Archive for the ‘Print Magazines’ Category
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.
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.
The Word, a UK music magazine billed as “Entertainment for lively minds” published its last issue this month.
If you’re really quick you can still catch the website, but chances are its gone already. Co-founder David Hepworth offers an interesting perspective on the magazine business through the lense of the closure on his own blog. Every bit as interesting as the original post are the comments. Most offer heartfelt condolonces at the death of a much-loved if not heavily subscribed magazine, but in one thread David responds to a reader’s suggestion that the magazine should have migrated to the iPad.
He explains that he saw no ready way to bridge print and the iPad. This was partly down to the fact that The Word’s subscribers were not particularly early adopters and their iPad usage was limited.
More fundamental however is his belief that a digital only publication couldn’t bear the costs of content heavy publishing. Although print and distribution costs go away, the main costs on a magazine like The Word are associated with the commissioning and creation of original content and, for David Hepworth at least, covering those costs in digital media is still a problem.
The thing about new media is it provides you with lots of new ways to spread your effort but often doesn’t offer a payback which justifies that effort. It’s all fun to do and it’s easy to persuade yourself that it will have a transformational effect. But so far it hasn’t. Not for any publisher I know.
David suggests that to survive on the iPad, at least for the time being, magazines need a sustainable print revenue stream. He quotes a senior magazine executive well versed in the iPad format who said he couldn’t envisage an iPad-only magazine surviving without, “a paper title doing the heavy lifting”.
I know of successful digital-only titles, magazines that have ditched print for the iPad, but they all operate in tiny niches with highly specialised content that is difficult to find for free. We tend to forget the costs associated in creating high-quality mainstream content and David Hepworth’s comments in the context of The Word’s closure bring into focus once again the importance of developing sustainable cross-media revenue streams in the magazine sector.
Whether it’s advertising, subscriptions, pay-per-view, pay-what-you-like, billionaire donors, Kickstarter or Lottery funding we really need to figure out how to pay for quality content.