Facebook. This is especially true if you're trying to engage fans on Twitter, where context is lacking and being funny is hard."

Let's look at this just a little closer and now look at Instagram. In an article from Digiday titled Three magazine publishers winning at Instagram, they suggest, "For publishers Playboy, Natural Health and GQ, for example, Instagram has quickly become an effective new way for them to reach readers as they flip through their phones. Magazine publishers collectively have 20 million followers on Instagram, according to a new report from Magazine Media 360, which analyzed the social media feeds of 166 magazine brands."
 
The report goes on to state:
 
"Natural Health has nearly doubled its number of Instagram followers over the last year (they're currently closing in on 20,000 followers)."
 
"GQ was an early Instagram adopter, and is now the fourth largest magazine publisher on Instagram with more than 1.2 million followers"

"Playboy is another 'inherently visual' brand whose content has translated well onto Instagram. It's currently the third most popular magazine publisher on the platform at 1.6 million followers. "

Do these new statistics show a new way of calibrating the industry's performance? Yes and no. They do show some nice positive statistics, but when you compare those numbers to how the actual print magazines are doing you get a different picture.
 
Here is how those titles play out on the newsstand. Natural Health, ranked 454, makes a bit more than 1 million in revenue annually and is showing year on year (YOY) unit growth in the low single digits. Playboy ranked 132/under 4 million in revenue and GQ 53/over 7 million in revenue are both down in the -20% range YOY based on units sold.
 
So the success on Instagram doesn't necessarily equate to a more vibrant mothership title. In fact, you might draw the conclusion that there is no relationship between Instagram success and a title's actual sales vibrancy.
 
My analysis comes down to this—likes are easier to get than selling a magazine on the newsstand. Likes are easier to cajole from a free and easy public than increasing subscription sales. A like has no commitment, no out of pocket expense by the liker, and means nothing to anyone except those who propose to somehow profit from being liked. It is a semi-random click without too much significance by our readers nor does it have long-term merit. It is worth noting that there are several BtoB cases that have been pointed out to me, where publishers are working likes into new revenue streams, but on the whole that is a rarity and not yet common place.

And when you consider corporate America's rabid pursuit of likes by almost every major company in any and all industries, it just further cheapens the value chain of these liked experiences all the more. This pursuit of likes takes a once somewhat meaningful social networking tool and debases the value of all crowdsourcing. This is nothing short of corporate exploitation of the public's largess and will one day be seen for what it is—the overused saturation of a once pretty good idea, into the open pit of social mining for likes on a wholesale basis. When likes were home grown, organic and intimate they had a real value, but mostly to those who actually knew each other.
 
Now strangers like strangers for little apparent reason other than to befriend another human being or some business from a distance, but not necessarily with any real and understandable close connection. Despite what some politicians say, corporations are not people. And you can't really like a brick building, a giant warehouse, or industrial mega-makers of things, with the possible exception, so it seems, of Apple Corp.

Magazines on the other hand, aren't meant to be widgets. They are club building, membership-thinking, associations of like-minded people reading content of a specific and curated nature. So it makes sense that social networking should be part of the modern "magazine mix". Social media is a natural extension of the family of magazine products.

But what does it say when the sales of your mothership title continues to slide, while your ability to have non-revenue producing social networking numbers continues to rise?
 
What is the correlation between the printed magazine's tumble and the growth of your social network? Is it a meaningful indicator of the magazine media's transformation from one substrate to another?
 
It seems clear to me that the more time our readers spend with our ancillary web products, the less time they spend with our original major revenue producing print magazines. And that is a real business conundrum.
 
I have stated several times in these pages that I fully understand the need, desire and hope to change the topic of conversation from one of negativity about print to an industry statement that is about quantifiable and provable growth. The new metrics indeed do show web engagements with magazine media brands and a positive track of capturing our reader's web/mobile leisure time. But we haven't monetized those captured readers. In most cases, although there are some exceptions, we haven't yet as an industry found a way to make the digital leap and monetize our web successes.
 
By the latest reports print sales are down yet again, while the web interaction of our readers is continuing to rise at a rapid pace. Let's suppose that both trends continue into next year, and that print sales are again down a conservative 7%, while web engagement rises 100%. What conclusions should we draw from this for the magazine industry?
 
Should we track the engagement factors of the web communities that we create? Yes, of course we should. But will the numbers that we currently track in any way stop or explain the trends of the print side of our business? No, I think not. Will the advertisers finally decide that all the e-shares, e-posts, e-likes and e-replies on the internet and with mobile engagement now qualify print titles for more print advertising dollars? Again, I think not.
 
Advertisers will always go where the readers are, and we are proving in no uncertain terms that many of our readers are engaged and on-line, that they are very active and in continuously growing numbers using other than our apps and web sites in ever greater numbers.
 
Publishing reports should be transparent and filled with information in order to get a full picture that calibrates the entire industry's performance. They should include circulation numbers, advertising page counts and also digital metrics, all of which together tell the combined and robust story of our magazine media industry. Leaving out print data deludes no one, while it sends out a defensive note of great corporate discomfort with that part our business, which is, in fact, still the most profitable part of the industry.

What we really should be doing is building and tracking the public's interest on our own sites and apps, instead of someone else's site. We shouldn't be the pilot fish feeding off the droppings of sharks; we should be the sharks. For survival we need to have a direct lucrative relationship, with the paying/reading public and not a third-party referred relationship.

Update: MPA's Mary Berner responded, which Bob Sacks subsequently published on his blog. Her comments:

While I always appreciate your often thought-provoking point of view, even when it isn't a positive one, I take exception when the point-of-view is derived from inaccurate information as in your column "Truth In Advertising - Magazine Statistics, Magnet, MIN, and MPA 360". While you usually call it like it is, in this case, you called it like it isn't.
 
Here are the facts:
 
MIN ad page data and Magazine Media 360:
Because approximately 80% of advertisers who advertise in magazine media buy across multiple platforms, print ad page metrics are not only anachronistic, but by virtue of  capturing an advertiser's print activity only, present  an incomplete and therefore inaccurate  picture of a magazine brand's overall advertising performance. In the old days if a title's ad pages were up, that meant that advertising in that brand was up. Today, if a title's ad pages are up, it doesn't necessarily mean that advertising in that brand is up. And vice versa.  Today, the only way to accurately portray the advertising performance of a particular magazine brand would be to capture the activity across platforms and formats in a given week or month. At this point—there isn't any way to accurately do that for magazine media or ANY OTHER media for that matter—hence the focus on the one common and comparable currency: CONSUMER DEMAND (which is what Magazine Media 360 captures).
 
Given this set of facts, the MPA Board decided that it was not only misleading, but just plain inaccurate to continue to provide MIN with incomplete data,  which is what paging data is. While the min Boxscores may have been "legendary", they simply ceased to be accurate.
 
I can also  say with confidence that the Magazine Media 360 report isn't an "attempt to camouflage the continuous array of bad stats and sublimate them with always positive web-only engagement data." Instead, if you take the time to  look at the data, you will see that it is hardly a rose- colored- glasses- perspective on the industry, but rather  a remarkably transparent and dynamic set of third-party data that tracks the ups and, yes,  downs  (in October over 35 titles are down) of consumer demand across print, digital, web, and video  for magazine media. As you rightly pointed out, it is too early to extrapolate revenue assumptions from this data because these are still early days for digital and the jury is still out as to which ad/consumer revenue mixes will be successful for the long-term. That said, it is crystal clear that in the wild west of multi-platform/format media, consumer demand is not only the only proxy for current and future vitality—it is the ONLY comparable currency across media.
 
MIN Social Media report:
The most recent chart was most decidedly NOT "derived from the 360 numbers" and has nothing whatsoever to do with the Magazine Media 360 report or MPA.  In fact I agree with you that the chart (and using social media activity as a proxy for brand vitality or claiming any insight based on this kind of data) is silly at best, and misleading at worst.
 
I can't speak to what min is attempting to do with the social media chart which, I'll note again, you mistakenly attributed to and conflated with Magazine Media 360, but with regard to your suggestion that we "really should be building and tracking the public's interest on in our own sites", we at MPA couldn't agree more and THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT MAGAZINE MEDIA 360 DOES.
 
 

 

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Mike Kisseberth

Defining Digital Ad Performance

Mike Kisseberth Sales and Marketing - 11/03/2014-15:29 PM

I recently had the pleasure of sharing a panel with some of the sharpest minds in the digital advertising space. We gathered at this year's Advertising Week to discuss performance–how we define it as tools change and our industry shifts. Most importantly, how do we achieve it as an industry?

These may seem like straightforward questions with obvious answers, but we're often dealing with different stakeholders, varying metrics, and disparate data utilization methods. Our panel, titled "Performance Is The New Black" actually concluded that there is no uniform definition of success. There are, however, best practices that publishers, agencies and marketers should follow in order to describe the performance of a given campaign or specific ad.

Focus on objectives first, tactics later

The very first thing publishers, agencies and marketers need to do is come to a consensus on the objective of a given campaign. The second thing to keep in mind, as reinforced by Amanda McAllister, Head of Global Marketing for MSN, is to never lose sight of the objective. Once all stakeholders are clear on what hill they are trying to take, then they can figure out how to take that hill.

Flashy tactics are great, but they're not an end in themselves. Launching an app for the sake of having one or because Starbucks or Macy's did it does not offer that focus. Any campaign needs an agreed-upon set of key performance indicators, and shiny tools and technologies like apps, programmatic buys and native content should be assessed based on their contribution to achievement of those KPIs.

Don't be afraid to experiment

Some went so far as to say we should invest in failure. The beauty of digital advertising is its flexibility. We shouldn't be afraid to embrace (smart) experimental ideas as part of a new campaign as long as vigilant oversight and a solid Plan B are part of the strategy. As Jade Watts of MediaHub put it, "It's ok to fail as long as you fail fast and course-correct even faster."

Tried-and-true tactics are great, but if you never have a hiccup, you're probably not doing everything you can to push boundaries and achieve the greatest success. And by not at least taking educated forays into burgeoning fields such as programmatic - which is set to account for $20 billion in ad spends annually by 2016–you're not only limiting possibilities for success, but risk being left behind as the industry changes.

Keep the consumer in your sights

Dazzling CPMs and CPAs are great, but we shouldn't lose sight of our collective goal, which is winning over the end-user. If publishers and advertisers aren't framing advertising content in a way that is appealing and relevant to the consumer, we won't ultimately succeed. This is why we're seeing more in the industry turn to native advertising-if done right, it's ultimately oriented for the end-user but will also deliver the performance the marketer is seeking. Successful publishers, agencies, and brands are going beyond the conventions of digital advertising to deliver conversions while at the same time offering memorable creative content.

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Entertainment Weekly

Robert Newman Design and Production - 10/23/2014-14:38 PM

The October 17, 2014 issue of Entertainment Weekly, featuring a graphically intense, black and white photograph of Michael Keaton in a preview of the Birdman movie, is one of the coolest and most iconic magazine covers of the past year. Photographer Art Streiber, design director Tim Leong, photography director Lisa Berman and lettering artist Geoff McFetridge have created a perfectly balanced cover that has a cutting-edge, contemporary flavor, while harkening back to the classic EW black and white covers of the early 1990s, which still resonate with many of the magazine's fans. And it's a cover that perfectly balances the demands of newsstand presence, reader engagement, and social media virality.

This is the latest signifier that there is an editorial and visual renaissance happening as the magazine approaches its 25-year anniversary. New editor-in-chief Matt Bean spearheads the brand. And he and newish design director Leong work under editorial director and former EW editor Jess Cagle.

As an early design director at Entertainment Weekly (I was there from 1994-96), I have a deep appreciation for the challenges and limitations of the magazine's cover design. A recent forum sponsored by the Society of Publication Designers at the SVA Theatre in New York City highlighted perfectly the changes to the magazine over the past 25 years. The event featured all of the magazine's past and current design directors and a great deal of dynamic work from the visual history of EW was presented. In the early days of the magazine, covers tended to be very spare, with minimal cover lines, and bold, graphic, iconic black and white photographic imagery. Actors like Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson were presented in stark, simple contexts. As the magazine increased in popularity, and as newsstand sales became more important, and more challenging, black and white photography was cut, and the covers became more graphically complex. The result was action-packed covers that were highly effective, very commercial, but somewhat lacking in a higher artistic achievement. This is not meant as a criticism of any of the EW design directors, since I include most of my own covers in this category.

There have been, of course, some highly-memorable EW covers over the years, including the 2003 Dixie Chicks cover, which was ranked in a recent ASME collection of the best magazine covers of all time, and the unforgettable 2008 Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert parody of the famous Barack and Michelle Obama fist bump New Yorker cover. At its heart, EW is an entertainment newsweekly, and its covers generally have a sense of immediacy and response to current entertainment news and trends. Many times the imperative to present actors in character drives the image creation (see their countless superheroes in costume or Simpsons covers for great examples of this). That makes for crowd-pleasing images that aren't necessarily as artful as what appears on the cover of Vanity Fair, Esquire or New York magazine.

The essence of EW, to me, was that it always reflected the smart fan's take on movies, TV, books, music, and other forms of entertainment. It acknowledged the validity of its readers' obsessions. They were nerds before being a nerd was cool. Now that nerd-dom is having its day, EW has gone back to its roots in many ways, with complicated and obsessive graphics and charts, cool page presentations and lots of visual "winks" at the readers.

The Keaton cover is right in this sweet spot, with its hand-lettered cover typography that feels exactly like something I would have done on my notebooks in high school. Check out the scary, wavy type on the word LOSERS in the top right of the page, and the flock of birds above the logo. The type is funky and ragged, almost amateurish, but it strikes just the right tone. It has a sense of fanatic appreciation, and it doesn't overwhelm the photograph. I love the raw, almost punkish aesthetic of it as much as I love the stylish and intense quality of the cover photograph. The only color on the cover is the bold red logo, which enhances the classic feel. There are no drop shadows, 3D type or other computer-generated graphics that would make this cover feel dated in a few years. It's timeless. Twenty-five years from now when EW has its 50th anniversary gathering of design directors, it will still feel completely modern and contemporary.

It's heartening for me to see EW feel so essential and vibrant after all this time, especially after the many predictions of the magazine's death over the course of its lifetime. Tim Leong and his team have been creating a powerful series of covers over the past few months, including memorable images of Key & Peele and Michonne from "The Walking Dead" that show a keen understanding of the ways a cover must relate to audiences across multiple platforms. These are covers that delight, provoke, entertainment, and also sell, although that term has a much different and more diverse meaning that it did 20 years ago when I was creating at EW. This is a magazine that is about delighting its audience and validating their cultural obsessions, whether it's for Star Trek, Harry Potter, The Simpsons or Breaking Bad. This cover makes good on its brand promise brilliantly, and still looks like a poster that I'd like to put up on my wall. You can't ask for more than that from a magazine cover.

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Linda Ruth

Report from Distripress: Print Distributors’ Participate in Digital Distribution

Linda Ruth emedia and Technology - 09/29/2014-14:57 PM

U.S. newsstand distributors, unlike our printers and subscription agencies, have very little to do with the ongoing transition of publishers to a primarily digital environment.

From an international perspective, the distributor has an important role to play in that transition, according to Anne-Marie Couderc, president of French national distributor Presstalis. At Distripress 2014, the international conference of the magazine press, held in Cannes in the last week of September, Couderc provided her vision of the print and digital future. Print and digital must complement one another, and print distributors have an important role to play in that relationship.

It begins with the optimization of services already provided, she says, which includes managing complex logistics, data and financial flows. Distributors also have a role in the global distribution of both print and digital products.

Presstalis is responsible for 80 percent of print distribution. The five trends she flagged in the French market reflect those in the North America:

1. The collapse of newsstand sales
2. The collapse of multi media products
3. The crisis in ad sales
4. The strain on the retail market as a channel of sale
5. Changes in consumer habits

In France, as here, magazine sales down, and the Internet is seen as a major driver of the trend.

Couderc says publishers and distributors need to rethink their businesses in response. Steps would include changing the publisher economic model, rethinking the publishing landscape and redefining roles. Realistically, sales will continue to fall, publishers will capitalize on their core brands through their digital divisions, and the economic model of digital still needs to be defined.

So what can the distributor do to participate? Presstalis suggests using digital to boost print media sales on the newsstand and offering digital services to publishers. The company also works with publishers to design and distribute digital applications; it collects information on pricing and promotions and offers it to publishers; and it offers a digital-to-store application. The role of the distributor includes working with their suppliers to pool resources and means, and to provide a cross-media research unit for print, media campaigns and online buzz.

Presstalis' has introduced a popular app, Zeens, which customizes magazine offerings and provides push notifications based on the interests of the customers and available updates by magazine category. To date, 80,000 people have downloaded the app.

In this partnership model, the publishers' role is to make a digital offering a part of all their editorial content, by creating robust brands in print and digital, and by promoting across all networks. The distributor participates by managing across both print and digital platforms, expanding applications from mobile to store, and stimulating both physical and virtual networks.

From the perspective of this print distributor, digital is no longer a threat to the print publisher. It is a key to success.

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Linda Ruth

Let Us Now Praise Channel Partners

Linda Ruth - 09/25/2014-16:14 PM

There's no point in an endless recap of the details: we all know that publishers and their supply chain partners have had a long rough haul in 2014, and I think we are all hoping for a better 2015.

In the midst of all the wreckage there have also been heroes, and now seems a good moment to tip our hats to the good things that publishers and their industry partners have brought to the industry and to one another.

So hats off to Barnes and Noble for reaching out to publishers for special partnerships and working on a publisher-by-publisher basis to maximize sales and find creative solutions.

Hats off to Curtis Circulation for supporting their employees. In this day and age when so much is disposable, including people, there are still companies that respect their employees and the work they do, even as necessary changes are made and jobs come to an end. "I get that when a big wholesale agency goes under, some of the distribution people that worked in that agency have to go with it," said a former Curtis employee. "But Curtis treated us well, and I give them a lot of credit for it."

Hats off to Books a Million, for supporting independent publishers in creating special displays and distribution, even in cases where promotions dollars are limited.

Hats off to those publishers who, in the midst of the year we've had, managed to increase sales, efficiency, and cover price all at once. The Old Farmer's Almanac, at 223 years old North America's oldest continuously-published periodical, is one publication that managed to do just that in 2014; and with their "refriger-nation" predictive meme going viral, 2015 promises to be even better.

Hats off to Exceptional Women in Publishing (EWIP) for their recently-launched initiative to partner with publishers to recognize their exceptional women; and hats off to the Folio, for honoring the women who are movers and shakers in the magazine business; and to all the women to whom they will present awards on October 2nd.

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Jeffrey S. Litvack

Digital Innovation in Publishing

Jeffrey S. Litvack emedia and Technology - 09/15/2014-10:18 AM

Established print media brands are facing unprecedented pressures to innovate and reinvent themselves; failure to do so may mean these institutions will become future HBS case studies (and not the good kind).

In real dollars terms, Newspapers are generating the same amount of advertising dollars as they did in 1950 (having lost more than $45B in print advertising). That's not to say they aren't innovating, in fact, they've created $5B in new revenue through digital advertising. But the need to innovate faster is a real necessity.

The challenge is how to innovate at the speed of the digital economy when our systems, employees and processes are all set-up for a print production cycle (think days, weeks or months). In my experience it begins with adopting a simple operating philosophy centered around one word -"iterate."

Whatever you do, don't try to come up with THE solution, but rather set up an iterative innovation around the notion of advancing the cause, rather than solving the big problem. Too often, I walk into a room where the team is discussing all the reasons why they shouldn't do something, rather than focusing on just doing it, breaking it down and managing through the next steps. My experience has shown me that if you want to move more quickly, the way to do so is through lots of smaller steps rather than trying something monumental.

Often, in product development, this begins by building a simple prototype of the idea. Nothing sophisticated or grandiose, just something visual that everyone can understand and latch on to and build upon.

AP Mobile started with this prototype approach. It began in a room of technology and business naysayers ("we tried mobile before and it failed"), and disbelievers ("the industry will never work together"). We "ignored" them and pressed on building a simple prototype of the product in a few weeks. We then flew out to Apple and demonstrated this prototype and left with developer keys in hand and a few months later the team was standing on stage with Steve Jobs introducing the first iPhone app for the news industry. A company that had never had a B2C presence, today, has tens of millions of subscribers getting breaking news directly through the AP Mobile app.

Innovation in publishing is hard to do and a constant uphill battle. But if your battle charge is "Iterate or Die", you'll find yourself winning battle after battle and eventually the tides of the war will change for the better.

 

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Time Out New York

Robert Newman Design and Production - 09/11/2014-14:27 PM

One of the most exciting series of magazine covers at the moment has come courtesy of Time Out New York. TONY has always had energetic covers, but its latest batch, created by new-ish art director Chris Deacon, are exceptional and rank among my favorite of 2014.

Deacon, who did excellent work in the UK at ShortList, NME, and Metropolitan, took over the art director role at TONY in June. The past few years the magazine's covers tended to be cluttered, noisy, and clichéd, although they certainly had some graphic impact. But the new look directed by Deacon has been bold and fresh, with simple, bright, poster-like visuals. The covers are a constant treat to look at, surprising, vibrant and very modern¬-a perfect reflection of New York City.

Case in point: the latest September 13, 2014 cover, which features a giant melting blue popsicle, with the words "SUMMER'S LAST HURRAH" printed on the stick like the little messages you see when you finish off your melting icy sweet in the park. It's a brilliant visual, and the photography by Stephen Meierding captures the moment perfectly. It jumps off the newsstand (they got my $4.99), and it stands in sharp contrast to just about everything around it. Whether TONY is showing film director John Waters on a hot pink background, or a #SAVENYC hashtag over stark white, these covers are powerful and imaginative. TONY is obviously working with a limited budget, but it doesn't show. Everything is smartly conceived and crisply executed.

The magazine's secondary coverlines have been greatly diminished compared with previous issues. A lot of people buy it because they're visiting the city and want to find out what's going on. For the rest, I imagine that the main image and headline are the selling points. It seems like the present team is doubling down on that idea, which has freed up more space for Deacon's bold graphic concepts. Part of the power of this current cover is that there's white space around the image, and the tagline to the main headline, "61 things to do before the season melts away" is nicely tucked into the corner with a subtle size that doesn't conflict with the image and cover concept.

One of the great mysteries to me is the TONY logo, which has remained untouched since the magazine launched in the early 1990s. The logo is drawn from TONY's London parent magazine, where the words Time Out originally spread full width across the top of the cover. At some point in the unfortunate magazine design world of the 1980s, the logo was condensed to half its width. The bad typographic results have lived on into the 21st Century. I quite like the black, white, and red color scheme and the way the logo reads out of any kind of visual background. And while my colleague says that the crude logo has "endearing charm," I think it's begging for an update, or at least a redrawing.  

When it comes down to it, I'm very fannish about both the current Time Out New York cover and previous covers by Deacon. In a way, it reminds me of the work that Richard Turley did at Bloomberg Businessweek over the past few years. Not so much in style, although there is a similar brashness and immediacy to the work, but more so that these covers reflect a true love and passion for graphic design and magazine making. Deacon and his editors are engaging in a very rare (these days) and exciting visual conversation with their readers that is smart and highly contemporary. It's very inspiring to see this kind of energy, and they deserve a lot of support and congratulations for their effort!

 

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Michael Rondon

The 71 Ways to Monetize Digital Content

Michael Rondon emedia and Technology - 08/29/2014-11:03 AM

David Plotz, EIC of Slate until earlier this summer, has a few suggestions in case you think you've hit the wall with monetization.

Not all of them are for everyone—a bunch require scale ("Ad network ads") and/or serious investments ("Conferences"); a few depend on the content you produce ("Higher end specialized product"); and some are just weird ("Cruises for readers")—but it's a good starting point for anyone looking around for ideas.

Happy hunting.

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Mike Kisseberth

What Advertisers Really Think of Programmatic

Mike Kisseberth Sales and Marketing - 08/28/2014-10:42 AM

Digital advertising spend will hit nearly $140 billion this year. And as is typically the case with any industry growing rapidly, new innovations drive growth. In digital advertising, the rise of programmatic, in particular, has become a key innovation that continues to shape today's digital advertising-scape.

According to a recent study conducted by my company, Purch, where we surveyed high-level U.S. marketer and agency advertising decision makers spending $1 million or more on digital advertising, 78 percent confirmed their use of programmatic across campaigns. Yet, while programmatic has been widely embraced, views on its uses and benefits displayed by agencies, advertisers, and publishers are not necessarily at a consensus.

Programmatic Measurement

The importance of good metrics cannot be underscored enough when it comes understanding the effectiveness of a strategy and which of its underlying components do and do not work. But to what end do advertisers employ programmatic campaigns and how is their success measured?

According to our study, a vast majority of respondents (75 percent) say they measure their programmatic campaigns based on sales/conversion rates. This is sensible given the constant push for ROI. However, programmatic advertisers also included brand lift (51 percent) and reach (23 percent) among their top evaluation metrics, as well. Meaning that programmatic is being used and can be deployed to fulfill various advertising needs effectively.

Choosing the Right Partner

When it comes to choosing a programmatic provider, advertisers are also split. While a majority of those surveyed have used agency trading desks (65 percent) and demand side platforms (61 percent) to purchase programmatic, the preferred programmatic providers are publishers (36 percent). They're followed by trading desks (23 percent), and DSPs (21 percent). This is obviously beneficial as advertisers can deal directly with suppliers, cutting out both the middle man as well as the uncertainty that comes with not knowing exactly where the ads you have purchased will actually be displayed.

The important criteria for choosing a premium programmatic (preferred or private auction deals negotiated with a publisher) partner is also viewed quite differently, with respondents citing audience insight and data (91 percent), ease of use (90 percent), credible metrics (87 percent), and transparency (87 percent) as some of the most important factors.

Agencies and Marketers Weigh-in on Premium Programmatic

Our research also revealed that while agencies and marketers are both engaging more and more in premium programmatic sector, they are doing so for different reasons and benefits. For example, while agencies are more drawn to premium programmatic by the increased efficiencies involved with purchasing premium inventory (46 percent) and the removal of the "middle man" from the process (34 percent), marketers, on the other hand, cited less audience targeting waste (45 percent), and the reduction of advertising costs (38 percent) as the most attractive benefits of premium programmatic. However, although agencies and marketers did offer contrasting views on the most attractive outcomes of premium programmatic, a similar percentage of agency members and marketers surveyed cited more accurate audience targeting (28 percent versus 26 percent) as one of the most attractive premium programmatic benefits for them.

Premium Programmatic's Biggest Obstacles

While growth has been astronomical, and the promise of premium programmatic is quite high, advertisers, agencies, and marketers alike are also cognizant of several challenges that still exist within the space. A lack of premium inventory (54 percent) and inadequate targeting to preferred editorial brands and audiences (37 percent) are among the biggest bumps in the road for premium programmatic. Our research also showed that a at least a quarter of advertisers are mindful and weary of a lack of human interaction (30 percent) and transparency (25 percent) that exists, meaning there is certainly room for growth (advertising fraud has become a huge buzz phrase, lately, exacerbating the transparency and lack of human interaction issues).

In the end, programmatic is exploding in adoption and spend. However, we have yet to reach maturity or complete consensus on optimal use cases and benefits. That will come with time, as the market continues to sign on. In the meantime, though, we have a good sense of the possible direction and can execute accordingly.

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Roy Beagley

Decorating Insert Cards (Yes, Insert Cards) for the Holidays (Yes, the Holidays)

Roy Beagley Audience Development - 08/28/2014-10:36 AM

 

Trying to get orders around the holidays is nothing new and if you have not already planned and designed your holiday insert cards, it’s not too late, but you need to act fast. I know, we're only at the tail end of summer and insert cards are “old hat,” but they reach your audience in every issue and that’s half the battle. Here are some things to consider, and a few to avoid:

1. Use four colors. It’s the holidays, don’t turn yourself into the insert card scrooge! Consider using an oversize, postage-paid reply card to get even more orders from one donor. Yes it will cost more in postage, but it’s the holidays. In a 5.5” x 7.5” reply card you could get three new subs—and possibly a renewal if you feel really creative. Also, you will need to use different stock from the usual 4.25” x by 6” card—the USPS insists!

2. Keep the “holiday” copy generic.
Mentioning an actual holiday could cause a problem, unless you are in a market where a specific holiday is pertinent.

3. Your copy needs to concentrate on giving a gift rather than selling the publication. These insert cards are aimed at existing readers, although pointing out the fine points of your publication is not a bad idea.

4. Don’t go “fancy font” crazy. You are selling a product, not inviting people to a party. But a little whimsy can be employed if you think your market is whimsical—most publications have a little whimsy, but many don’t know it.

5. The holidays fall at the end of the year, tell people you will send a gift card in December and start the subscription with the January issue if you can. This means you can run your card in your October and November issues, and possibly December as well. Just make sure the gift card arrives before the first issue, otherwise confusion will reign, customer service calls will increase and you run the risk of upsetting the gift giver because the gift recipient has been inconvenienced.

6. Allow people to order online. You can make them pay upfront, otherwise offer to bill the donor as this will help increase response. Some advise not to send the gift announcements and first issue until the subscriptions have been paid. I would say send the announcements and the issues as detailed above. I doubt there would be many people who would not pay their invoice knowing their kindness has already been announced.

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