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Go Beyond Digital to Fusion

Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 12:44 AM

Don't let digital gurus lead you astray. Here are 3 tips you can use to advance toward a fusion approach.

By Jill Adams

So much of the talk these days is about how publishers must adapt to survive in our newly digitally driven world. That is equally true for those in marketing communications, the field in which I work.

A recent IBM study of global CMOs (chief marketing officers) found that over 60 percent expect to continue increasing their interactive/online spending and decrease their allocation to traditional advertising. No doubt, it's a brave new world. But the brands and publications that will truly rule in this new world order won't be led by digital gurus.

The real champions will be the visionaries who advance "interactive" communications to a new level -- where a fusion of tactics will power a new era. That advancement to "fusion marketing" will require us all to stop trailing after digital crazies, as well as to move beyond the common stereotypes of integrated marketing communications.

Here are 3 tips on what it will take for you to lead your organization into this new Cosmos:

Tip 1

We need to go beyond "multiple touch points" to seamless connections.

Too many of us still plan and measure singular "transactions." How many people read the magazine. Click on the banner. Follow us on Twitter.

Today, consumers are driven by email to websites where they watch "TV spots" that drive them to Facebook pages that link to feature articles published in magazines whose ads feature QR codes that take readers to YouTube videos.

That requires a new type of planning, one that doesn't put each tactic into a separate box. Today we need organic strategists -- people who can analyze each medium's specific strengths, and synthesize how to turn those strengths to best work together to turn consumer emotion into motion.

Stop viewing social media or any media as a "tactic" and recognize it as just another channel in the surround-sound that's essential to reaching today's B2B as well as B2C audiences.

Tip 2

We need to go beyond Web analytics to integrated analytics.

So much of the shift to digital has been driven by the panic to prove ROI. But just because digital advertising results are more measurable doesn't mean they are more effective on their own.

With all the noise in the Websphere, one timeless marketing principle is more timely than ever: People won't want to talk to you unless they know of you. So if you are serious about pursuing the new holy grail of "brand engagement" for your publication, you'll also need to be smart about deploying public relations and "transactional" advertising in a fresh way. And together you need to develop better ways of measuring those integrated marketing results than just clicks, likes, fans, or followers.

Tip 3

We need to go beyond standing out to standing for something.

Of course, getting readers and advertisers to know your publication, your brand, is only the first step. Getting them to care about it takes building trust -- something in very short supply these days. So publication brands need to be more than memorable. They need to be admirable. That means publishing organizations need to stand for something. And publishers need to reach across the organization to work with those involved in audience development, editorial, advertising sales, public relations, and every other kind of relations to collaborate on building -- and living -- your publication's brand.

These three tips are examples of the new levels of fusion thinking that will characterize the next generation of communication leaders.

Jill Adams is CEO of Adams & Knight Inc. (www.adamsknight.com), a marketing communications firm in Avon, CT, that provides strategic research, advertising, public relations, and digital marketing services.

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The Daily Quest for Online Profits

Posted on Monday, March 21, 2011 at 5:30 PM

Part II. Success of The Daily launch is in question. The publisher is mum. Who knows if the start-up is a hit or a flop?

By William Dunkerley

The Daily, the new iPad-based multimedia publication of News Corp., is off to a quixotic start. In Part I, we covered the February 2 launch and focused on a number of possible pitfalls ahead. Now, as the publication is about to enter its third month of operation, there is very little to indicate that things are going well.

First, a free two-week trial period was extended to almost 7 weeks. PC Magazine indicated that the extension was issued as a result of "some stability issues and bugs." The original trial was credited to the sponsorship of Verizon. There's been no word on who's footing the bill for the extension.

Despite the extensively extended free trial, News Corp. has been evasive about the extent of readership. Publisher Greg Clayman told The Independent, "We're not disclosing the exact numbers (of downloads) but it's in the hundreds of thousands." He also declined telling exactly how many paid subscribers there are, except to say there are "more than one and less than 1 billion." Cute.

However, The Guardian reported "Although the Daily has been free so far, it is understood that a few thousand people have already signed up to the year-long subscription. News Corp has not released any numbers, but it is estimated that the figure is in the region of 5,000."

Meanwhile, AFP, the French news agency, reported that The Daily "has tallied hundreds of thousands of downloads since its launch a month ago its publisher has said." Beyond the ambiguous claim of "hundreds of thousands of downloads," there doesn't seem to be consistent and reliable information about readership.

It's hard to imagine that The Daily would be so tight-lipped about its audience size if the news were good. It's also hard to understand how it can be conducting a credible advertising sales effort while keeping the audience size a virtual secret.

In other advertising-related news is the puzzling absence of any information on the publication's website on how to advertise. There is no link to an advertising contact. There is no link to a media kit. Not even a rate card. It seems like quite a strange advertising sales strategy.

"Strange" may indeed be the byword for the orchestration of this launch. In addition to all the aforementioned concerns, there is the matter of what devices The Daily will work on. PC Magazine claims they were told that an application will be released for Android-based tablets within months. However, The Daily's own website claims that the publication is intended exclusively for the iPad. More apparent confusion.

Is It Even Legal?

The Daily uses the highly-controversial new Apple subscription system. It's touted as being as convenient as buying a song on iTunes. The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, however, are looking into the subscription scheme, according to Information Week. There has been a lot of speculation that it is basically unfair, if not even illegal. The Wall Street Journal ran the headline "Apple's Subscription Rules Raise Possible Antitrust Issues." What's more, Apple's demand for a 30 percent cut of revenue from subscribers who are new to the publication has raised a lot of eyebrows. Legal analysts seem to believe that the final result will depend on whether Apple is deemed to have a dominant position in the marketplace.

As a publishing issue, the 30 percent doesn't really seem problematic. Publishers are used to new subscriber costs often running several times that. What's more, Apple claims that if the publisher recruits a new subscriber, Apple will process the order at no charge. (At least that's what Apple seems to be saying.) But if Apple and the publisher are both out there selling subscriptions, that makes them competitors in that activity. And if competitors are conspiring on the subscription price, is that price fixing? Perhaps the legal analysts should be looking into that angle.

But It May Be a Moot Point

All this worry over whether The Daily's subscription arrangement with Apple is legal may be for naught. It won't really matter if the publication does not survive. Despite all the hype that the iPad is the up and coming substrate for magazines, some preliminary figures speak otherwise. They seem to be saying that the hype is -- well, just hype.

Media Post reports that, in 2010, "sales of digital magazines on the tablet computer have fallen significantly." Data cited indicates that Wired magazine's digital copies went from over 100,000 for the first iPad issue to 23,000 copies just 5 months later. Vanity Fair took a dive from selling 10,500 digital magazines down to 8,700.

While the numbers were tanking for these and other publications, the total sales of iPads jumped 565 percent through the end of the year.

I don't know what people are doing with all those iPads, but it doesn't seem to be reading magazines. Indeed, there is quite a dearth of objective data available about what iPads are really being used for. There's a lot of hype about what they might be used for. But not much hard data on actual usage.

Nonetheless, The Daily remains a pioneering effort in multimedia publishing, one worthy of our continued interest. News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch says he believes The Daily "will be the model for how stories are told and consumed in this digital age." Indeed, it may become that. But, for now, it seems to be hitting snag after snag. Unless things change, it may be the model for how not to orchestrate an innovative launch!

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

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The iPad Daily

Posted on Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 10:56 AM

How the iPad's daily newspaper is bringing the traditional newspaper into the Digital Age.

By Meredith L. Dias

Earlier this month, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. launched The Daily, a daily newspaper for the Apple iPad. With this digital daily, News Corp. hopes to marry the traditional concept of the daily newspaper and tablet technology. Forrester Research has forecast that tablets will overtake desktop computing by 2013. News Corp. seems poised to take advantage of that trend.

The Daily is Murdoch's appeal to a new generation of readers. Will it become the gold standard for digital newspaper publishing? Will new readers latch on to Murdoch's vision? And just what subscription model is News Corp. going to use, anyway?

An App-based Subscription

Thanks to Verizon sponsorship, The Daily will be available to iPad users for a free two-week trial. Satisfied readers can subscribe for 99 cents per week or $39.95 per year through the iTunes App Store. There is a new issue each day, with periodic updates throughout the day for breaking news content.

There are, of course, limitations. Currently, the publication is iPad-only; not even iPhone users can access it. What this means for the ultimate success of The Daily, which just debuted on February 2, remains to be seen. While the iPad is certainly popular, it stands to reason that News Corp. would get more mileage (not to mention profit) out of the daily, which will cost an estimated $56 million to run in its first year, if it were at least available to the millions of iPhone users in the United States.

Publication Features

So what does a subscription to The Daily get you? "A newspaper that's both old-fashioned and cutting edge," says Peter Kafka of MediaMemo.com. Journalistic content is beefed up with photographs, 360-degree panoramic images, streaming HD video, and links. Users can share some content with their social networks, but other content remains behind a paywall.

Interactivity plays a role in The Daily's identity, too. Users can share certain articles with their social networks, and there are both text and audio comment options for readers to sound off about stories. They can also customize their reading experience with features like local weather data.

Some early adopters of the app describe their Daily experience as "more like reading a news magazine than a traditional newspaper." Others have dismissed the newspaper as tabloidesque. Still others have lauded Murdoch's incorporation of snazzy multimedia extras into news copy.


News Corp. hopes that, eventually, subscriptions and advertising will each account for half the publication's revenues. For the time being, the newspaper will rely primarily upon its subscribers to pay the bills. However, in a recent article on RedHerring.com, newspaper analyst Ken Doctor predicts that less than one percent of iPad users will buy subscriptions to The Daily, which would necessitate a less balanced, advertising-heavy revenue model.

For the time being, the newspaper remains in a foundational phase, developing relationships and name recognition with advertisers and readers alike. CNBC reports that HBO, Land Rover, Macy's, Paramount Pictures, Pepsi, Verizon, and Virgin Atlantic are among the first advertisers.

Can The Daily Go the Distance?

The Daily has one advantage over its competitors: It is brand new and, therefore, free to explore its own potential without the burden of heavy reader expectations. Unlike the New York Times or Time, this is a new brand. It has no print or digital predecessor and, therefore, can evolve with a freedom impossible for an established publishing brand. However, with its powerful Murdoch backing, The Daily has enough resources and name recognition to become a powerful contender if it employs sound strategic planning.

There are, as mentioned earlier, limitations. With several high-profile tablet models, not to mention the perpetually expanding crop of smartphone users, it would be wise for News Corp. to reconsider its iPad-only strategy. The iPad makes for a compelling test market, but with other tablets now on the market and several more due to hit stores this year, it seems unwise to remain iPad-exclusive for long. We can't know how popular The Daily will become, but if it does meet or exceed expectations, expanding beyond the iPad could mean the difference between 50,000 and 5,000,000 subscribers.

Meredith Dias is senior editor of STRAT.

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The Daily Quest for Online Profits

Posted on Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 10:55 AM

Part I. Magazine publishers have long lamented the absence of a successful model for online profits. Will the launch of The Daily show us the way?

By William Dunkerley

News Corporation's digital start-up, The Daily, is sure to be a model for the rest of us. What's unclear is whether it will be a model for what to do -- or what not to do!

The Daily promises readers an embarrassing richness of multimedia features: audio, video, enhanced photography. I've long advocated that publishers open up to the array of channels now available for bringing content to readers. The Daily certainly seems to share that advocacy. This start-up well could be a transformative publication in the evolution of our industry.

A lot will be riding on the implementation, however. Will the publication use the multimedia tools in a way that will enhance reader satisfaction? Will the enhancements help the reader to better understand the content? Will they intensify the reader's satisfaction with the publication? Or will the multimedia features be used simply gratuitously as bells and whistles? It's hard to tell at this early date in the life of the publication.

In fact, there is a lot about the publication that is hard to discern presently. News Corp. has put out a lot of very limited information on its newborn. And, some of the early media discussion of the product contains various takes on it that don't entirely agree. We've tried to sort through those for you in our reporting, but must admit that we're dealing with a market entry that does not seem to be entirely understood by anybody.

Device Specificity

The Daily is device-specific. It's an iPad publication. It may be available on other devices in the future. But, replicating The Daily's features on other devices will likely require an additional app or program for each device. This aspect of device specificity is one of two problems that should be high on any publisher's list of things to consider before jumping in.

There are other publications that are already available as iPad apps. They range from Marvel Comics to The Wall Street Journal. These apps, however, are likewise device specific. The prospects of making your magazine available for additional devices can be daunting. According to Richard Pradley, managing director of Semantico, an online services provider, "As yet no publishing infrastructure exists that can take a given work and repurpose it automatically for all available delivery platforms and operating systems." It takes a lot of expensive human intervention, he explains.

Bob Cohn of Bonnier, a large multinational publishing group, recently told Folio magazine, "We want to be on as many devices as we can logically handle." That may be fine for gigantic operations like Bonnier. For smaller magazine publishers, the budget needed for all that development may be elusive.

The second consideration related to device specificity falls in the category of industry modus operandi. A publisher that goes device-specific is stepping into the world of computer software and hardware. There, planned obsolescence is a way of life.

As publishers, we make our money by having ever-changing content in our publications. That's what keeps customers coming back. Paper has been the stable substrate for publication content for centuries. The iPad and other PDRs (portable digital readers) represent in effect new substrates born of the computer industry. Continued sales in the computer field is different in nature from that in publishing. It comes from new models, new versions. A lot of that is driven by the development of new technologies. Some of it seems to be marketing-driven, i.e., planned obsolescence.

With that in mind, what are the chances the iPad will still be around in 10 years? In 5 years? What's more, a newer technology may come to entirely replace the entire tablet computer category. Of course, publications will need to adapt to all these new developments. My point here is just that it is in our interests that our multimedia publications be developed in a way that does not leave us at the mercy of software developers and computer manufacturers whose own interests may be at variance with ours.

Who's in Control?

That leads to the question of who is the customer and who is the vendor in this equation.

If you look for parallels back in the print-only days, publishers had basically the printer and the Postal Service to work with. The constraints they imposed on how publishers did business and what they published were relatively minimal. Where limitations did exist, alternatives were available, albeit usually at higher prices. Many will argue that the Postal Service did little to ingratiate itself with publishers. The printers certainly did a lot. They each tried to out-do each other in serving publisher needs. I guess that's the difference between dealing with a monopoly vs. competitive entities.

But even the Postal Service didn't say that if you set a price for subscriptions delivered by them, you couldn't price the subs differently for alternative delivery. But that in effect is what many allege Apple's policy on subscription apps amounts to. It's hard to know all the ramifications with certainty. As Bob Cohn remarked about Apple, "...they haven't been too transparent."

Even with fledgling competition from Google, and from others on the horizon, Apple seems to have assumed the posture of a monopoly. The fact that The Daily seems to have kowtowed to that sets a bad precedent for our whole industry. Apple is certainly not coming across as a vendor wishing to court the favor of its publisher customers and prospects.

A lot of noise has been made about Apple's demand for 30 percent of the revenue from each subscriber that it brings to the publisher. But that doesn't sound like a bad deal to me. Many publishers are glad to spend 100 percent of the first year revenue acquired from a new subscriber just to get him or her. Profits come from renewals. Traditionally the cost for getting the renewals is very low. It's not clear how Apple would handle renewals, other than taking another 30 percent each time. That would mean after a few years the publisher starts to come up on the losing side when using Apple as a new subscriber source.

That's not the worse part, though. In publishing, selling subscriptions is not at all like selling music singles (which is where much of Apple's App Store experience lies). If they sell a single, it little matters whether the buyer is in New York or LA. But, if the App Store is selling subscriptions for a New York–centered magazine with New York–based local advertisers, it certainly does matter. The advertisers won't want to pay to have their ads downloaded all over LA for viewing by people who are not likely to become customers. This concept doesn't just apply to geographic considerations. It's relevant to things like age, gender, profession, interests, etc. Certainly the magazine's title, cover, and description may ward off some of the mis-fit subscription sales. But if something in your New York magazine somehow goes viral, you suddenly could be big in LA!

Plunging iPad Magazine Sales, and More

There are a lot of other issues raised by the advent of The Daily. One is the apparent nosedive in subscription sales for iPad magazines right at the time The Daily is being promoted. What's that all about? And recently, there are a lot of questions about whether Apple's iPad subscription program is even legal! We'll cover those issues and more in Part II of our business analysis of what The Daily means to magazine publishers.

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

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E-readers or Tablets?

Posted on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 11:15 AM

What's the PDR (Portable Digital Reader) of choice? Is e-reading trending away from designated e-readers and toward tablets?

By Meredith L. Dias

If we learned anything from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it’s that just a year can make a world of difference in e-reading trends. Just last year, e-readers were the talk of Las Vegas at CES 2010. The release of the Apple iPad, however, may have steered the portable digital reading device industry in a new direction -- toward tablets.

That’s not to say that PDRs like the Kindle and Nook are ailing. A recent International Data Corporation (IDC) report predicts that 14.7 million e-readers will sell this year (up from just under 11 million last year, or about 35 percent growth). This figure is impressive, but pales in comparison to the projected sales of 44.6 million tablet computers. And, at this year’s CES, tablets were generating an awful lot of buzz.

Seven tablet computer models were unveiled at CES 2011, including the long-anticipated RIM BlackBerry Playbook and Motorola Xoom. These new devices will broaden the tablet market, currently dominated by the Apple iPad, considerably. This onslaught of new tablets may spark a tablet computing revolution.

So which PDR devices will readers choose to fulfill their e-reading preferences as digital reading continues to boom? Designated e-readers like the Kindle or tablets like the iPad or Playbook? With so much uncertainty about where readers will ultimately flock, publishers ought to think twice before investing all their resources in a single device. The iPad was hailed as a potential savior for magazine and book publishers last year, but it is no longer the only tablet in town. Moreover, now that there is a color version of the Nook, perhaps it’s premature to predict imminent obsolescence for unitasking e-readers. There is more than one way to deliver magazine content, and considerable growth is projected in both e-reader and tablet markets.

We can do little more than speculate at this point. It seems all but certain that the tablet market will explode this year, but perhaps it is wiser to wait until the dust settles before choosing which device’s apps are best for your publication. I’m certainly not encouraging an imitate-not-innovate approach during these revolutionary times, but the shift in focus from e-readers to tablets in just a year should give publishers pause. What will happen at CES 2012? Will there be a new class of devices commanding the digital reading conversation at this time next year? Will e-readers make a comeback, or will tablets meet or even exceed expectations?

It’s exciting to think of what these tablets and e-readers (particularly the Nook Color) might make possible for magazines. Perhaps, at long last, the industry has found the solution to its digital/online profitability problem. But don’t leap before you look. 2011 may very well be the year of the tablet, but it remains to be seen which tablets will become formidable iPad competitors and what the pros and cons for publishers will be across the various app platforms. And don’t count out those designated e-readers just yet. Though their projected 2011 sales pale in comparison to tablets, an increase of 4 million devices in a year is nothing to sneeze at, either.

Meredith Dias is senior editor of STRAT and Editors Only.

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Publishing 2011: A Look Ahead

Posted on Monday, December 13, 2010 at 4:21 PM

What will magazine publishing look like next year? The worldwide response to a changing landscape.

By Meredith L. Dias

The year 2010 may only just be coming to a close, but a lot of publishers already have big plans for the upcoming year. This year has been a technological whirlwind for magazine publishing professionals. It has sparked an across-the-board sea change for some publications -- not just changes to the content itself, but recalibration thereof to make it accessible on a wide range of portable digital readers (or PDRs, as we call them here at STRAT).

STRAT and its sister publication, Editors Only, have explored many of these technological advances this year -- particularly iPads, QR codes, and smartphones and tablets. To varying degrees, publishers in all sectors are looking for ways to appeal to a growing base of PDR users. But it isn't just about digital -- print publishers, too, are looking for ways to engage their readers and bring in more revenue.

We recently surveyed a sample of STRAT readers about their plans for 2011. How are they planning to rejuvenate their publications? Are the proposed changes mostly digital, or are some publishers looking to more conventional methods to bring in more revenue?

The International Response

Our responses ran a fairly wide gamut, and publishers from all over the world shared their future plans. We heard from publishers on three continents, and the responses indicate that there is a worldwide shift toward online publishing.

Glenn Hunt, publisher of New Zealand's 1am magazine, offered us a glimpse into the state of online publishing on the Oceanic continent: "The southern hemisphere is really lagging behind the U.S. and Europe in embracing the online culture and marketing, so models that are successful there aren't working down under (i.e affiliate schemes, etc.)." However, his publication is still surging ahead with a move to Australia, where online publishing is gaining ground. "We are planning to shift operations to Sydney from Auckland, NZ, as we are finding people are really slow here in NZ to embrace the online thing." It would seem, then, that 1am finds a digital presence crucial enough to merit relocation to a better digital publishing environment.

We also heard from Russian journalist Marat Kunaev. "I had to change jobs because of the financial crisis," he tells us. "Online journalism used to be just a second job for me -- a way to earn some extra money. Now it has become my primary occupation. Here in Russia, the Internet has become much more popular. It's a source for information and connection to others in my country and worldwide. This year my partners and I came to know just how good the online opportunities are. Next year, we'll be putting that knowledge to work in our activities. We expect to become more international and gain greater audience."

Non-digital Strategy Changes

A lot of magazines are looking for ways to cash in on current online and digital trends. But there are still publications that are looking to more traditional modes of driving profit.

Marcia Passos Duffy, co-publisher and editor of Our Local Table-Monadock magazine, says, "We will be looking at ancillary products that will support our magazine's mission (to promote local farms/food), including sponsoring events related to food and farming and partnering more with local organizations." She recognizes that the very nature of a publication is changing: "Today, publishing a magazine is more than just putting out editorial with ads on a periodical basis. Running a regional magazine means getting more involved in the community."

Geoffrey Morris, president of Morris Media Group, is also looking at some tried-and-true techniques for 2011: "(1) Focus the content to be more directly in line with advertisers' goals and needs. This is an overall approach: focusing on categories and theme that we may not have addressed before that will attract more advertisers. We are still keeping editorial integrity in tact of course -- not changing to pay for play -- be merely changing overall focus based on conversation we have are will have with advertisers. (2) Sales training and strategy: re-aligning goals and incentives to be more effective. A more sophisticated tiered incentive structure for the sales force bolstered by year-long management and sales training for some of the staff." His third strategy, however, is in keeping with the online publishing boom: "Bolster Web sales efforts, in a big way."

"It's no longer a one-dimensional world," says Lee Smith, publisher and editorial director of Deli Business and Cheese Connoisseur magazines. Like Morris, he envisions a diverse strategic plan for his magazines. "We are looking to do more integrated media next year. We launched a trade show this year that was a tremendous success, far exceeding our expectations. It is expected that efforts such as the trade shows, sponsoring contests, web-based media, etc., are helping boost advertising sales in our magazines."

Planned Digital and Online Changes

Of course, many of the publishers we heard from have big plans for their online and digital presences. Keith Tosolt, managing editor of Concrete International, says, "In 2011, we'll be expanding the online version of our publication and adding an interactive product guide. The motivation for this move is to offer an add-on value for advertisers."

Barbara Oliver, associate publisher of MBE magazine, plans to enhance her magazine's digital presence in the coming year. "We are encouraging more of our subscribers to take the magazine in digital format. This will cut down on our production costs significantly." The magazine plans to revamp its sales strategy, too: "We are expanding our offerings to include advertising in our digital edition as added value, especially for those in the travel and hospitality industries. We will be using the social media networks as a marketing tool to generate interest in our editorial content."

Joe Angel, vice president and publisher of Summit Media Group, plans to incorporate some custom e-media into his publications in the form of micro-sites, e-newsletters, and e-show dailies, among others. Kent Kiser, publisher and editor-in-chief of Scrap magazine, is introducing a digital edition of his magazine next year. "The proliferation of more sophisticated wireless devices (such as the iPad) is making it more important to at least offer such options, even if the majority of your recipients may not read the digital version," he says. His magazine saw single-digit revenue growth in 2010, and he hopes to improve upon that performance in 2011.

What to Expect in 2011

As indicated by the wide array of responses, different magazines are employing different tactics to increase revenue next year. This diversity of approach is encouraging. There is no blanket solution to the publication profitability problem; magazines in different sectors will require different strategies.

What can we expect in 2011? Certainly, the responses indicate an increase in digital editions and hopes for greater online revenues. But the surge in digital publishing doesn't necessarily mean that we should abandon the sales and advertising strategies of yore.

I think Amy Lestition gets it right in the November/December 2010 issue of Signature magazine: "Association professionals need to slow down and interpret the effects of the evolving publishing industry on their organizations. Recent technological enhancements in media have forced the publishing industry to race to adapt new publishing vehicles and produce more and more content. But ask yourself: Why we are racing? Is it because we are doing more with less? Or is this the 'new normal' for association publishing?"

These questions apply not only to association publishing, but magazine publishing at large. Do consider them before charging ahead in 2011.

Meredith Dias is senior editor of STRAT and Editors Only.

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The Future of Mobile and Tablet Publishing

Posted on Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 12:22 PM

The future is bright for mobile and tablet publishing, but don't be blinded by hype.

By Meredith L. Dias

With smartphones poised to become the primary Internet browsing device within the next ten years, it seems logical to consider what a tablet edition or smartphone app might do for your publication. In all probability, at least some of your readers have already hopped aboard the portable reading bandwagon in some capacity (whether via laptops or netbooks, iPad, Android, iTouch, Kindle, iPhone, Nook, Sony Reader, etc.). Some are likely smartphone or tablet users.

Personal computing, suffice it to say, is changing. It is becoming increasingly portable -- in many cases, even pocket-sized. Consequently, magazine publishers must consider a host of devices when making content delivery and platform decisions. Should you offer an iPhone edition? An iPad edition? A mobile digest of your print content?

Our Survey

We recently surveyed publishers regarding mobile and tablet publishing. Some had already developed iPhone editions. Some had no plans to pursue mobile or tablet publishing at all. What was most noteworthy about the response, however, was the lack of response. For whatever reason, the topic didn't appear to resonate with our list of publishing executives.

With smartphone and tablet use on the rise, why is this? Perhaps the publishers were simply too swamped to respond -- with the industry changing so rapidly, this is a real possibility. Perhaps some publishers haven't given the idea much thought yet -- after all, the iPad has only been on the market six months. Either way, our response rate was quite low compared with past surveys.

What Publishers Said

There were, however, some interesting responses from our list worthy of mention. Terry O'Neill, editor of Powder and Bulk Engineering, tells us, "We do publish an email newsletter which we expect to be available soon in mobile format (for smartphones). Our regular print and digital magazines aren't considering smartphone or tablet apps at this time and probably won't for quite some time, if ever." A few other publishers told us that they have no smartphone- or tablet-friendly content at all.

There were, on the other hand, publishers charging ahead with smartphone and/or tablet editions. Lucy Collin, publisher of Marketing magazine, says, "We have developed a mobile app for our daily news and we are working on iPad now. Our daily newsletter app has two banner ad positions." About revenue, she says, "We see it as a growth area. Most indications are that mobile Internet use is going to increase over the next five years, so however important the Web has been to a given publication over the last decade, it will become doubly so when mobile sites, apps, and online video/audio content becomes a regular part of the editorial and production process."

Paul Westervelt, vice president and group publisher of Oil and Gas Journal, shares Collin's vision of mobile publishing's future: "We believe mobile devices are an essential part of our publishing future." He said that his journal will offer both smartphone and tablet apps starting on October 12.

Other publishers were just beginning to discuss smartphone and tablet publishing.

The Current Mobile/Tablet Publishing Landscape

The varied responses reflect the industry as a whole. It is only recently that mobile and tablet publishing have gained significant momentum, particularly with the release of the iPad and mounting popularity of the iPhone and Android. Some cutting-edge publications are ahead of the curve, with apps and tablet editions that already border on established. Others -- particularly association publications where print is still the hot commodity, or publications with limited online presence -- have no real use for smartphones or tablets right now. Still others, bruised and battered by the recent hard times, are approaching this new wave with caution.

A recent Harrison Group/Zinio survey forecasts that "tablet-based devices and e-readers together will exceed 20 million units in the next year and they may well be the Christmas gift of 2010."

The Harrison Group/Zinio Survey

While the survey reveals some interesting statistics about the reading habits of tablet and e-reader users, the press release about it is not without hype and causal assumptions. For instance, "Tablet and e-reader owners spend 50 percent more time reading magazines and magazines articles." This is, upon first glance, a stunning statistic. However, we must pay attention to what it actually tells us: simply that tablet/e-reader users spend more time reading magazines. It doesn't specify that they are reading the magazines on their portable devices, and it doesn't necessarily mean that they are reading more magazine content than before. It simply tells us that these device users read more than non-users.

Similarly, although the press release states that 33 percent "are spending more money on buying things to read," we don't know from the information given whether these device users are actually buying digital content or even reading what they buy.

Perhaps most important to note: According to the press release, "28 percent are now reading digital magazines or books." While this constitutes nearly one-third of the survey respondents, it means that over two-thirds are not consuming digital content. What's more, those 28 percent of digital content consumers may be reading on a desktop computer. (Note: The survey involved "1,816 Americans, ages 18-64").

Beyond the Buzz

With so many misleading statistics out there, it can be difficult to make smart decisions for your publication. Most important, as mentioned above, is to filter out the hype from the hard numbers and rational analysis. There is no question that digital reading and portable digital reader (or PDR, our blanket term for all portable devices that enable digital content consumption, including laptops/netbooks, smartphones, PDAs, e-readers, and tablets) ownership are on a meteoric rise. However, allowing ourselves to become blinded by hype could prove disastrous to our bottom line.

So be careful when doing the math, and take care not to taint your statistical analysis with unsupported assumptions. Just because something worked for your competitor or a major national magazine doesn't mean it will work for you. A splashy iPad app may seem like a foolproof idea, but if you can't get your readers to purchase it or advertisers to invest in it, all that expensive design will become an eyesore.

The technology may be changing, but the rules of engagement haven't. Never dive headfirst into new technology without the proper research and strategy, no matter what headline-worthy statistics and forecasts you've read.

Meredith L. Dias is research editor of STRAT.

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New STRAT Feature: Digital Hype Watch

Posted on Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 12:21 PM

With so much hype out there about digital, publishers need someone to cut through the spin and deliver rational analysis of digital publishing and its possibilities.

In future issues of STRAT, we will include a feature entitled "Digital Hype Watch," to help publishers make strategically sound use of digital channels to reach readers. The hype watch will examine digital magazine research and its media response, cutting through hype and statistical misinterpretation to help publishers make informed decisions.

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