Archive for December, 2008

More discussion of digital editions

December 18, 2008

It’s no secret that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of digital editions – as I’ve said before, I am highly skeptical that they will ever take off with readers. They’re not as pleasurable to read as a print magazine or as convenient as a website.

That being said, I’d be happy to be proven wrong if anyone could present me with some hard data. So please, throw in your two cents in the comments. The caveat: we need to study readership over a significant period of time. One or two issues doesn’t count as the newness of the format is still a factor. And I do think that trade mags and informational publications will perform better in digital editions than magazines that people read for pleasure.

The other issue, even if people are reading them, is how well ads perform in digital editions—and what we should be charging for them. Josh Gordon at Folio has a good discussion going on monetizing digital editions. Head over to see what people have to say and share your thoughts there as well.

Adam Hodgkin of Exact Editions has also offered me a couple of subscriptions so I can try out some of his publications and review them. I’ll be doing that soon.

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There’s too much information

December 16, 2008

As we all head into the once-a-year quiet season, it’s a good time to question today’s information overload and what we’re doing to a) stand out amongst the chaos and b) make sure readers don’t see us as too much noise, not enough signal.

So ponder this: if you had to cut yourself down to just a few magazines, just a few websites, just a few topics, what would they be? Would your publication/website make the cut? Are you providing your readers with the core information they wouldn’t give up, or the peripheral ideas that they could live without?

The power of Twitter in Toronto

December 15, 2008

If you doubt the power of effective social media tools and ideas, you should read the story of #hohoto in Toronto (here as well)—a Twitter-organized last-minute Christmas party that’s happening tonight and has (so far) raised over $20,000 for the Daily Bread Food Bank. All in less than a month.

This isn’t to say that Twitter (or whatever the next cool tool is) will solve everyone’s problems. But it’s proof that a great idea can be executed well using nothing but social media.

Tickets are sold out, but you can find out more—and make donations to Daily Bread—at hohoto.ca. Already got tickets? See you there tonight!

10 keys to making your magazine website great

December 12, 2008

1. Create excellent content
As in print, this is number one by far. Create editorial that you believe in, you would click on and you would read. Without this step, the rest is unimportant.

2. Make it accessible
How will your potential readers find your content? Is it easy for readers to share with friends, whether through email or social media? Think about how to make content accessible for site visitors, Google and the rest of the web.

3. Make it web-friendly
Make your content easy to read on-screen by keeping it tight and focused, breaking it up, bolding key phrases and using bullets or numbered points when appropriate. Ensure titles are clickable and make sense.

4. Make it timeless
This isn’t always possible – dated content is dated content – but every article that can be evergreen should be evergreen. Make its lifespan as long as possible.

5. Think
It’s easy to slip into auto-pilot, but your work will suffer. Always think critically about the decisions you make and reassess what you’ve done in the past so you can make your work better. The web is constantly changing and you should be too.

6. Link
Don’t exist in a bubble – link to others and they will link back to you, plus you’ll be making your site more useful for readers. Believe in linking karma.

7. Be creative
Think beyond articles and explore other formats: slideshows, video, audio, blogs, tools. Explore how you can best serve your reader.

8. Communicate and engage
The best thing the web has to offer is its interactivity. Make use of this to create a conversation with your readers, whether it’s through site forums, newsletters, social media tools like Twitter or Facebook or simply email. Offer readers a chance to participate in your site.

9. Analyze
Make sure you have good analytics software, and keep track of your site stats. Know what people are reading and how they’re getting to your site. Know where they’re leaving from. Then use this information to develop and change.

10. Experiment
Know what’s common practice, but don’t rely on it. Stay informed about the latest and greatest in online publishing. Constantly experiment to see what works for your reader and your site. Try new things and always be willing to evolve.

What SEO means for you and your audience

December 10, 2008

There’s a very good article in the current issue of the British Journalism Review called “How SEO is changing journalism” (thanks to @doshdosh on Twitter via @wingszetang). In it, Shane Richmond, communities editor at Telegraph.co.uk, explains what SEO really is (and isn’t – i.e., some sort of voodoo marketing deception) and what it means for journalism online. Some key points:

On writing for computers vs. writing for people:

We are writing to be read and these days that increasingly means ensuring that our stories are found by search engines. Readership patterns are changing. Online news may seem similar to its offline equivalent – it is after all just words, pictures and moving images – but it is fundamentally different.

On where your online audience comes from:

Now, audiences can form at article level, driven by news aggregators such as Techmeme, social bookmarking sites such as Delicious, and news sites, such as Digg, that are “edited” by their users. There are still audiences, and large ones, that are loyal to a single title, but every publisher is seeing more and more people arrive at their websites via search engines, and the potential to use this trend to increase audiences is huge. Ideally, many of these surfers will see that your site comes high in the search results time and again and will become regular readers.

On web-friendly heds:

Unfortunately though, and there’s no gentle way to put this, the witty, punning headline is finished when it comes to the internet. The greatest headlines of the web era will be the most functional ones and they’re unlikely to be remembered by anybody at all even a month after publication, let alone years later.

Step back and reassess

December 10, 2008

I’ve been busily marking the final projects for my class at Ryerson – their assignment was to assess a Canadian magazine website and suggest improvements, as if they were the new web editor – and it made me think: how often do we actually step back and take a look at our sites?

I’m always in the middle of analyzing statistics, assessing what people click on from the home page, looking at successes in SEO, planning editorial – all the day-to-day jobs. And occasionally, we get the chance to analyze specific ideas or sections of the site and think of improvements. But it’s rare that I have the time to pause for a long enough time and assess the site overall.

So here’s my suggestions: Give your site a performance review. (We all love those, right?) Get together with everyone involved in your site and set annual SMART goals for it. Do a three-month review. Do a six-month review. And at the end of the year, take a whole day together and really think about what you’ve achieved and what you’ve still got to do. Set aside the time, away from your email and telephone and people asking you to do things, and look at your site with open eyes and the perspective of a reader. You may be surprised at what you see when you take the time to look.

Leverage content for greater profit

December 9, 2008

Further to the discussion on how brand extensions can help you make money online, there’s an article by Clive Thompson in the current issue of Wired on “How T-shirts keep online content free“. The thesis? The content will build your audience; the money can be made by selling them branded T-shirts and other merchandise, as do the creators of animated comedy series Red vs. Blue:

Their algorithm is simple: First, don’t limit your audience by insisting they pay to see your work. Instead, let your content roam freely online, so it generates as large an audience as possible. Then cash in on your fans’ desire to sport merchandise that declares their allegiance to you.

It’s not likely to work for everyone – but will it work for you?

Should your site do video?

December 8, 2008

Near the top of the everyone-else-has-it-and-so-should-I list is video. But is it really worth the investment for magazine websites?

Obviously, and especially with the explosion of YouTube, video is extremely popular online. And for organizations that already specialize in video (think TV stations), it makes a lot of sense – the skill set and the audience are already there. But magazine websites should think carefully about investing in video, for the following reasons:

It’s expensive. You’ll probably have to hire new people and put some money into equipment, not to mention server space and bandwidth.
It’s time-consuming. You can write/produce/edit a lot of stories in the time it takes to create just one video.
The numbers may not be there. I can’t speak for everyone, and I’d love your feedback on this, but my experience is that most video just doesn’t perform compared to other types of content.
It’s not our core competency. Magazine people can be perfectionists, and you’re unlikely to be able to put together video that looks as professional as your print product or website.

All that being said, there are a number of reasons you might choose to do video, not least because many advertisers are looking for video opportunities. Here are some tips if you do go ahead:

Find your niche. Don’t make video for the sake of making video; figure out what it is that you can do with video that no one else can. Don’t move forward until you have a strong idea.
Entertain. This is what keeps people on YouTube or in front of the TV for hours on end.
Be realistic. Without significant investment, your videos can’t compare with a major TV network’s, so don’t try. Instead, embrace the widespread acceptance of amateur-level video and keep it simple.
Make it work. It’s 2008. There’s no excuse to run video on your site that won’t automatically play on all platforms and all browsers (although you’ll be excused if they don’t work on systems from the last century).
Have a marketing strategy. People don’t browse your site like they do your magazine; they won’t just come across your videos and watch them. Have a plan in place to get people to your videos, through internal promotions, SEO, linking and any other means you have at your disposal.
Have a goal. Know what you want to get out of your video strategy, whether it’s brand awareness, revenue or just another way to interact with readers.
• As always, think, would I watch this? And would I enjoy it?

Do you watch Internet video, at home or at work? Have you had success creating video for a magazine website?

How Stephen Harper has helped the CBC

December 5, 2008

Those of you tapped into Canadian politics (and what a week it’s been) may have noticed the unreal amount of comments being posted on the major news sites. CBC.ca even posted an article about user engagement on their site, and apparently their traffic has been higher this week than during the Olympics. As of Wednesday afternoon, when the article went online, they had already had over 20,000 comments – and I’m sure there are far more than that now.

Just goes to show, if you provide people with a place to talk about the issues that concern them, they will come. It’s just a matter of matching your content with the right group and topic.

Improving online ads

December 4, 2008

Banner ads are the standard when it comes to online advertising, but lately there’s been talk of how well they really work, and of how little money they actually bring in per reader (as opposed to print). But what if you could drastically improve their effectiveness?

An article in yesterday’s New York Times discusses a pair of California-based companies doing exactly that. They’re experimenting with colours, fonts, images and other features of standard ads – as they interact with the web page they’re displayed on – to collect data on what gets the most clicks, and the most sell-throughs. And their results show that advertisers, marketers and designers may have to shift their mindset when it comes to creating ads:

“I think the creative community has to get very comfortable with results-based outcomes in marketing,” said Mr. Hanlon, whose company has an interest in Tumri. “There are a lot of creative people who didn’t sign up for that kind of world.”

Bant Breen, the president of worldwide digital communications at Initiative, the Interpublic Group media buying and planning firm, had a similar view. “The traditional creative process right now is not structured to essentially deliver hundreds of permutations, or hundreds of ideas for messaging,” said Mr. Breen, whose firm is using Tumri to determine which ads are working.

“There’s no doubt that there will be a lot of data that can be collected that could be applied to the creative process.”