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Issue for August 2012

The Digital Garden Path

Posted on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 11:03 AM

Differentiating between smart digital choices and e-tomfoolery.

By William Dunkerley

Publishers are being led down the garden path by pervasive digital hucksterism. The pied piper voices that promote total migration to digital publishing are quite alluring; after all, the magazine industry has yet to make a satisfactory recovery from the recession, when print revenues were ravaged (irretrievably so, according to some). The hope for new revenue streams from digital publishing is comforting to frustrated magazine publishers, many of whom have yet to regain sufficient print advertising.

Weeding Out the Hype

"Print is dead" is a common mantra. Some pundits even go a step further. They say that the concept of a magazine, i.e., a collection of articles selected by editors, is outmoded. Modern information consumers, they argue, want to control the content they see, not have someone else choose it for them. If someone wants to read about a topic, she'll use "search" to find it. One promo for an upcoming publishing conference proclaims, "Magazines are the stagecoaches of yesteryear."

There's an element of truth in all that. The publisher who ignores the massive consumer adoption of digital information sources will miss out on a promising future. But the publisher who witlessly follows the digital hype may end up producing digital publications that have little chance of financial success.

Print Revenues in a Post-Recession World

My current analysis indicates that there is a shorter path to recapturing print advertising than there is to getting digital revenues to save the day. I know it doesn't seem that way to a lot of publishers. They've tried everything to rejuvenate their print revenues and haven't had much success.

From what I've seen, though, these publishers used techniques that were successful pre-recession. When those approaches failed to work now, dreams of digital dollars started dancing in their heads.

Selling print advertising is more challenging now than it was before. The techniques that worked in earlier times don't measure up today.

Regain Your Print Revenues

The formula for regaining revenues is simple:

First, you have to turn your publication into an effective advertising vehicle for the advertisers. That means assembling an audience that will respond positively to the advertisers. Pre-recession, a lot of circulation promotion didn't have that as a top goal. And in better economic times, advertisers were less critical of the less-than-powerful results they got.

Second, you need to have a sales force that can function with greater sophistication and agility than before. They shouldn't simply be out there pushing advertising in your publication. They need to find out what each advertiser wants to accomplish, and then explain how advertising in their magazine will help them to achieve those goals.

Of course, there's more to accomplishing all that than simply parroting this 1-2 formula. But that's the general idea, and it's a much more productive direction for today's publishers.

Banner Ads and Click-throughs

But instead, many have been chasing after new revenue from banner ads and click-throughs.

Banner ads have always been a relatively ineffective form of advertising. Some of the known key ingredients of successful advertising have been position, size, and repeat exposure. It is difficult to maximize those features when you're working with banner ads and the ways in which they are often served.

Click-throughs have also shown themselves to be ineffective. Recently, Advertising Age reported on an experiment of the Advertising Research Foundation that involved placing a blank display ad online and measuring the number of clicks it got. The blank ad scored twice the click-through rate of a typical brand ad. After half a million ads were served, the click-through rate was 0.08 percent.

For comparison, click rates we found quoted by other sources showed Facebook at 0.05 percent and LinkedIn at 0.025 percent. Ads that search engines present adjacent to the search results produce higher rates. Otherwise, however, the click results are inferior to those from a blank page!

Smart Digital Strategy

There's no question: Digital is an important component of any sound publishing strategy, particularly with tablets and smartphones on such a meteoric rise. But don't let yourself be led down the garden path by digital-or-die pundits. As many magazines are proving, there is still a place for print in the equation. But if magazines are to succeed, salespeople must retool the tactics that got them through the recession. We inhabit a different world now, where there are opportunities aplenty for resourceful publishers who push past the hype to reach out to readers and advertisers alike.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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Magazine Sales on the Decline?

Posted on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 11:03 AM

In the news: What do the recent Audit Bureau of Circulation numbers mean for the industry?

Magazines are desperately trying to stay afloat as readers flock to digital reading devices. Sales are down nearly ten percent in the first half of the year -- and down a staggering 44 percent in the last five years. Even the best-selling magazine, Cosmopolitan, is down 16 percent in the first half of 2012.

What do these numbers mean? Is this a temporary swoop as publishers and advertisers adapt to digital, or does the current decline signal a larger problem in the industry? Read more here. For further analysis, read David Carr's recent piece from the New York Times here.

Also notable

Digital Magazine Circulation Doubles

Print advertising revenue is on the decline, but digital magazine circulation doubled in the first half of 2012. The growth seems staggering, but it's important to look at the bigger picture: paid subscriptions are up just 1.1 percent, and (as mentioned in the section above) newsstand sales are down nearly 10 percent. What's more, digital editions still account for a very small percentage of the magazine market. Read more here.

Huffington Magazine

Earlier this year, the Huffington Post launched its digital magazine, Huffington. Last week, the newspaper/magazine publisher shared some of the lessons it's learned about magazine publishing this year. Among them: choosing the right publishing software, the importance of social media tools, and hiring the right people to get the magazine off the ground. Read more about Huffington's first year here.

Reinventing the Print Magazine

Recently, Spin magazine laid off its editor-in-chief and managing editor. The magazine also cut its circulation to six issues per year, a strategy that the CEO hopes will allow the print edition to continue thriving. Poynter.org examines the changes at Spin and profiles Time in its exploration of the changing print magazine industry. Read about it here.

Magazine Wrap Recycling

According to a recent PrintWeek.com article, the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) is urging publishers to add "On-Pack Recycling Logos" (OPRLs) to their magazine wrappings to promote recycling of the packing materials. Read more about the proposed program here.

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