FOLIO: Q&A: 8020 Publishing’s Laura Simkins
The company's new consumer marketing VP on its unique hybrid approach.
Last month, Laura Simkins left her senior director of consumer marketing post at Dwell magazine and joined 8020 Publishing, a unique “hybrid media company” that takes content from its online communities and uses it to create print magazines.
Launched in 2006, 8020 Publishing currently has two titles—JPG and Everywhere—each having a dedicated group of Web members who share their photos, videos and articles. While the online communities are flourishing, the company recognized that there was room for improvement in the subscription acquisition department. That’s where Simkins comes in.
FOLIO: spoke with Simkins about her new position, her plans for getting more print subscribers, and what she thinks is the biggest misconception about user-generated content.
FOLIO:: What is it like to go from Dwell to 8020 Publishing, which has such a unique publishing operation?
Simkins: Well, the unique operation is the biggest reason I made the switch. It comes with a lot of interesting circulation marketing opportunities. JPEG Magazine has 150,000 online members and they all come with email addresses. They really get involved with the community, and there’s a lot of talking going on between them.
My goal is to get these online members to evangelize [and become actual subscribers]. But I don’t want to just sell subscriptions to them; I want them to help us to sell subscriptions to others through word-of-mouth.
FOLIO:: What changes do you plan on making to the way that 8020 previously acquired its print subscribers?
Simkins: To be on honest, there was limited promotion for subscriptions. I’m changing a lot of that. We have several plans to help our communities to talk each other. We’re also going to use email promotion, special offers, etc. But we’re also going to use non-traditional tactics, such as a reward points program, where members get points for doing things on the site, such as getting a friend to subscribe to the magazine. We really want to provide them with numerous viral marketing tools like, widgets, video and postcards—things they can use to spread the word.
FOLIO:: How do the 8020 Web members and subscribers differ from subscribers of more traditional magazines?
Simkins: I think when it comes to the Web we just have to be very thoughtful how we talk to our members because they are so invested in the community and in the magazine. We can’t talk to them in a traditional manner. People are not going to our sites to subscribe or to find out more about us, like they do for traditional magazine Web sites. We have a whole different purpose, so we have to be considerate of that.
FOLIO:: What do you think of traditional publishers that have introduced user-generated content into their magazines?
Simkins: There are a couple of traditional magazines, such as Budget Travel and This Old House, that have dipped their toes in the model, but it’s different than what we have. We’ve built up this strong community already, and now it’s time to figure out the best way to capture the content. I wouldn’t have made the switch [to 8020 Publishing] if I didn’t think the model could work.
FOLIO:: What do you want readers to know about user-generated content, in general, and its role in the future of the magazine industry?
Simkins: First, of we don’t even call it ‘user-generated content’ because we think it’s sort of dismissive to our readers. We have this joke in the office that when people open our magazine, they’re expecting to see babies, puppies and rainbows. But we’ve been pleased and surprised by the high level of quality of the content. User-generated content doesn’t have to be bad quality.