« Magazine Sales on the Decline? | Home | Are Tablets Taking Over? »

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.

Add your comment.

« Magazine Sales on the Decline? | Top | Are Tablets Taking Over? »