Archive for the ‘Content’ Category
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.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of InPublishing magazine.
I’ve been known to open a presentation or two with a little bit of a fairytale…
“Once Upon a Time, not so long ago, there was an editor who served a single master, a monthly Magazine. He worked hard, but found time for research, writing and occasionally even a long lunch. Then one day the Magazine decided it didn’t want to be a Magazine any longer, it wanted to be a Brand…”
Generally, I only get 10 to 15 minutes to present, so I rarely reach the end of the story. Just as well really because I’m not quite sure that I’ve figured out if everyone lives happily ever after or not.
There is a point in these whimsical story-telling sessions: while a magazine morphing into a full-blown cross-media brand has the potential to be a fairytale opportunity for the commercial people, it can be a nightmare for the content team.
A Brand is a way more powerful commercial proposition than a Magazine. Think about Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition for a second… OK that’s enough.
The Swimsuit Edition was introduced in the winter of 1964 to spark up a moribund post-holiday ad market. It was a nice idea and made great money for a single issue. Fast forward almost 50 years and the Swimsuit Issue is no longer just an issue, it’s a money-making franchise that spans print, digital and broadcast media plus loads of merchandising. This year, it is estimated that content from the Swimsuit Issue will reach 70 million people through over 20 line extensions.
So every magazine should aspire to be a brand operating across multiple channels? Yes, but one thing the brand evangelists tend to ignore is the stone-cold fact that cross-media publishing involves way more deadlines than traditional magazine publishing.
Magazines, by definition, are periodic, most monthly, some quarterly, a few weekly. Brands are always on – you have an annual conference; magazine editions in print and digital; email newsletters weekly, sometimes daily; a website that is refreshed daily; a blog that goes out a couple of times a day; and online communities and social media feeds that never, ever stop.
The number of deadlines associated with a modern magazine is mind-numbing, but surely we just hire more people, right? Wrong. Not even Time Inc who owns the SI juggernaut, has been immune to layoffs and no one, but no one, is hiring to ease the burden on content people.
So what’s a poor put-upon editor to do?
First things first, don’t bother complaining. None of this is going away. To be fair, most journalists and editors have stopped grieving the “Good Old Days of Print”. They’ve stumbled their way through the denial, anger, bargaining and depression; and are now ready to accept that publishing has changed forever and that they need to move on.
Most won’t admit it, but some are even a little excited about getting on and making the most of this brave new cross-media world. How? Here are a few ideas. They won’t take away all the pain, but they might just keep you sane.
The most commonly used cross-media content strategy is stolen directly from the environmental movement. Like the greenest of eco-warriors, editors that need to conserve their energy, recycle.
I might have dreamed it, but I’m sure that when BBC3 launched, amidst the uproar about repeated TV programming, a top 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 can get away with this, you can be damn sure a magazine editor can.
Recycling content isn’t as crass as it sounds. Every print circulation is limited, 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. Readers that want to move on to the real-deal can download a full-fat PDF and your commercial guys will love it if you make readers register for the download.
Come out from behind the curtain
In those mythical “Good-old-days”, editors sat in their offices and thought up great story ideas, then sent someone off to write them. Eventually someone came back with enough copy to fill the right number of pages, the editors fixed it up, sent it off and, as if by magic, a magazine appeared. All the time this was going on, the reader waited patiently for next month’s issue, oblivious to the process.
Not now, no one waits patiently for anything. But this audience impatience is an opportunity not a problem. The content creation process has its own narratives – beginnings, middles and endings. Engage the audience with the story as it is created.
Ask the audience what they think of your story ideas right up front. As you or your authors begin to assemble your articles, share interesting side stories in blog posts. As you uncover facts and figures through your research, share them on Twitter under a hash-tag unique to the feature.
By involving your audience through social media you have already started to engage them with your content and they will be all the more receptive to the finished article when it appears. That’s powerful audience development.
The Hansel & Gretel rule
The modern media Brand is all about multiple channels and once your content is created, it’s relatively easy to put it everywhere. But it’s important to remember the one golden rule of sharing branded content. Wherever, whenever, however you share your content, always make sure that, like Hansel and Gretel, your audience will be able to find their way home. Always link back to your brand.
There are huge opportunities to participate in the wider community and distribute your content in third-party social media streams and discussion groups, but don’t carpet bomb. People prefer enlightened self-interest and they will appreciate you being helpful, making suggestions, answering questions. All the time you’re pointing quietly at the information you offer. It will take time, but this will build traffic and it will be sustainable.
Build your own communities in the same way. Provide value and people will stay and bring in their friends and colleagues. They’ll start talking amongst themselves and you can add the power of user generated content to your cross-media Brand.
Fish where the fish are
Just because you can put your content everywhere, it doesn’t mean you should. Spend your time in the online spaces where your audience spends their time. Pinterest is the big thing at the moment, but realistically it’s probably going to be of more value to you if you edit a fashion or a furniture magazine than if you edit an engineering title.
But be careful of making unsubstantiated assumptions. Analytics are never perfect but they can give you a good idea of where your traffic is coming from and where you’ll get the best ROI. And ask your audience where they spend their time online; it’s never been easier to run a reader survey.
Don’t be precious
Yes, you’re pretty good, but you’re not the only one who can write. Partner with people, especially experts, that can add a different dimension to your content creation efforts. Don’t be precious, especially online, where you can have multiple authors contributing to your blog multiple times a day.
And while aggregation is a blunt instrument that will get you search engine ranking, curation – pointing your audience at highly relevant content elsewhere and providing context – adds real value.
There might even be an opportunity to keep your sales team happy by offering advertisers the chance to contribute whitepapers. Dyed in the wool editors wince at the thought, but sponsored sections and even advertorials can add value if they are managed carefully.
Don’t be panicked by digital
A deadline really used to be a deadline. Your magazine pages were finished by a specified time on a specified day and shipped. At that point there was nothing much else you could do. You maybe agonised over a rushed headline or worried about the proper spelling of your lead interviewee’s name, but your work was done.
Now your deadlines are rolling. You probably have more than one a day and even when you’re finished, you’re not finished. The good news is you no longer have to carry the guilt of the uncorrected typo; corrections take as long as it takes to log into your CMS.
The temptation is to provide a running commentary, updating every story as it develops or the facts change. If you are a news brand, go for it. You have the best tools in history to deliver a constants stream of updates. But there is still space for considered analysis, review, and opinion. Don’t allow yourself to be panicked into abandoning the guiding principles of your publication by the technology.
You have the opportunity to shift your magazine into a brand for a reason. The audience and the advertisers value the content you publish, they trust you to do a job for them. Try to stay close to that as you build your cross-media content strategy. If you don’t, it’s unlikely that your story will have a happy ending.
Don’t reset your router, your internet connection is fine. The New Yorker magazine cover on the left looks like that on the newsstands.
The inspiration for the ultimate print-digital integration cover came from reader Brett Culbert’s entry to the magazine’s annual Eustace Tilley competition that has readers submit their own interpretations of the publication’s original 1925 cover illustration by Rea Irvin.
Two things are interesting about this. Firstly that the competition entry actually made it onto the cover and out to the newsstands. Winning entries have been featured in the magazine before, but never on the cover. This says a lot about the growing acceptance of crowdsourcing as a legitimate way for magazine brands to develop content.
Second, just a few years ago very few people one would have had a clue what this image was about. “It’s blurred, there’s a daisy wheel, what does it all mean”. Now, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets we all know immediately that it means “Page Loading”.
While I hope this is just the beginning for magazines bringing their audiences into the creative process, I really hope that the slow-loading allusion soon becomes every bit anachronistic as Mr Tilley’s top hat and monocle.
To look at the other 2012 submissions to the Your Eustace competition go to the slideshow here.
Kerry Lauerman, Editor-in-Chief at Salon.com, blogged a surprising statistic this week | 33 percent fewer posts on Salon brought 40 percent greater traffic, year on year. That’s right: 33 percent less content, 40 percent more traffic.
That’s not in the script. What happened?
Lauerman says that – completely against the trend for more content, faster – Salon slowed down its process.
We’ve tried to work longer on stories for greater impact, and publish fewer quick-takes that we know you can consume elsewhere. We’re actually publishing, on average, roughly one-third fewer posts on Salon than we were a year ago (from 848 to 572 in December; 943 to 602 in January).
The Salon EIC pitches this more thoughtful approach against an obsessive focus on traffic and talks about the efforts Salon made to increase output while cutting staff by cutting story length |
In its best form, we wrote short little decoders of a big story, and tried to link generously to the original source. At its worst, we monitored Twitter and Google for trending topics, and dispatched an intern to cobble together our own summary, posted it quickly, then prayed to the Google gods that the effort would win, if only briefly, their favor.
Lauerman bemoans the pressures of the last ten years on journalists to “second-guess everything we know” and celebrates Salon’s return to it’s primary mission of “originality”.
Before you abandon digital’s drive for fresh content and return to print-era publishing schedules, a quick reality check. Even on its reduced story count Salon serves its seven million visitors around 600 pieces of fresh content each month. There’s no question that you’re going to have to publish more frequently that you used to – it’s the only way to get the attention of your audience and Google’s algorithms. But maybe Kerry Lauerman just gave you permission to think again about the value of what you are posting as much as the volume and to re-consider quality alongside quantity.
Read Kerry Lauerman’s original blog post, “Hit Record”, here.