Partick Smith’s closing comment on the The Media Briefing’s Making ebooks a news publishing revenue stream really struck a chord with me. Patrick is somewhat skeptical about asking readers to pay twice for the same content. His solution:
Maybe it’s best to think of an ebook as a special edition DVD, complete with a director’s cut, behind the scenes extras and cast commentaries. Something fans will pay for.
One of the last projects I oversaw before I left the day job was an eBook published for the iPad (it’s here if you’re interested). It’s a nicely designed publication, expertly curated from magazine archives to give readers a single place to go for comprehensive coverage of a single issue. The team added a concise overview video from the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, but otherwise it was completely repurposed content.
That project was sponsored and is free to download on registration but it’s valid to ask, as Patrick does, will readers will pay for a collection of articles that they may have previously read in a magazine or online. Some will. The convenience value of an eBook themed around an important issue shouldn’t be underestimated: This is the premise behind every yearbook ever published. But the idea of additional unseen director’s cut content has to be a powerful, additional incentive to purchase.
The problem is, where is the extra content going to come from? It’s natural for cash-strapped publishers to see eBooks as free money and the thought of investing in additional content doesn’t sit well. But if investing to create a more attractive product means sales will improve, then that has to be money well spent. Curate your existing content, spot the gaps and commission additonal content to fill them. This could be an up-to-the minute opinion piece that brings fresh perspective to archive material, an overview that ties together the threads of the various articles that make up the eBook, or video and audio that lifts the eBook beyond a words & pictures archive re-tread.
But this is playing catch-up with legacy content. The best, and most cost-effective, way to add value is to schedule “behind the scenes extras and cast commentaries” into your regular content creation process. If you have it in the back (or the front) of your mind that an article will one day be re-published as part of an eBook, plan for it. It’s difficult to imagine all the places your content might end up, but if you can focus on the requirements of your key digital formats it’s not impossible.
The problem with so much crossmedia activity is that publishers are trying to satisfy new media expectations with old media. There’s nothing you can do about the past, and the fact that you don’t have boat loads of digital extras shouldn’t stop you experimenting with new digital formats like eBooks. But the sooner you start to plan for the enhanced content requirements of digital, the sooner you will be able to add the value that differentiates your digital offering from your established products and tap into new revenue streams.
There’s been a lot of coverage of a research report by the Pew Research Center and The Economist. One of the key findings from the survey of American news consumers was that 60% of readers under the age of 40 prefer a “traditional, print-like” reading experience on tablets.
I get this in relation to news; readers want to access information quickly without the distractions of interactive elements like animation, audio and video. But is the same true for digital magazine readers?
More than newspapers, magazines have to entertain readers as much as inform them and immediate access to information doesn’t always trump design. I’m no designer, but magazine pages in print can be every bit as complex as on the tablet. Print doesn’t move or talk, but a sophisticated page layout can pack a mindbending array of graphic and text elements.
Thinking about magazines, the term “print like” isn’t really helpful. I’m not sure what the right term is – accessible, intuitive, legible?
Having just finished judging the 2012 Digital Magazine Awards, I have first hand experience of publishers that have overused interactive elements in their iPad publications: Spinning stuff just sometimes gets in the way.
I suppose the mesage for magazine publishers from this element of the Pew/Economist study is that technology has to be used appropriately. If your readers want information quickly, you need to design to that. Simple layouts, clear typography, job done. But if they want an enhanced media experience, video, audio, animation can really add value.
The bottom line in all of this is that we are still in the very early days of digital magazine design. As one of the winning editors at the DMAs put it to me, digital magazine publishers are experimenting in public and they don’t always get it right. But playing it safe and reverting to print formats just won’t cut it. Readers need a reason to buy tablet magazines and giving them print products on a digital substrate isn’t likely to cut it long-term.
Magazine people are, or at least should be, some of the best storytellers around. That’s what they do. But I’m talking about a different kind of story – the stories we tell inside our businesses about our industry.
I just read a post on Dan MCCarthy’s Media Transformations blog. In Who should CEO’s entrust with storytelling in the digital age? Dan says this about the importance of storytelling in business leadership:
The best leaders knew who they were telling the story to, why it would matter and what made the story important. The best organizations lived their own stories — each employee knew that they were part of bringing the story to life.
Think about that in the context of the magazine business. The story that is most often told in our space is that print is dying and that digital is the future. Ask anyone who works for a magazine publisher what’s the biggest story in publishing. Like the piggies in Animal farm they’ll recite the mantra: Print bad, digital good… Print bad, digital good.
Magazine companies living that story, and that’s most magazine companies, are trapped in a tale where the evil resource suck of print is a distraction from the noble quest for digital profitability, which has so far proved to be as elusive as the Holy Grail. That doesn’t sound like a story that ends well.
How about we try telling it a different way. Print isn’t bad, different from digital undoubtedly, but not bad. Most publishers I know rely heavilly on revenues generated from print. More, the digital revenues they do have are very often tied directly to audience loyalty founded on print activities.
To sideline our print heritage like an unwanted stepchild is to dismiss the biggest assets we have built over a long time – attention, community, reputation. No one would argue that digital does not loom large in the future of the magazine business. But for the forseeable future, the majority of publishers have to see print and digital as parallel activities, not mutually exclusive but complimentary.
To be fair, some senior magazine people are starting to speak out about this. At the Association of magazine Media conference in San Francisco this October, CEO Mary Berner said she was “pissed” that the industry had lost control of its own narrative.
By letting others hijack our story, it has become one of doom and gloom, demise and even death. And that conversation is affecting our business.
Good news. The worm is starting to turn, but it will only make a difference if we take back control back and a different narrative is told to, and ultimately by, the troops.
Magazine bosses need to round out the plot. Digital is big and getting bigger. Staff need to embrace new technologies and innovate in their markets if pulishers have any hope of growth. But they can’t forget their roots in print or ignore the legacy revenues that currently pay to keep the lights on.
Let’s start telling a crossmedia story. Yes we do digital, but we also do print. We do video and audio, but we still do words and pictures. The magazine narrative is complicated, don’t oversimplify it, tell tales of pixels and ink and maybe we can manage a happy ending.
There’s a face editors make when you suggest they should repurpose content; something like the face people make when smelling milk from the office fridge. The milk’s probably OK, but the face says they’re ready for the worst.
Editors don’t like old stuff. They’re trained to value fresh content, news or features that they know no one has read before. Good for them, new content wins every time. But like our poor planet, editorial resources are finite and recycling helps publishing teams conserve energy for future endeavours.
You have probably heard this from me before, but you’ll have guessed I’m not beyond recycling a good story. When BBC3 launched, amidst the inevitable furore around repeated programming, a beleagured BBC executive explained to disgruntled license payers that, “it’s only a repeat if you saw it the first time”.
If a national television broadcaster with millions of viewers every day and 24-hour programming suffers fagmented audience attention, magazine editors certainly do. Repurposing content isn’t as cynical as it might sound. Every magazine’s print circulation is limited and it’s a fact that there are online-only readers out there who will value your content. And I’ll let you into a little secret: not every subscriber reads every article in every issue. Putting print articles online, in newsletters and on tablets exposes your content to different audiences.
Also, in stark contrast to the Highlander movies, there is no cosmic law in publishing that says there can only be one version of an article. Maybe your stock-in-trade in print is long-form features packed with illustrations. Online you can run abstracts formatted like news stories to give the essence of long-form pieces quickly. Podcasts, slideshows, videos can do the same job. For some readers, the snippet is enough. Those that want to move on to the real-deal can download a full-fat PDF straight from your pre-press department – your commercial guys will love it if you make readers register for the download.
Recycling doesn’t have to mean re-hash. You can add complimentary digital content that enhances your print content. Interviews in print tell the story, but add a sound clip on a digital magazine or a web page and now your readers can hear just how passionate your interview subject is about their story. Another example – a two or three page feature has some room for incidental art, but a complimentary online slideshow can add real depth to your photo journalism.
Think of recycling as a starting point – a way to reach new readers, a way to add value to what you’re doing in print. Do it well and you’ll improve your audience engagement and save some energy for creating fresh, new content.
We’re in the home straight for this year’s Digtal Magazine Awards; judging finishes Wednesday night. This year’s awards includes the Digital Magazine Cover of the Year in association with the Huffington Post UK. This is the first time the DMAs have opened a category to a public vote. You have until Saturday 6th December to cast your vote for your favourite of the 12 finalists here.
How long have we been listening to the digital-media divas beat-up magazine publishers over their lack of progress in the print-digital transition? Well, this quote really cheered me up.
It’s from Russ Grandinetti, VP for Kindle content at Amazon, speaking at the Association of Magazine Media’s annual conference in San Francisco . Did you read what he said? Nice… Long… Slow. No doom, no gloom, just a nice, long, slow transition.
So what’s going on? Why has a guy who’s whole reason for being is digital content come over all warm and fuzzy about printed magazines?
Well for one thing it’s the truth. The rumours of print’s death have been greatly exaggerated – most magazine publishers would find it tough to turn the lights on in the morning without their print revenues. If only the magazine industry could stop panicking long enough to realise that.
More importantly Mr Grandinetti desperately wants magazine content on his devices and he seems to have, refreshingly, decided to ditch the Firefighter’s shrill cry of “Jump! The platform’s on fire” for the Estate Agent’s soothing “How can we help you relocate with the least possible upset”.
None of this means that print will do anything but decline over time; without the miracle of an overnight switch from audience and advertisers, publishers are going to have to make their way in a predominantly digital world eventually. But woudn’t it be nice if the print disruptors and the digital enablers saw the sense in swapping digital sticks for digital carrots.
Anything that helps publishers work with print and digital in parallel is a good thing. Grandinetti noted in his speech that when Kindle started out it was print books that were it’s toughest competition. Similarly, it’s print that gets in the way of everyone reading magazine content on their Kindles or iPhones or whatever.
Much better then, to help publishers build out the complimentary advantages of digital – tracking, ecommerce, portability – and celebrate the enduring practicality of ink on paper, at least until the rumours of print’s death finally come true.