Archive for June, 2009

Men’s Health tries to monetize the iPhone

June 29, 2009

For those of you who aren’t Apple geeks, you should know that they recently released the third iteration of the iPhone – and with the low-end model priced at just $99 with a contract, market penetration can’t help but go up. Now’s the time to research whether an iPhone app (and BlackBerry too, if you’re so inclined) could work for your business.

A number of magazines in the U.S. have done it already. Condé Nast’s Epicurious (warning: links will take you to the iTunes store) has an ad-supported recipe app that you can download for free. Lucky has a shopping app for the same price. But it’s Men’s Health that has upped the ante by offering not just a paid app (it costs $1.99), but a paid app with extra content available for an additional fee.

You see, one feature of the new iPhone operating system is that you can sell additional features within an application for an added costs – which has huge implications for content-based apps. (This feature only applies to applications that you have to pay for to begin with – a free app is always free.) Men’s Health is offering workouts – so you get a basic set for the first $1.99, and have to pay extra if you want more workouts. But this could work for something as simple as an e-reader version of your magazine – sell a couple of years of archives for $0.99 or $1.99, and then let people download each new issue as it comes out (even early!) for a fee.

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to have some of my text-heavy magazine subscriptions on my phone. Walrus, Toronto Life, I’m talking to you. Make it a pleasure to read and I really think people will pay for it.

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How web and print can interact well

June 24, 2009

There’s an interesting article up on culinate.com discussing eight food bloggers-slash-cookbook writers who are using the multiplatform approach to build and develop their careers. Some started with books and some with blogs, but all of them recognize the value that blogging brings to their cookbook writing and vice versa.

Cookbooks aren’t magazines, but I think there are some good learnings in there for our own part of the media world. For instance:

• “Be totally authentic,” says Jaden Hair, who writes a newspaper food column and appears on television as well. She stresses that she presents the same personality—brand identity would be a magazine’s version of that—on all platforms.

Use the web—and interaction with readers—for inspiration. Zoë François and her co-author Jeff Hertzberg got the idea for their second bread book from requests on the blog.

Make the web your testing ground, suggests Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zucchini. “As a writer, your blog is your playground.”

Making your website as usable as possible

June 18, 2009

When designing or redesigning your site, there’s a ton of decisions to be made in terms of navigation, layout and functionality. The wrong choices can make a big impact on your site’s performance over the long term. So how do you know what to choose?

According to Jakob Nielsen, the best way to create the most user-friendly design is to go to the end user and do some research: even if your budget is small, small-scale focus groups can give valuable insight that, in Nielsen’s study, performed significantly better than the choices the designers had made based on their own instincts.

The problem with letting designers make the decisions, says Nielsen, is that they tend to have an overly optimistic view of the general population’s web skills.

And that can be deadly for your site. If a user finds it confusing or hard to read, they’ll go elsewhere.

Have you ever done end-user research on potential site designs? How did it work for you?

More reasons to link

June 15, 2009

Need more reasons to link out from your content? Publishing 2.0 has five. Among them: by linking, you’re creating connections with the broader web community, who are then more likely to link back to you. (This is what I like to call “linking karma”.)

Some tips on linking well:

• Put the reader first. What further information might they need that’s not available on your site?
• Start with the obvious: link sources’ names to their websites, book titles to an online bookseller (that specific book’s page, not just the home page), websites to themselves. (Surely the most infuriating thing you can find on the web is an article mentioning a website’s name without sharing its URL, with or without a link.)
• Don’t forget to link within your site – not just as related stories mentioned within your page template, but as “contextual” links (linking within body text).

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for links in return – many interview sources will even have websites with media pages that they can mention your article on. You’d be surprised how these small trickles of traffic can add up over time.

The problem with pay walls

June 8, 2009

Just came across this piece on pay walls by Scott Rosenberg. His thesis? “It’s not the pay, it’s the wall”:

The problem is that the steps publishers take to maximize revenue end up minimizing the value and utility of their Web pages. Building a “pay wall” typically means that only a paying subscriber can access the page — that’s why it’s a wall. So others can’t link directly to it, and the article is unlikely to serve as the starting point for a wider conversation beyond the now-narrowed pool of subscribers.

This is an important thing to keep in mind when considering not just pay walls, but also registration walls, where readers must register to comment on or even see content. Be very careful that you don’t put so much of your site on the registration-required side of the wall that there’s nothing left for anyone to discover or share.

Branding lessons from Field & Stream

June 4, 2009

Yesterday morning I attended a presentation at MagNet called “Branding the Field & Stream way.” As I’m neither a hunter nor a fisher, it’s not a magazine I had had much exposure to, so I was interested to hear what its editor-in-chief, Anthony Licata, had to say.

The presentation really focused on turning your magazine into more than just a magazine: into a multiplatform brand. Some key points Licata had to share were:

• Stop thinking of your brand as a magazine – it’s more than a magazine
• Don’t make the magazine your branding hub – put the reader at the centre and all platforms (including the magazine) link to that reader
• When it comes to brand extensions (which after the first two points are perhaps misnamed), make sure they are editorially driven and true to the character of the brand
• Brand extensions should be the magazine come to life

But the best part of the talk was the two examples Licata used of multiplatform projects that had truly taken on a life of their own. The first, called Heroes of Conservation, is a program honouring Field & Stream readers who take on conservation projects in their region. Note that they managed to secure a multiyear sponsorship from Toyota for this. Each issue, three “heroes” are featured, each of whom receives $1,000 to put toward his project. Once a year, the magazine runs a (beautifully produced) feature on six finalists (picked by a panel of judges with conservation cred) and the finalists are invited to a gala where the winner is announced and awarded a (Toyota, of course) pick-up truck as the grand prize. This program has provoked amazing PR for the brand and extended its reach into new readership territory; apparently, it even helped them secure an interview with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

The second program Licata discussed was “The Total Outdoorsman.” It offers readers the opportunity to compete against each other in skills like casting (as in fishing), shooting, and even (in some years) building fires.What I liked the most about this project was that they started very small – just a special issue of the magazine devoted to outdoor skills – and worked their way over many years into a huge event with a large number of sponsors. They now have a store sponsor and will be holding (I think) 50 competitions across the United States this year; top winners from each store event go to regionals and then national finals. (Apparently they’ve had the same winner three years in a row now – they featured him on the cover and I have to say, he looks pretty tough to me.) And not only is it an event and a community-building initiative, but they’re turning it into a TV show as well – and in addition to the annual special issue they now have a regular column on outdoor skills.

Field & Stream has a great website, too, with a lot of active community features, and I’m happy to be adding it to my list of sites to read. Take a look and see what you think.

Download my MagNet presentation

June 3, 2009

This afternoon I was fortunate to be able to team up with Kim Pittaway to share our tips on creating a successful magazine website. A few people asked for a copy of our presentation so here it is – just click through to download all 12 MB.

Thanks for joining us!

Inspiration from The Economist’s Paul Rossi

June 2, 2009

I had a good time this evening at the opening of MagNet and Paul Rossi’s talk “Building a Media Brand for the Future”. Registration in the conference is apparently way up this year and I think despite the ubiquitous doom and gloom of 2009 (perhaps inspiring the tragic Toronto weather), the mood in the talk and the room was one of optimism that magazines, with the right investment (not just of money, but of time and faith and great ideas), will continue to find a devoted readership even in the midst of the immense technological and consumer shifts we’re seeing in our culture.

The main theme in Rossi’s talk was of building a product for readers and of shifting your economic dependence as far toward readers and away from advertisers as possible. He also spoke on the importance of maintaining a strong brand across all platforms, even down to the colour of your subscription card inserts. His examples of some of The Economist’s branding strategies were so convincing that I’m ready to pick up a copy, which I don’t think I’ve done since I was a Poli Sci undergrad late last century. (I shared a subscription with a friend – we couldn’t afford our own.)

So how does this relate to the web? Rossi touched upon their website only briefly but two key points stand out to me. First, he maintained that the idea of web readership cannibalizing print subscriptions is a myth – they haven’t seen any evidence of that happening. Second, his emphasis on producing a quality product above all other goals applies to all platforms, not just print. In the future (which is now), readers consume their media across multiple platforms – don’t let a poorly attended-to website pull down your brand.