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Issue for August 2010

The Benefits of Being a Multichannel Magazine

Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 12:59 PM

A publishing concept that will allow your publication to thrive in this period of transition and well into the future.

By William Dunkerley

Is your publication print or digital? That's a question a lot of us hear these days. And typically our answer will be: "print," "digital," or "both."

Lately, it has become fashionable to be something other than just print. Print is old.

But, if you think about it, plain digital is old, too. The ways in which consumers are now receiving information are increasing almost exponentially. Something new is coming along all the time.

Starting with the traditional website, now there's also the digital publication. Some of those are in HTML format. Others come as PDFs or the page-flip variant. Some information is text with the usual photos and illustrations. Then there're videos, podcasts, and even databases. Not to forget blogs, RSS feeds, text messages, email blasts, and tweets.

Google recently announced "Google TV." It is a platform that will merge the Internet with conventional TV. With it, viewers could seamlessly go from watching, say, a CNN news story about a Mediterranean resort, to reading a Traveler magazine article about it, to zooming in on the satellite photo on Bing maps. All on a single household TV.

Things are diverging and converging at the same time!

With all that going on, why are we still print, digital, or both?

Discordant Channels

Actually, a growing number of publications are using a lot of channels today. But typically, each channel takes on an identity of its own to some extent.

Rarely do the channels appear to be part of a unified whole, however. Often it is difficult to figure out what the relationship is between the print product and the digital presence. Sometimes one channel appears to be competing with another. Seldom do the consumers have the impression that what they're getting from the publisher is a coordinated array of information, provided via the most convenient and effective channel.

There's little synergy going on here.

What should be done? The idea isn't that you just use all these various channels in some way. It is that you use them synergistically. It is that you use the channels in a way that gives the subscriber a sense that she is getting a unified product. It is that you use them in a way that takes best advantage of each channel to convey the kind of information that is best suited to it.

The Difference Between Brand and Channel

While commenting on Google TV, Broadcast Engineering magazine recently editorialized, "Today's viewers don't know or care whether the programs come from satellite, cable, over the air, Internet or by water pipe. What viewers want is to be able to easily find the desired content and then view it in a comfortable environment."

Today's publishers would do well to have a similar perspective regarding their readers. Yet, too many publishers tend to view themselves through the prism of the channel or channels that they favor. They think of themselves as basically print or basically digital.

A few years ago, I was a speaker at the World Congress of the World Association of Newspapers. There I heard some of my fellow speakers, publishers of many of the most well-respected newspapers in the world, proclaim steadfastly, "Make no mistake about it, we are in the print business."

Think of where the beverage Coca-Cola would be today if the company's 1950s-era leaders insisted, "We are in the glass bottle business."

Today, you can get the product in a can, a plastic bottle, or a paper or plastic cup. You can buy it in a supermarket, a convenience store, at a restaurant, or from a vending machine.

The brand is the contents. The container is like the channel.

Coca-Cola carries its brand to its consumers via various channels.

It also differentiates the identity of its brand from the container used to deliver it. There's no product called "Bottled Coke" or "Coke à la Can" or "Coke in a Cup." Regardless of where you buy the beverage or what kind of container it comes in, a Coke is still a Coke.

The brand is not wedded to the channel. In fact, it is independent of it.

Those newspaper publishers at the World Congress were confused over the difference between their branded information and the channel used to deliver it, the printed page. As a result, they have been leading their publications into greater and greater irrelevancy as reader preferences have evolved. And so have a lot of magazine publishers.

It's Time for a Change

The time has come to adopt a new paradigm for magazine publishing. The objective is to decouple the channel from the brand.

It is also time to begin employing the power of the range of channels now available to magazine publishers. Coca-Cola has benefited from being a multichannel brand. And so can you.

Change doesn't mean simply going over to digital. For many publications there is still strong role for print. A lot of talk has claimed that readers are abandoning print for online. Advertisers, too. But what they're abandoning is the inappropriate use of print when publishers try to keep it as the be-all of a publication.

At the same time, a lot of digital publications are missing a bet by not having a print component.

The new paradigm for a multichannel magazine washes away these channel-specific fixations.

If the name of your magazine is XYZ, let that be the name of your brand, not of a particular channel used by you. Let XYZ be the brand name for the sum total of the experience a reader gets when subscribing. Market that brand, that sum total experience -- not a particular channel, not a disparate assortment of channels. Market a synergistic and unified whole.

What Does a Multichannel Magazine Look Like?

The multichannel magazine is part print, part digital. It is the best of both worlds. But, its essence is not in the channels through which it is expressed. It is in the content. The multichannel magazine looks like its content.

Let's use a hypothetical magazine as an example. "Clown Magazine" serves an audience of professional and advocational clowns. Its typical contents includes:

--A cover (traditional format)
--Table of contents
--An editorial
--Photo stories featuring costumes and facial make-up
--Tutorial articles on tricks and routines
--Short features and news stories of interest to clowns
    (Topics include:)
     --Relevant regulatory and legislative issues
     --Laughter therapy
     --Getting respect as a clown
     --Clowns in Washington
     --Avocational clowning
     --Rent-a-clown business tips
     --Circus update
--Classifieds (help wanted and positions sought)
--Directory of products and services
--Display advertising

Here's how the contents make use of the various channels:

The tutorial articles are lengthy, and tedious to read on an electronic display. In addition, some illustrations and diagrams are large and intricate. They also do not lend themselves to viewing on a display. Therefore, the tutorial articles appear bi-monthly in print. The bi-monthly frequency is not problematic because the content is not time sensitive.

The photo stories involve large photos and often two-page spreads. Consistency in rendering color is important. The idiosyncratic color variations among electronic displays are unacceptable. As for spreads, only the page-flip digital format seems equipped to do them. And with most current technology, reading a page-flip publication is like reading small print with a magnifying glass -- not an attractive feature. As a result, the photo stories appear bi-monthly in print.

The cover appears as the home page of the digital destination (which appears weekly). It has a horizontal format to accommodate display formats. On the first week of every second month, when the issue includes a print component, the cover does double duty, appearing on both the digital and print components.

The table of contents is the first editorial matter to follow the cover. It lists all contents, print and digital.

The editorial is a blog, and accommodates reader comments.

The short features and news stories appear in the digital component. Design for all digital content is intended to accommodate viewing on iPhone/iPad-type mobile devices. Breaking news and high interest short features are the subject of tweets. Email blasts are used occasionally for particularly compelling items. Email is also used weekly to provide subscribers with a link to each new issue

Any editorial content is subject to podcast and video treatment, as warranted.

The archive contains not only the content of the digital component, but also PDFs of the print component.

The products and services database is a full, searchable editorial feature. It also appears in categorized form. Companies listed may purchase emphasis for their listings, and add links.

Display advertisements appear in both the print and digital components. Print ad placement follows typical industry practice. Digital advertisements are large compared to typical practice (banners), since the smaller sizes are relatively ineffectual. The classified advertisements appear in categorized form.

That's the Blueprint

As publishers, if we follow this plan, we will better serve our readers and advertisers. And, we will be more successful in this rapidly-evolving period when reader preferences are shifting quickly. The plan should be far from static, however. As technological innovation opens new doors, new channels, it will be important to embrace any that will be helpful.

If you believe you're already doing all this, you may be right. But maybe not. I recommend that you conduct a fairly exhaustive analysis to assess how integrated your brand really is. What do the readers believe? Do they think they are receiving the benefit of a synergistic, multichannel magazine?

Going from a fragmented or confined use of channels to become a truly multichannel magazine is a big step. It is one that involves a lot of change. It is a new paradigm. Change is usually uncomfortable, and frequently resisted. Keep in mind, though: during this period of rapid changes in reader preferences, a magazine that fails to adapt will make itself increasingly irrelevant. Don't do that!

William Dunkerley is publisher of STRAT and principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants.

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Posted in Online (RSS), Print (RSS)

Giving Up on Print

Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 12:58 PM

Is ditching your print edition an advisable strategy?

By Meredith L. Dias

For some of you, eliminating your print edition and going digital-only may seem like an intuitive cost-cutting maneuver during these lean times. Imagine a profit and loss statement devoid of postage, printing, and paper costs. Tempting, isn't it? But think twice before you proceed.

You don't need me to tell you that times are tough in the print magazine industry. If you're a print publisher, your ad sales have likely taken a hit while postage, printing, and paper costs have increased. As a result, you've likely made some painful budgetary decisions over the past few years -- layoffs, editorial page reductions, rate cuts, and perhaps even changes to the physical size of your publication. Maximizing rapidly dwindling resources has become, for many, the new print media reality.

The Case for Stopping the Presses

Some publications have made the difficult decision to eliminate their print editions. Jim Mathews, senior director of online editorial and production of Aviation Week, says that his current digital edition "goes as text and PDF to email boxes, and [subscribers] are free to print it out when they need to." This eliminated "a swath of production costs while serving the reader better."

Mathews evaluates the respective benefits of print and digital. He acknowledges that "print will never go back to the same place in the hierarchy of value it once enjoyed when it was the only game in town." However, though the scales seem to be tipping in favor of digital, "print will always be better than electronic for certain kinds of things ... just as electronic is superior for certain kinds of storytelling and content delivery."

PC World magazine stopped producing its print edition in January 2009. Editor-in-chief Lance Ulanoff tells us the story behind the tech magazine's successful move to digital: "We'd spent much of the 2000s shifting our business to the digital spectrum, because it made sense for a publication covering the world of technology. In 2008, we looked ahead at the upcoming print advertising market and macro-economic conditions and realized that it wouldn't be wise to continue publishing in print. We had done so much in previous years to shift our weight to the digital side that when we did make the change, nothing in our process changed and we laid off only one employee."

The Case for Staying in Print

Not all print publishers have seen their publications ravaged by the recent economic crisis, though. "Printed circulation hasn't changed appreciably over the last decade," says Doug Peckenpaugh, managing editor of food product design for Culinology. "In my sector, people still like to have a printed version to carry with them or read in various locations -- for instance, on airplanes during work-related travel."

When STRAT surveyed over a thousand editors and publishers about giving up their print editions, many of them suggested the same: that there is still a large contingent of readers who prefer print editions. The challenge, then, appears to be finding the advertisers that will resonate with them.

For many publishers, the print edition is the heart of their multimedia presence. Jennifer Thiele Busch, editor of Contract, tells us, "We no longer consider ourselves a magazine, but rather a media brand with distinctive yet complementary print, online, and face-to-face components." Although Busch foresees a time when "current trends will move us toward reduced [print] frequency," she emphasizes that "the print publication remains at the core of the brand."

Print publishers are also fighting back against some of the anti-print rhetoric that has invaded the media discussion over the last few years. "Experts have been giving print a eulogy for quite some time now. The reality is that an online presence will never generate the kind of revenue print can," says Jesse Santiago, publisher and editor-in-chief of Texas Family Magazine. John Smalley, editor of the Wisconsin State Journal, agrees: "The notion of 'eliminating the print edition' is so far from reality at this point that I find it hard to comment. That's like asking McDonald's, 'How do you think your customers would react if you quit making hamburgers?' We're a two-platform business these days -- print and Web -- and to eliminate either would not make sense right now."

Making the Decision

Our survey responses ran a wide gamut. Most editors and publishers stood strongly behind their print editions. Some touted the respective benefits of their print and online editions. A few represented digital publications that have never produced print editions, or publications that have made the transition to digital-only.

What our responses didn't include: doomsday prophesizing about the future of print. There have been so many high-profile print publication failures in the last year (see: Editor & Publisher and Newsweek) that we've overlooked the publications that have remained afloat, whose print editions are still profitable and sustaining a broad reader base. They're out there. They're industry magazines, association journals, and niche publications. You may not recognize their names or know their editors, but take notice now. They have figured out how to survive a simultaneous recession and publishing crisis.

Many of the editors and publishers who spoke to us recognize the complementary nature of print and Web publishing. Deborah Lockridge, editor of Heavy Duty Trucking and Heavy Duty Aftermarket Journal, sums it up: "We see a real need for in-depth information that can be provided in print form, while our digital efforts tend to focus more on news and other more timely content."

In other words, print can do things that digital cannot, and vice-versa. There is, at least for the time being, a place for both in the new media landscape.

Meredith L. Dias is research editor of STRAT and Editors Only.

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"Great article. Started on 'The Benefits of Being a Multichannel Magazine,' and migrated to this one! Just started reading your newsletter and am very impressed with your acumen." --Jeff Gayduk, Premier Tourism Marketing Publications. 08-25-2010.

Posted in Audience (RSS), Print (RSS)

Recently Tweeted

Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 12:57 PM

Recently tweeted from @STRATnewsletter:

--What are the benefits of being a multichannel magazine? See how to reap them at your magazine. http://bit.ly/cc5klD

--Audit Bureau of Circulations: U.S. magazine circulation continued to fall in the first half of 2010. http://bit.ly/amLtVB

--Breaking News: Newsweek Sold. Questions about who's really behind the purchase and what's needed for a turnaround. http://bit.ly/9Sbn82

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Posted in News (RSS)

Breaking News: Newsweek Sold

Posted on Monday, August 02, 2010 at 5:26 PM

Newsweek magazine has been sold to Sidney Harman, 91-year-old husband of California Congresswoman Jane Harman, reportedly for a one dollar bill. The new owner, a retired stereo equipment manufacturer, is apparently a publishing novice.

No one seems to be asking, however, who or what is really behind the purchase of what has become a money-losing machine. And, some early news reports on the sale contain inaccuracies. For example, the New York Times reported that Newsweek underwent a redesign last year "in hopes of attracting more readers." In fact, Newsweek itself cut its audience from 2.6 million to 1.5 million as part of its failed repositioning strategy. Readers didn't leave Newsweek -- Newsweek left the readers.

The magazine has gone from profits of about $30 million in 2007 to losses of the same magnitude in 2009. It seems that Newsweek has been operating like a ship with a mis-calibrated compass.

The New York Times reported today that, "In its new owner, Newsweek appears to have an engaged and active steward." An experienced captain, however, is what Newsweek will need to achieve real business success, someone who can keep the venerable magazine from running aground for a second time!

Then, there's the tax write-off sub-plot. When Washington Post Company first put Newsweek up for sale, talk was that WaPo would retire the magazine's debts for a clean sale. Now it's reported that Harman's deal is to pick up the debt and liabilities and pay just $1 for the magazine. It remains to be seen what the strategy is behind that move.

STRAT for July 2010 carried a detailed analysis of Newsweek's failure.

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Posted in News (RSS)

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