Publishers Re-Organizing Staffs, Duties to Meet the Challenges of the Web
By Marrecca Fiore
They’ve talked a lot about it, but big media companies like Hachette Filipacchi, Conde Nast, Time Inc. and, most recently, Rodale Inc. are seemingly beginning to make organizational and staffing changes to deal with the challenges of monetizing the Web.
Earlier this month, Vogue and Vanity Fair publisher Conde Nast started the ball rolling by announcing plans to take away some of the editorial tasks on its Web sites from its CondeNet division and give them to the editors of its magazines.
And Rodale, the publisher of Runner’s World, Women’s Health and seven other titles, this week to completely restructure its editorial and advertising departments to focus more strongly on new media. "This biggest priority for Runner’s World in 2007 is going to be online, not that it wasn’t a priority before," said editor-in-chief David Willey. "But it’s a lot of work, a lot of development work, and we need to do that work in our own contained team rather than relying on a centralized IT department to do everything for all of our publications."
Willey said that his team will focus on adding more interactive features to the Web site, which gets as many as 1 million uniques a month during marathon season, this year. "That’s really something our Web site has to have," he said. "In a lot of ways, Runner’s World faces more competition online then in the print magazine world. There are a lot of little guys that do one or two things well online. We need to do everything well online. One of things we’re adding is a personalized training plan for a 5K."
Survey Points to Need to Increase Online Revenue Streams
A CEO survey conducted by Folio: and Readex Research earlier this year showed that even though publishers are launching new initiatives in both print and online, print has remained the dominant revenue stream for the past two years, accounting for 50 percent of total revenue in 2005 and 49 percent in 2006. As print revenues decline, the survey points to the need for publishers to focus their attention online where advertisers, consumers and business professionals are increasingly turning their attention.
And while the survey showed that online revenue growth is beginning to eclipse the loss in print dollars for publishers, it also showed the much of the revenue returns for online publishing continue to be theoretic. In 2006, for example, Web advertising accounted for just 10 percent of the total revenue mix, up from 8 percent in 2005. "The Web seems to be a good place with great growth potential and has proven so with FY 2006," says one executive. However, another cited "Web sites and e-newsletters" as the biggest disappointments this year.
Print Failures Open Doors Online
Publishers are increasingly turning their attention online due to the lower financial risk. Two-time print failure Radar plans to relaunch its print publication next year, but has been building buzz cheaply online for months. Likewise, Conde Nast’s much-hyped business publication Portfolio debuted online this summer in advance of its 2007 launch.
And while the popularity of the Web led to the demise of both Teen People and ElleGirl this year, it didn’t hurt their Web sites, both of which are still going. ElleGirl publisher Hachette Filipacchi announced in April that it would fold the print title in favor of concentrating on its online audience. Time Inc., publisher of Teen People, announced in July that Teen People would follow suit. In support of its confidence in the Web, Ellegirl.com invested in a site redesign that was unveiled in September.
But it’s not only the teen audience that’s turning its attention online. Men’s magazine FHM said Wednesday it is shutting down in the U.S. because of a sagging advertising market. The U.S. Web site will remain live and other international editions of FHM will continue publishing.
Rodale’s New Structure
Under Rodale’s new advertising structure, the company’s 10 online sales people will be merged with its department of 90 print sales people, said executive vice president and group publisher MaryAnn Bekkedahl. The company also plans to expand its sales department. "Now we’ll have 100-plus people selling all our products in all our platforms," said Bekkedahl, saying the changes are in response to what the publishers marketers are looking for.
"We’ve had a lot of people tell us ﾑHey we love Women’s Health and Women’s Health readers, how can we reach out to them in other platforms," she continued. "Now we can say, here’s what you can do in print and here’s what you can do in online, rather than saying here’s what you can do in print, for online you’ll have to talk to someone down the hall."
The changes to the editorial departments will also ensure that editors can be editors rather than editors and Web developers. �Having our own online staff will give editors the opportunity to what they need to do,� Willey said. �I think they should be part of process, but one thing I�m careful about not doing is sending the signal that magazines are sort of pass�. We have 40 year old magazine that is very successful and has very devoted readers and our editorial staff still needs to put out a good magazine 12 times a year.�
Although Bekkedahl and Willey said the time has come for publishers to become more Web-savvy, both stopped short of saying Rodale should have done something sooner. "There’s a lot of debate about that for sure," Bekkedahl said. "And we have been talking about for a while. We didn’t do it sooner because, in the past, a lot of online decisions were being made by online specific (ad) agencies. But more and more agencies are handling both and we’re kind of banking on more agencies demanding this more integrated approach as we move ahead."
Willey said new media demands are changing so quickly that any moment is the right moment to make the type of change Rodale is making. "I wouldn’t say we’re late, in fact I think we’re among the first, if not the first, to make this kind of change," he said. "I think what’s most interesting about online, as well as the most intimidating thing about online, is that things change every five minutes. We’re constantly reading about new deals, new partnerships, it just goes to show you how quickly all this changes. So I don’t think you can take too long to formulate a strategy. I think the perfect moment is now it’s always going to be that way."