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Issue for April 2010

The Dirt on Online Magazines, Part II

Posted on Friday, April 30, 2010 at 1:27 PM

With all the pro and anti hype, what's at the end of the rainbow?

By Meredith L. Dias

"The iPad: Print killer" was the cartoon caption in a recent edition of The Week. The cartoon suggested that print is dead and buried. By contrast, "The Internet is fleeting. Magazines are immersive" was the headline of an ad put together by a group of print publishers. And so rages on the war of hype and anti-hype campaigns on the subject of online magazines.

If you cut through the hyperbolic claims and counterclaims, however, there are some serious issues that demand consideration.

Reader acceptance. Novelty and trendy techno-gadgets aside, will readers really want to devour all your content online in the long run?

Profitability. Publishers talk of getting pennies on the dollar for online magazine ads. Others scramble to develop yet-unproven platforms to extract "micropayments" from consumers long accustomed to free online content.

Coexistence. Proponents and opponents tend to cast online vs. print in all or nothing terms. It's black and white thinking. When will the industry embrace the concept of coexistence rather than one vs. the other?

What the Readers Want

"Fewer members have switched from print to digital than we had anticipated," reported Donald Tepper, editor of PT in Motion at the American Physical Therapy Association. It seems that the development of a digital edition does not always meet expectations. As a result, Tepper adds, "we've experienced little savings in printing or postage."

"Members continue to value our print journal, as it is highly portable and marks them as experts in their field," remarks Bridget Struble, program director for publications of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. "One member has touted JPEN as 'the jewel in my crown.'" Nonetheless, Struble appreciates the practicality and social networking capabilities of their online edition.

What can we take away from stories like these? Simply put, a digital edition will not necessarily outperform its print counterpart. However, rather than taking a black-and-white position on the issue, there is value in both online and print presences.

Why Don't You Ask Them?

Instead of engaging in the abstract and polarized dialogue typical among some industry professionals, it may be wise to turn to research. Ann Mahoney, publishing director of ICMA (International City/County Management Association), is intent on dong just that. "We're going to survey members about the ways in which they want content delivered (and/or in what ways they want to engage in creating or adding to content). Part of the survey will be about what content they want, and part will be about in what ways they'd like to access or receive that content," she explains.

What is most important is analyzing your individual audience and responding to its unique needs -- not jumping onto the digital bandwagon because digital media pundits have sworn off print or because gadgets like the iPad are so seductive. And, perhaps more importantly, don't swear off online editions because a print campaign claims that the Internet is "fleeting."

Producing Digital That Pleases Readers

Are there concrete steps that editors can take to make the most of digital publishing? There are plenty of services out there to help magazines make the transition to online or digital. We recently spoke with representatives from several digital publishing platform providers, including Mygazines and Nxtbook Media, regarding the mistakes that magazines make when digitizing.

According to Randy Frisch, chief marketing officer of Mygazines, strong design elements must be in place before creating a digital edition. "Publications need to be already appealing to the eye before going digital. Content and most of its design elements will be retained so, if that doesn't attract print readers, it will probably encounter the same problem with a digital version."

Marcus Grimm, marketing director of Nxtbook Media, shares his list of top mistakes magazines make when going digital: "Not enough email addresses, no promotion of the digital magazine on the website, content not formatted for the screen, a bad interface, and no versatility." Not only must layout be readable on a computer screen, but it must also be optimized for e-readers and smartphones, which represent a rapidly growing market segment in the digital reading population.

No More Digital Denial

The cause of online magazine profitability received a real boost recently. The Audit Bureau of Circulation has decided to include online audience in its tally of a print publication's circulation. That means publishers will have a certifiably higher rate base and presumably will be able to charge higher rates for ads.

Before ABC's decision to broaden its definition of digital editions, the organization would count online audience only if a publication's digital edition was a mirror image of its print edition. That meant the format of the advertising and editorial content online had to be identical to the print edition format. That was quite a restriction, and left out virtually anything formatted for mobile devices.

This is a timely change. A recent survey by Pew Research Center, summarized in The Mygazines Blog, finds that nearly one-third of Americans use mobile devices to read news. What's more, 75 percent of news consumers rely on social networking sites and email to get their news content. As smartphones like the iPhone and Google Android become increasingly mainstream, this number may increase significantly.

ABC would have been doing a great disservice to the industry they serve if they had withheld a definition of "digital editions" that essentially vaporized a rapidly growing circulation segment.

What This Means for Print

In early March, five major publishers (Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, Time Inc., and Wenner Media) launched a "power of print" advertising campaign to fight back against the digitize-or-die mentality. It is an undertaking of considerable proportions. According to the Wall Street Journal, the campaign involves $90 million of advertising money and approximately 1,400 advertising pages spread throughout several magazines.

This campaign is of particular importance to magazine editors. An increase in print advertising revenue could mean an increase in budget and editorial pages. As many of you know all too well, print magazine editors have had to make do with very little over the past few years. The recent publishing crisis has shrunken staffs, budgets, and the number of available editorial pages. In some cases, quality has suffered. If this campaign is successful, it could mean that, for the first time in several years, print editors may be able to breathe.

However, some feel that the Power of Print campaign takes its pro-print rhetoric a little too far -- particularly in a two-page spread featuring a photograph of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps on the verso page, and a written tribute to print magazines on the recto page asserting that "the internet is fleeting" and "magazines are immersive."

But on the Other Hand...

"Every media buyer knows that is pure bunk," asserts media analyst Bo Sacks in a recent Print CEO article. "It is the Internet that is immersive, and the kids that buy the ads and spend the advertising money know it." He cautions magazine professionals not to "tell [readers] that they live in a fleeting, soon-to-be-evaporated world. That is a lie."

All this polarity between camps raises an important question: Are print and online editions complementary or competitive entities, compatible or at odds?

What About Coexistence?

The Power of Print campaign pits print versus online. But the answer may not be so black-and-white. A smarter strategy may be to harmonize print and online content. Maintain brand recognition, and appeal to a broader reader base -– one whose reading preferences is likely diverse.

"We are not just publishing magazines any longer," says designer Debbie Bates-Schrott in a recent Editors Only article. She advises editors and publishers to ask themselves the following questions:

--What is the print magazine accomplishing for the reader?
--Can it be done online?
--Online only?
--Or can you provide something different online that can strengthen the brand?"

Print vs. Online -- Final Answer?

No doubt, online and digital publishing have gained considerable momentum, and will likely continue to do so with the proliferation of smartphones and e-reading devices.

For some publications, Editors Only included, online has proven to be most efficient. As we saw with Donald Tepper and Bridget Struble, however, there are audiences for whom print is still the preferred mode of delivery.

Contrary to all the buzz, online will not obliterate every print edition. Some publications will be online, some in print, some in both. In the end, success will lie in the coexistence of print and online. That's the real future. That's the end of the rainbow.

Meredith Dias is the research editor of Editors Only.

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"I work for a large software company and we produce both a print magazine and an online edition. The print edition is a high-quality piece, but the online edition leaves much to be desired. In fact, we're making all of the mistakes listed in this blog post. Thank you for pulling all the research together for me -- keep up the good work!" --Anne-Lindsay Beall, SAS.com. 05-13-2010.

Posted in Editing (RSS), Management (RSS), News (RSS), Technical (RSS)

Thirteen Steps

Posted on Friday, April 30, 2010 at 1:26 PM

A process for writing an article.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Consider a thirteen-step process of writing from project initiation to completion. Ask yourself what follows. The process works.

1. Idea

Have you carefully thought about and studied who is in your audience and hit upon an idea suitable for that audience, an idea focused on the wants and/or needs of individuals who depend on your publication?

2. Research

Have you gathered all the necessary information by employing every possible usable reportorial technique: researching (where the best sources are available), interviewing (those with the facts and understanding of the topic under investigation), observing (major and minor players in action), and participating (if that's appropriate and doable)?

3. Listen

Have you listened carefully to your interviewees so to get their best factual and intellectual contributions? As Rachel Carson advised: "The discipline of the writer is to learn to be still and listen to what his subject has to tell him."

4. Design

Have you designed a structure, an architecture that works, an order that facilitates informational and topical logic and that eases the flow of your writing?

5. Lead

Have you created a lead that gets your story underway: that, all in a single piece of copy, establishes the subject, sets the tone, attracts attention, and bridges the reader comfortably into what follows?

6. Thesis

Have you developed a thesis, a golden nugget of introductory material that summarizes the content and that, early on, lets the reader know more precisely than a lead alone can what the rest of your story is all about?

7. Material

Have you chosen the material that gives a reader the impression of completeness, that provides answers to questions he or she is likely to ask, that supplies the essential elements of information and thought to satisfy curiosity or need, and Have you done all that as neatly and efficiently as possible? George Bernard Shaw said: "My method is to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost brevity."

8. Language

Have you used language that reveals your excitement about the subject, your belief in its importance, validity, and potential to enthuse or in some other way stimulate the reader? Bernard Malamud urged, "Write your heart out."

9. Style

Have you released your personality in the way you have written, in the manner you have used language, making sure to regard style, voice, not as embroidery or the verbal equivalent of makeup but as your honest, uninhibited, and yet right-for-the-subject approach to discourse? Martin Amis defined style as "everything and nothing. It is not that, as is commonly supposed, you get your content and soup it up; style is absolutely embedded in the way you perceive."

10. Show

Have you employed narrative and descriptive techniques to bring readers closer to person, situation, or scene, remembering that to show tends to be a more successful method to win them over than to tell?

11. Conclude

Have you brought your copy to a reasonable and satisfying conclusion, of a sort that is likely to cause the reader to emotionally palpitate or mentally understand or both?

12. Read Aloud

Have you read the copy aloud to assure that what you've written makes sense, that -- if appropriate -- it offers the informality of conversation, that factually it holds together, and that -- again, if appropriate -- it makes your reader comfortable? "I talk out the lines as I write," Tennessee Williams professed.

13. Wait and Edit

Have you, if your schedule permits (and try to make sure it does), waited a day or so after writing your story before returning to it for a final edit? The passage of time distances you from what you did previously and refreshes acumen, allowing you to look more clearly at what you previously did and, thereby, to better make changes you come to deem either necessary or as improvements.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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Posted in Writing (RSS)

Lawsuit Hits on Need for Ad/Edit Split

Posted on Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 1:24 PM

Trouble can lurk ahead if editors fail to uphold editorial integrity.

By Andrea Obston

Earlier this month, Calibra Pictures filed a lawsuit against Variety magazine for giving their film a bad review.

In its suit the production company claims that it agreed to pay about $400,000 for an "exclusive promotion partnership" to support its movie, Iron Cross. However, Variety's film critics seem to have had the temerity to pan the film. The crux of Calibra's claim is that Variety's advertising and editorial departments both promised positive publicity. And, Calibra said both departments claimed this agreement would help secure distribution for the film and a chance at one or more Academy Awards.

A Sale or a Sell-Out?

Wait! What? Variety's being sued for doing its job? Do I have that right? And do I also understand that they sold away their right to do unbiased movie reviews because the editorial department of the publication went along with this $400,000 deal?

As a business owner in the marketing communications field, it baffles me to think that any company would consider selling off its competitive advantage. (That is especially perplexing when others in the publishing industry are dropping like flies.) But, if you believe the charges in the recent lawsuit against Variety, that's exactly what they are being accused of.

Isn't the ability to be an unbiased observer the most important thing that any legitimate publication brings to the table? Isn't that what readers expect from it? Indeed, it is the reason most publications still exist, and is what they are supposed to do best. In my world, that's called a competitive advantage. It is something a company does that makes it stand out among its competitors.

The fact is that the competitive advantage that print journalism has over some blog-ified, twit-ified competitors is its promise of unbiased observation. It's why lots of readers still turn to magazines like Variety for the whole story, even though they peruse the blogs and check their Twitter accounts.

Drawing the Line

Unbiased observation comes from the "Chinese Wall" between the editorial and advertising departments. Yes, I know the economics of keeping a publication alive and journalists fed has been stretched to the limit. When journalists and critics can't do their jobs, however, because sales people have "promised positive publicity," that should make anyone who depends on them question their judgment.

The outcome of this lawsuit is probably years away. I'm sure this is just the opening salvo of publicity bombs slung by both sides. So there's no final lesson yet. Nonetheless, the fact that it's been filed should give us all pause.

Once advertisers believe they have the right to dictate editorial content, I believe many consumers who depend on journalists will stop turning to them for information. And when that happens, newspapers and magazines will have sold their competitive advantage down the river, with no ultimate rate of return.

Andrea Obston is the president of Andrea Obston Marketing Communications, LLC (www.aomc.com), a firm that helps businesses grow through a B2E (Business to Everyone) marketing communications strategy. The firm provides strategic marketing services, brand development and marketing, public relations through traditional and social media outlets, media training and websites. Its subsidiary, Andrea Obston Crisis Communications (www.crisismasters.com), is a reputation and crisis communications firm that offers workshops and seminars on a variety of contemporary marketing issues. Andrea's writing has been featured in the Hartford Business Journal, where the original version of this article appeared.

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Posted in Editing (RSS), Management (RSS), News (RSS)

The Future Is Digital - But Not Entirely

Posted on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 2:08 PM

Recent industry event suggests that despite a technological revolution, the game's not over for print.

By Mary Shafer

"We don't have an editor that's not completely consumed with their digital presence," said Hearst Magazines President Cathie Black. She was addressing the Publishing Business Conference and Expo in New York in March. Black added, "We've created 25 websites and bought ten others."

However, Black refutes the widespread belief that digital technology spells the death of print magazines. She reflects that historically every new technology is always heralded with the premature (if not patently false) announcement that it has killed its technological predecessor.

Black drew an appreciative chuckle from the audience by observing that magazines and books are the original "mobile devices."

The imperative now for magazines is discovering how to best integrate all available technologies to maximize content and serve it to consumers in the way they want to get it.

"How do we move a reader through all kinds of content?" Black asks. Ultimately, she concludes, "We have to show enough innovation and creativity that we can charge for what we've got. We need to take resources out of underperforming areas and put them toward what's working."

Black points out that for some print editors, page count is up. She notes that, despite the recent economic downturn, some print magazines have achieved growth in terms of increased size, prices, and newsstand sales. "We've had a tough 18 months," she says. "Now, all of a sudden, it's like a huge sigh of relief. Our meetings are better. Our huge, multi-platform deals are better."

"We tend to be a legacy business. Cosmo sells 8-9 million copies on newsstands, and digital advertising revenue is still pennies on the dollar," says Black. Nevertheless, she adds, "We don't know where it'll go, but it's currently up by 20 percent."

"It's about figuring out what complex set of creative we can offer our customers," she explained, referring to advertisers who still very much want to reach the audiences of established consumer properties. "We've become a full-service ad agency," she admits.

However, Black is adamant that magazine publishers "do not want to be in the device business." She described a consortium called Next Issue Media, which guides magazines through digitization. On e-readers, Black says, "We're currently discussing how to serve the content. Magazine reading is an immersive experience." She adds that replicating that immersive experience in digital is a challenge.

Mary Shafer is the publisher of Word Forge Books and a freelance writer. Visit her website at www.MaryShafer.com.

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Posted in Management (RSS), News (RSS), Technical (RSS)

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