There is a trend in the publishing media conferences that has been growing for the past few years, and when I tell you what it is, you'll say, of course.
It's a conversation I've seen growing around the world in publishing conferences. I've heard it in Berlin at The Digital Innovator's Summit and at MagNet: Canada's Magazine Conference. I've heard it in London and Oxford, Mississippi. It was repeated in NYC at the AMMC-MPA annual event and now playing out at MPA-IMAG last Wednesday and Thursday in Boston, Massachusetts. I'll eventually tell you what this "new" revelation is, but not just yet. I want to build up to the simple epiphany.
It is usually reasonable to start at the beginning when explaining damn near anything. So, I figure I'll start with Linda Thomas Brooks, President and CEO of the MPA who opened the IMAG event. Since her arrival at the MPA, I have seen an era of advanced messaging for the magazine industry. Today was yet another step in the right direction and I suppose a tangent to the campaign: Magazine Media. Better. Believe it.
Linda's presentation at IMAG was titled Credibility By The Numbers. It was an insightful look at the making of a magazine and the carefully researched and rendered articles within.
Linda shared data on several articles from several magazines. I'll just tell you about the article that ran in Parent's Magazine called "I think there's something wrong with my child". It took two years of research with 7 moms, 1 fact checker, 2 photo editors, 1 photographer, 1 production Manager, 8 print editors, 4 digital editors, 2 copy editors, 4 psychiatrists/psychologists, and 2 lawyers. You get the point.
Magazines have credibility with the public partly due to the amount of time, research, personnel, money and energy invested in them to make them credible. No, not all magazines can afford to perform to the level of excellence of Parent's Magazine. But I will submit that most print magazines do try to the best of their ability and monetary war-chest to give their readers words and ideas not only worth reading but also worth trusting. With all the Sturm und Drang of the internet, print has over its 600-year history created longtime trust in our products. Just being in print adds the aforementioned credibility, even to some titles that don't deserve it.
As many surveys tell us, it is true that traditional media is more trusted than online media. But let's be honest the advertising agencies of the world don't seem interested in our credibility and are still deeply attracted to the digital placement of advertising dollars. And that brings me back to the trends I've seen in the publishing media conferences, literally everywhere on the planet. It's as simple as this: "Let's have the readers pay for our content." I told you you'd say "of course."
Yes, that is what we should have been doing all along. Advertising revenue should be the gravy on the meat adding just a little something extra to the dish and not the unreliable and indigestible thing it has become. Everywhere I go the conversation is about two things: giving the readers the information that they want, when they what it and, through various means and programs, having them pay for it.
Again, totally obvious, but to our industry only in hindsight. The industry has now made that turn and is doing exceeding well in many areas. All this was in evidence at IMAG and is being discussed everywhere.
This focus on alternative revenue and the creative ways publishers are achieving it is very uplifting to an industry that was struggling for quite some time.
Sure, we will still get print advertising revenue and lots of it, but it is fast becoming just one of many revenue streams and the not the sole addictive Goliath it once was.
The haptic experience between print and digital is mainly a different feel, a different sensation and, perhaps above all else, a different expectation. Print doesn't offer distractions other than the words and thinking on the page, while the digital experience does.
BoSacks Speaks Out: I have four Alexa devices in my home. And I use them every day. When I wake up I ask Alexa for first the local weather report and then for my personal news brief collected from news organizations that I choose from the Alexa app. My list contains, NPR, the Economist, the BBC, Associated Press and I finish it off with a little humor from The Daily Show and the Tonight Show. Not a bad way to start an informed day.
But when I read about Jamie Court, who is the president of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit advocacy group discussing new patent ideas from Amazon: "When you read parts of the (Alexa) applications, it's really clear that this is spyware and a surveillance system meant to serve you up to advertisers." Well that makes me wonder how far this is going to go. The article below goes on and states, "That information could then be used to identify a person's desires or interests, which could be mined for ads and product recommendations."
There are so many layers to this I don't know where to begin. As a media professional who sees intrusive advertising everywhere, this is another big leap into the weaponization of intrusion ad-warfare.
When you combine Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, Google, Alexa and all the other information intrusion activists you get a very scary picture of corruptibility. Well, you should get that picture, although none of this is yet illegal. Yes, we are all targets, and there are two advertising bullseyes on the head and heart of every individual on the planet. They will pull the strings of your heart by listening to the stirrings of your brain.
And, worst of all, this is just the beginning, as Alexa was launched in November 2014 just a little over three years ago.
What do media professionals think about this subject?
I can't recall if I have ever publicly discussed membership schemes for magazine revenue. It's not a new idea and sometimes it's really just semantics. When I was young, and I bought a subscription to the National Geographic they called me a member of the Society. I can't recall if I received anything special beyond the best printed magazine of its day, other than pride of being a so-called member of the National Geographic Society, but that seemed pretty cool at the time. And then there was Consumer Reports - that, too, was always called a membership. I have always been a fan of membership enterprises. In 1999 I was the COO of a membership organization called YAPA, the Young Adult Professional Association. Our plan was to be like AARP but instead of retirees as members we cultivated college graduates, with discount programs, job guidance and of course a magazine. We raised multiple millions of dollars and died an untimely death in the dotcom doom of 2000. It's still a great idea.
But here we are in the 21st century, and membership models are a "thing" again, but unlike the traditional publishing model, which is based on a transactional relationship of you give me money and I'll send you a magazine for a year or two. The new membership plans usually contain special offers, discounts, and many times a chance to meet your favorite editors and writers at events. I guess you could call it a 360 approach. I'm sure someone else already has. As American Express has said for years "membership has its privileges." The membership approach drives an affinity with the brand.
The New York Times has Time Plus, and the Wall Street Journal oddly has WSJ Plus. Both successful membership programs.
If ever I was to start another magazine, I would explore the membership model. It wouldn't work unless the magazine and the content was something special. With unlimited content everywhere on the planet why go into a new publishing business, if what you have to offer isn't excellence itself?
Today I'm headed to Berlin, Germany to attend one of my favorite publishing events, FIPP's Digital Innovators Summit which starts Monday, March 19th. It is a wonderful cross-planet collection of modernizers and theorists making sense and profit from the still evolving phenomenon we once called publishing.
This article about UK's NME's demise suggests various pressures on consumer magazines. The article reminds me of some things I've said before. There once was a time when there were rules and an established pecking order. If you were in TV, Radio or Print, you knew the process and the possibilities of your profession. Each method of communication had pluses and minuses, boundaries and well-trodden logical pathways to reach the consumer and make a profit in the process. One might also say there was once relative business stability.
I've also noted before that what makes the current state of affairs so different is the evaporation of boundaries, rules and stability. There is little distinction between publishing, TV and radio because they are all streamed. Print or off-line media is obviously not streamed, and that is its problem. It is stuck in an old-style world of rules and boundaries while connected, digitized communications are completely free range. For many the nostalgic rules of print are deemed a blessing and satisfying in their permanency. But the old rules also limit print's value most importantly to the vagaries of young, inexperienced media buyers. We have proof that print is still a good buy, but in aggregate they buy less of it each year. Nevertheless, there are plenty of print sectors doing quite well. (CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE)
Once again the largest players in the magazine media industry gathered for the annual plumage display. Everybody is excited to be there including me. I annually and happily re-meet so many old friends accumulated through a lifetime in the industry that it is a joy to be there among my comrades. We share old war stories and new thoughts of the current conditions of our media empires.
Linda Thomas Brooks, President and Chief Executive Officer of the MPA, opened the event with a thoughtful message she received once directly from the Dalai Lama. It was as mystical and as far reaching with simplicity as you might expect. "Keep working on it." You see, at first you go: what? And then the simple complexity settles in. Yes, no matter what it is that's going on, just keep working on it till you find an answer. Linda's application of that for the industry was, "there is no one answer," just keep working on it. And how right she is.
There was a time in the magazine industry when almost every publisher large and small worked from extremely similar business plans. We were all in the highly definable, easily explained, magazine publishing business. Now-a-days I'll bet there are no two business plans alike. The complexities and unlimited diversity of information delivery platforms in the magazine media business makes every business exploration for revenue uniquely different. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
John Palumbo makes a passionate discussion here for newsstand placement and retail problems in City and Regional Magazines. But I want say, it's not the darkest hour for all magazines in the genre. Take Our State Magazine, which celebrates life in North Carolina. To the best of my knowledge it is thriving and perhaps more so than any other regional magazine I am aware of. Why, you may ask?
A few months ago, I had lunch with my friend Bernie Mann, the publisher of Our State Magazine and asked what was, as Warren Buffett calls it, his Secret Sauce? (For the record Bernie and I meet twice a year out of mutual respect and idea sharing. We both drive two hours to meet in the middle for lunch. It is always worth it.)
So, what is Bernie's Secret Sauce? He says, "The reader." Bernie says you have to love, cherish and respect the intelligence of the reader and never do anything that makes the reader 'work' to enjoy the magazine. He goes on the describe what he means. "No belly bands, no stickers on the cover, no stories continued in the back of the magazine, no ads disguised as stories with the word "advertisement" or "Promotion" in 2 point type.
Bernie says part of the Secret Sauce of his success is the idea that the advertising has to be bought not sold. He interestingly goes on to point out that in his opinion, "The model of ad agencies buying advertising in magazines is broken," as agencies are more interested in making money from digital. Bernie's answer is to go directly to the client.
If you want a role model for the City and Regional Magazine arena, I strongly suggest you check out Our State Magazine. To the best of my knowledge they are never under 250 pages per month and often much more. You want success? This is it