Archive for February, 2009

Shortcovers and magazines

February 26, 2009

Indigo just released Shortcovers, a digital distribution tool for print media – primarily books, but they say they’ll also be offering magazines and newspapers. It’s available for BlackBerry, iPhone, Android and over the web, and the idea seems to be that you can get some content for free, such as sample chapters, but you have to pay for most of it, like any ebook.

I downloaded it today for my iPhone and tried it out – at first glance it seems to work well, no major glitches (although I had issues logging on at first). I have a feeling that it’s going to do well – one reason I’ve been skeptical about ebook readers like the Kindle is that the last thing I need in my life is another device (I’m trying to get down to just two, my phone and my computer, and I’m almost there).

But here’s a question for all of you – have you heard anything about how Indigo is going to work with publishers to get magazines available through Shortcovers? Do you know if your publication will be available, and who’s going to be doing the digitizing? Please share any information you have in the comments.

(Oh, and naturally, you can follow Shortcovers on Twitter.)

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How magazines should use Twitter

February 25, 2009

Back in September, I wrote about Twitter and whether magazines should be using it. Since then, Twitter’s popularity has exploded and it’s become the latest on the list of must-haves for media properties – even if they don’t know what to do with it. The result? Instead of using Twitter to converse and build community, many are just updating with links to their sites – which seems to miss the point entirely.

Phillip Smith blogged the other day about how The Walrus has started using Twitter – and is doing it right. (You can follow them at twitter.com/walrusmagazine.)

Their approach? Simple. Witty, upbeat, and personal. Fun banter with other publications on Twitter, like @thismagazine, @spacing, and @blogto. Engaging with the community, not broadcasting.

And Melanie McBride blogged on a similar topic today (and opened a discussion on Twitter). Her question: is it okay for magazines (or other publications) to publish RSS feeds through Twitter (i.e., automated updates)? Her conclusion is that conversational, human-powered Twitter posts are the ideal, but given many publications’ limited resources, RSS updates are a good interim solution. “While an RSS only feed is FAR from ideal,” she says, “it may function as a temporary means for publications to share their content in a new space while figuring out a strategy for more personalised feed management.” (Melanie has posted a poll on the subject – make sure to vote and share your opinion.)

My thoughts? Twitter is wonderful, and I’m having great fun (and some success) using it at work. It’s entirely powered by me, and while I do share some links to my site, I also share links to other sites that I think are relevant – but my primary goal is to have conversations with my target audience, and to hear what they have to say. I think Twitter’s especially useful for new magazines like Best Health, who are still focused on brand-building and getting their publication’s name out there.

However, just because Twitter is the cool tool on the block doesn’t mean you have to have a presence there. If you don’t think you have the time to use Twitter regularly – and it is a bit of a time suck – then you’re probably better off not doing it at all. I’ve said it before: the web is infinite, and there’s no way anyone can do everything. Spreading yourself too thin is the surest way to burn out and to fail. Choose the engagement strategies that work with your brand, your budget and your site goals, and do them well. If one of them isn’t working, cut it out of your schedule completely and try something else. Doing everything often turns out to mean doing nothing.

And if you do want to try Twitter, remember that it’s about sharing and communicating. I’m sure I’m not the only one who refuses to follow people or publications that do nothing but post links to their own site. I have an RSS reader for that – Twitter serves another purpose for me.

But tell me, what do you think? Have you tried Twitter for your brand? What are you doing, and how is it working? And Twitter users, do you follow Twitter accounts that are nothing but link feeds?

A better way to redesign your site

February 23, 2009

If you’ve ever been through a website relaunch, you know that it’s an overwhelmingly huge process. From approving designs and structure to creating the new site, moving over old content and making sure it actually works the way it should, you’re looking at many, many people devoting many, many hours to making your site look fresh.

Todd Zeigler at the Bivings Report has another suggestion: iterative site design. Instead of treating redesigns as a finished product, done only every few years, he suggests thinking of your design as a continual work in progress, open for tweaks and updates based on design trends and user feedback and behaviour. Benefits, he says, include the ability to evolve quickly and easily incorporate reader feedback, and the fact that you won’t need to ask staff to devote their lives to one big project.

An iterative approach can save pain by giving providing a sustainable methodology with which to attack site improvements.   Instead of working on your website intensely every three or four years, try making a manageable improvement once a month.  I think you’ll find you have a better website.

Next time you’re faced with refreshing or redesigning your site, look at design models (front and back end) that include modular components and design elements that can be easily modified and updated without major investment in design or development. Then, when you’re ready to update further, the process will be easier and quicker for everyone.

A case for contextual ads

February 13, 2009

Fashion PR Addict is a local blog I subscribe to that’s generally off-topic for this blog, but she posted today on finding information by clicking on a Google ad that I think is good evidence of how these ads can work when display ads won’t. Why? They’re targeted to the content on the page.

Yes, you can target display ads to specific content – Kraft, for instance, probably prefers to advertise on food-related pages and sites – but only with contextual ads can you really home in on specific topics that the reader is looking for. For now, at least. I’m just throwing the idea out there, but could we work harder on targeting display ads to more keyword-focused topics? Linked to tags, perhaps? Get the best of both worlds?

Advertising isn’t my specialty, so please share your thoughts if it’s yours.

The golden rule of publishing online

February 10, 2009

It’s a question I’m sure all of us in the media industry have asked ourselves at some point: why are we doing this?

Despite common opinion, I don’t believe that making money should be the primary goal when publishing; really, you’d have better luck (and dividends) packaging food or (perhaps until recently) giving out mortgages. For most of us on the editorial side, I’d say, it’s the connection with readers that gets us up in the morning. Whether it’s providing them with entertainment, food for thought or essential information, creating quality editorial is the primary goal.

Online, more often than in print, this goal sometimes gets pushed aside for other goals, such as building traffic and selling ads. “Increase pages per visitor!” is something we often hear. “Ad sales has oversold – we need to boost impressions!”

I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t be trying to make some money – I’m as fond of my paycheque as the next person – but I always try to keep one simple rule in mind when working on my site, above and beyond the two goals of creating good editorial and increasing traffic. That rule? Don’t annoy your readers. Keep it in mind while you work on your site (cross-stitch it on a pillow if you have to), just don’t forget it, whether you’re building slideshows for pageviews or selling and integrating vokens.

Learn more about new media

February 9, 2009

If you’re in Toronto the weekend after next and interested in learning more about social media, podcasting, blogging and other forms of new media, you should consider attending PodCamp, a free “unconference” taking place at Ryerson University on February 21 and 22. There are tons of sessions listed so far and they’re starting to schedule them now. This is a great chance to meet some of the big names in social media in Toronto (and elsewhere) and to actually make it to a conference in a time of company cutbacks. You can register yourself by editing the wiki (how fun and web 2.0!).

ELLECanada.com relaunches in beta

February 6, 2009

Just had the following message forwarded to me, from ELLECanada.com:

ELLECanada.com readers! We have amazing news!
We’re just about to relaunch our site. We value your input and we would love your feedback on what you love, what you hate and what you’d like to see changed on the new ELLECanada.com.
Please visit the beta site, take it for a spin and tell us what you find. Note you may find some bugs and strange formatting – it is a beta site after all. If possible, please include links when reporting problems to our contact us page.
As our thanks to you for your help making the site the best it can be, we’ll enter you in a random draw for $100!

Site launches and relaunches are a major headache. There are a million little things that can go wrong, and it’s extremely hard to test every little thing – and your readers will find what you’ve inevitably missed. One way to go around this is to launch in “beta”, signifying that you recognize that there are still bugs to fix. Invite select readers to test your site for you and you’ve accomplished two things: you’re recruiting a multitude of free testers to help you perfect the site, and you’re encouraging readers to feel a sense of ownership and community around it. This is what the team at ELLE Canada has done – I’ll be interested to hear how it’s working for them.

Can UGC last?

February 4, 2009

User-generated content has been all the rage lately – not only because of the success of sites such as YouTube but because many publishers see it as the answer to many of their problems, a way to bolster content and boost pageviews without significant investment on the part of their staff.

However, a recent article on Folio discusses a report that says UGC may not be as valuable as was once thought. The challenge? Monetizing content that advertisers may be reluctant to sponsor due to its unpredictable nature.

My suggestion: experiment with UGC, but don’t take on any major projects unless they fit one of two conditions: either the sponsorship has been sold already, or the project works so well with your brand and site that you think it’s worth the effort overall. Don’t jump on the UGC bandwagon without having a solid plan in place.

How magazines can build community

February 2, 2009

Community was the hot buzzword around magazine offices last year, and it doesn’t seem to be going away soon. Magazines aren’t just print products anymore, of course – to fit in these days, you have to be a multiplatform brand that builds community among your readership, makes use of social media, fits in some user-generated content… things have become a lot more complicated.

Of course, just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t mean you should, or even that it works. Case in point: social networks. Many magazines/magazine companies have been integrating social features into their sites, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but I like Steve Smith’s perspective on MinOnline:

Brand hubris leads too many sites to construct their own social networks (a la Facebook) in the truly bizarre belief that their visitors (who already have vibrant Facebook communities) really want to build another one at a magazine site. Chant the trendy mantra magazines are communities to ourselves often enough at every industry conference, and I guess eventually we believe it.

This is so true. Think about it: if you don’t have the time or inclination to join eight or nine different networks, why would your readers? It’s unlikely you’ll be able to duplicate Facebook’s success, and even if you could, it’s an open question how much real money they’re making from the site. For every Facebook or Twitter there’s a pile of social sites that will never find success.

But back to magazines. How can we build community around our brands, and should we? I think the answer is a qualified yes. Qualified because it really, really depends on each individual case. General interest magazines have the hardest time here. It’s hard to find a nexus to build a community around when your publication has no true focus. Trying to target every Canadian woman between the ages of 25 and 45? Well, guess what – most of them are already quite happy on Facebook and probably a few other sites. What can you offer them that they don’t already have?

Niche magazines, on the other hand, have it easy in a way. Runner’s World has an extremely vibrant community, centred around its forums. They got in the game early enough that no one else beat them to it – if there had already been a hugely popular online running community by the time Runner’s World got around to building its own, it probably wouldn’t be as popular. Take the knitting community: Ravelry is a very popular – and very good – social network that revolves around knitting and crocheting (still in beta last time I checked) and was started by a couple of entrepreneurs. (As an aside, never underestimate knitters, especially online. They’re everywhere.) Interweave Knits or another knitting magazine could have started it first and been successful, but they didn’t – and it’s a whole lot harder now. Finally, one of my students introduced me last week to the magazine The Chronicle of the Horse, out of Virginia. They have very busy forums and a fairly new social network (Chronicle of My Horse) that is, obviously, focused on the horse-loving community, which, like knitters, is a pretty ideal target for online community building (highly engaged, geographically dispersed).

This is a very long way of saying that you don’t have to do everything online. For one thing, it’s impossible. For another, you’re a magazine: your strength is on producing good editorial (or at least I hope so), so build on that strength. Build on what readers know and trust you for. Smith suggests a hybrid of magazines and social sites, in a way: “participatory content”, or building debate around your professional editorial, and “content participation”, or putting your staff in the middle of the conversation and building community from that angle. And I agree with him: there’s a lot we can do to build community online without trying (and failing) to be the next Facebook.

Why web editors should be copy editors, part 2

February 2, 2009

I’m a strong believer that publications shouldn’t let their standards slip online, despite tighter budgets, which means quality content that’s well edited and factually accurate – and well copy-edited.

It seems readers agree with me, as a recent survey of 175 readers as reported in the Blog Herald shows: “More than 42% said that they had ‘often’ or ‘very often’ left a website upon noticing spelling, grammar or factual errors” and “87.8% of respondents said they find spelling or grammar errors distracting when reading online content,” say the writers.

This is especially important for magazine (and other traditional media) websites, as readers see us as authoritative and are accustomed to reading quality copy from our print products. Poor copy online makes our websites look second-rate.

I know I judge based on spelling and grammar – I’m ready to take a marker to some of the ads on the subway (can we make everyday vs. every day a requirement of elementary school graduation, please?) – but what do you think? Does the average reader care?